Local governments compete to attract new immigration agency

Foreign residents in Seoul write letters and pack stuff for winter such as winter coats for foreign workers  at Seoul Plaza, Nov. 14, 2022. Newsis

Foreign residents in Seoul write letters and pack stuff for winter such as winter coats for foreign workers at Seoul Plaza, Nov. 14, 2022. Newsis

Experts highlight tailored policies based on types of foreign residents

By Jung Da-hyun

Local governments are engaged in a competitive bid to host the country’s new immigration agency, as legislative efforts to establish one gain momentum in the National Assembly.

This agency is expected to play the role of a control tower for handling affairs related to foreign residents.

Rep. Jeong Jeom-sig and nine other lawmakers from the ruling People Power Party (PPP) have proposed a bill, Feb. 2, to revise the Government Organization Act, aiming to create an immigration agency under the Ministry of Justice.

The PPP’s interim leader Han Dong-hoon, who had served as the justice minister before joining the party, has actively supported advanced immigration policies to tackle the nation’s demographic challenges.

With approximately 2.3 million foreign nationals making up 4.4 percent of the total population, there is a growing need for cohesive immigration policies through the creation of a dedicated government entity.

Ansan Mayor Lee Min-geun, right, and Ji Eui-sang, chancellor of Shin Ansan University, pose at Ansan City Hall in Gyeonggi Province, Jan. 23, after signing a business agreement to attract a new immigration agency to the city. Yonhap

Ansan Mayor Lee Min-geun, right, and Ji Eui-sang, chancellor of Shin Ansan University, pose at Ansan City Hall in Gyeonggi Province, Jan. 23, after signing a business agreement to attract a new immigration agency to the city. Yonhap

Ansan in Gyeonggi Province is actively vying for the establishment of the new immigration agency in the region.

With 14.2 percent of its population being made up of foreign nationals, Ansan has proactively been highlighting its already-existing special organization that provides services for foreign residents.

The city was designated as an inaugural special zone for multicultural villages in Wongok-dong. Additionally, it garnered recognition after joining the Council of Europe’s Intercultural Cities Programme.

Recently, the city reached out to 116 embassies in Korea seeking cooperation, and submitted a proposal to the justice ministry, aiming to attract the immigration agency. It also revealed plans to offer local university sites and buildings as potential government facilities by signing agreements with the universities.

Gimpo and Goyang in Gyeonggi Province and Incheon have also formalized their stances and are actively aiming to attract the new immigration agency to their respective areas.

Gimpo submitted a proposal to the justice ministry last year, signaling its proactive stance. The city also established a task force to attract the new immigration agency.

It underscored its geographical advantages, emphasizing that key transportation hubs are found there or nearby: Incheon International Airport, Gimpo International Airport, Gyeongin Port and Incheon Port are conveniently situated all within a 30-minute proximity of each other. This highlights the city’s significance in fostering efficient transportation and facilitating international exchanges.

Goyang stressed its accessibility, boasting airports and ports within a 40-kilometer radius. It is also close to an extensive network of railroads and major road systems.

The city asserted the importance of attracting the new immigration agency to the region, highlighting that the northern part of Gyeonggi Province alone accommodates approximately 110,000 foreign residents.

Incheon, where the Overseas Koreans Agency is located, is also actively advocating for the attraction of a new immigration agency, emphasizing potential positive outcomes, such as fostering business links.

Other local governments, including South Chungcheong Province, South Jeolla Province, North Gyeongsang Province and Busan, have also joined the bid.

South Chungcheong Province, in particular, said that the optimal location for the new immigration agency should be in a non-metropolitan area, as the Overseas Koreans Agency was established in Incheon. The province also has a large number of foreign residents, exceeding 98,000.

International students take a selfie in front of the international center at Yeungnam University in North Gyeongsang Province, June 25, 2023. Newsis

International students take a selfie in front of the international center at Yeungnam University in North Gyeongsang Province, June 25, 2023. Newsis

Cho Jung-hyun, a professor of international law at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, stressed the significance of establishing a new immigration agency in response to the changing dynamics of the increasing number of foreign residents.

“Local governments and the central government should cooperate and establish several branches for this agency,” he said.

He emphasized the need for comprehensive consideration regarding various factors, including accessibility, in deciding the agency’s location, and argued against having only one in Seoul or Incheon, citing operational limitations.

“If the local government actively speaks out and the central government also expedites the establishment of the immigration office and promotes the policy, it would be more beneficial,” Cho said.

Meanwhile, professor Seol Dong-hoon from the Department of Sociology at Jeonbuk National University contends that immigration should not be viewed solely as a means to address population decline in society.

“Different policies should be applied based on the types of foreign residents,” he said.

He advocates for a tailored approach, suggesting that for permanent immigrants, the focus should be on accepting individuals who can actively contribute to society and facilitating their successful settlement.

A separate policy for temporary immigrants, including foreign workers and international students, should be focused on assisting them in transitioning their visa status if they meet certain standards, such as becoming skilled workers.

“Rather than an unconditional focus on settling foreign residents in Korea, immigration policies should be crafted to benefit our society in diverse ways and effectively manage the influx,” Seol said.

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