“Doomed to extinction,” South Korea wants to survive through immigration

She spends her days making frozen dumplings. Nu Nguyen, a 27-year-old Vietnamese woman, works in a food processing plant in Yeongcheon, in the southeast of South Korea. She came to the country to study business management at a university in Seoul. After graduating, she tried to obtain a residency permit, which allows foreigners to apply for highly skilled positions. Without success: the conditions for obtaining this status are very strict; the candidate’s training, in particular, must correspond precisely to the job sought.

Nu Nguyen then applied for a “regional specific visa,” which allowed her to get hired by her current employer. The program, which came into effect this year, allows international students to live and work in regions designated as “depopulated” by the government. And, after five years, to apply for a permanent residence permit.

The young Vietnamese woman wants to live and work in South Korea for a while longer – even though her current job has nothing to do with her studies. In the past, foreign students who wanted to stay and work in the country had to work for ten years before they could apply for permanent residency.

World record for low birth rate

If the government has decided to implement this new visa, despite a public opinion that is still wary, it is first and foremost because of the declining birth rate, which is inexorably increasing in South Korea: the synthetic fertility rate (i.e. the number of children that a woman would hypothetically have during her life) is capped at 0.72 (the lowest level in the world).

This situation, combined with the extreme concentration of the population in metropolitan areas such as Seoul, is exacerbating the depopulation of rural areas, where there is a severe shortage of labor. 89 municipalities, or about 40% of the total, have been designated as “depopulated areas”, 66 of them applied

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