Academic journal article Asian Perspective

The Politics of Immigrant Incorporation Policies in Korea and Japan

Academic journal article Asian Perspective

The Politics of Immigrant Incorporation Policies in Korea and Japan

Article excerpt

JAPAN AND SOUTH KOREA (HEREAFTER KOREA), NEITHER OF WHICH ever considered themselves immigrant nations, have encountered a growing foreign population since the early 1990s, a period during which both countries adopted a side-door policy for lowskilled migrant workers in response to the labor shortage experienced by small and medium-sized manufacturing firms.1 In Japan, the size of the registered foreign population rose from 1,075,317 to 2,134,151 between 1990 and 2010, and the foreign proportion of the population increased from 0.87 percent to 1.67 percent (Immigration Bureau of Japan 2012). During the same period, the size of Korea's registered foreign population climbed from 49,507 to 1,261,415, and the foreign portion of its population increased from 0.11 percent to 2.5 percent (KIS 1990, 2011). More importantly, while Japan and Korea, both known to be culturally and ethnically homogeneous societies, have generally regarded a majority of the foreign population in their countries as temporary sojourners who will eventually return to their home countries, a growing number of foreign residents in the two countries have have become permanent settlers, raising crucial policy concerns regarding immigrant incorporation.

In order to address these sociodemographic challenges, Japan and Korea have advanced a series of immigrant incorporation policies, represented by multiculturalism (tabunka in Japanese and damunhwa in Korean). Yet their politics of immigrant incorporation policy have diverged over the past two decades.2 The Japanese government developed immigrant incorporation policies in the context of the influx of new foreign groups, the so-called newcomers, in the 1990s and 2000s; revisions to the immigration control policy for nikkeijin (or descendants of Japanese emigrants to Latin America) and low-skilled migrant workers from developing countries accelerated this phenomenon. Japan's immigrant incorporation policies have two interesting features worth noting. First, local governments with a large number of foreign residents in their administrative jurisdictions have promoted a wide range of immigrant incorporation policies through cooperation with local civil society organizations, with an emphasis on access to basic services, such as multilingual information, education, housing, and health. Second, although Japan's policymakers focused on alleviating the social and economic insecurity of nikkeijin after the 2008 global financial crisis, the immigrant incorporation policies have not targeted specific foreign population groups.

Korea has also experienced a rapid increase in the size of its foreign population since the early 1990s, in conjunction with the restructuring of Korea's labor-intensive economy and sociodemographic challenges. In contrast to Japan, in Korea it is the central government that has initiated a series of immigrant incorporation policies through a top-down pattern of policymaking. While local governments and local civil society organizations have administered and managed the various immigrant incorporation programs instituted by the central government, few attempts have been made to create immigrant incorporation agendas from the bottom up. In addition, Korea's immigrant incorporation policies, from the entitlement of citizenship to the provision of various support programs, have focused on a specific group within the foreign population-female marriage migrants and children of interna- tional marriages-while paying less attention to the rest of the foreign population.3

Why have Japan and Korea diverged in their patterns of immigrant incorporation policies, despite many important similarities in immigration control policies and sociodemographic shifts? I argue that a different notion of citizenship for a specific group of foreign residents, created and reinforced by the state, accounts for these variations. To test my claim, I draw from the two countries' parliamentary debates, government documents, policy reports produced by think tanks, quasi-government research institutes, civil society organizations, and interviews as well as the secondary literature. …

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