Now that non-Koreans account for 4.5 percent, or 460,000, of Seoul’s 10 million residents, the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) has dramatically increased its support for its foreign residents. Intent on transforming Seoul into an “advanced multicultural city,” the city government has launched a number of new policy programs designed to promote cultural diversity and raise the quality of life for immigrants. In May 2014, Seoul became the first municipality in Korea to devise and announce its own comprehensive five-year plan for supporting immigrant residents, called the “Dagachi Seoul Master Plan.” Under the slogan of “Celebrating Diversity Together in a Multicultural Era,” the plan represents the city’s efforts to provide and expand a comprehensive network of policy support for all immigrants, including those that have previously been neglected by the central government, by 2018. A number of projects proposed by the plan are already underway across the city.
|Satisfaction scores for the city’s support centers||Satisfaction scores for various types of facilities|
The Dagachi Seoul Master Plan encompasses 100 projects, divided into 14 categories, which pursue the four core objectives of ensuring human rights, celebrating cultural diversity, sharing growth, and enhancing global capabilities.
First and foremost, the city government has set out to strengthen and protect the human rights of immigrants. The step it has taken in this regard is to create the Immigrant Human Rights Team under the Women & Family Policy Affairs Office. Seoul now has four immigrant shelters providing temporary accommodations for immigrants who have been forced to flee their homes due to unemployment or family discord. Moreover, the city intends to develop these shelters further to establish municipal homes for immigrants.
The SMG has also organized diverse programs and channels of communication and interaction in order to encourage immigrants to participate actively in local policymaking, volunteer initiatives, and other such activities. As a result, immigrant representatives now hold regular meetings to decide and articulate their positions to local policymakers. Seoul has also opened up other channels through which immigrants may participate in policymaking directly, ensuring that policies effectively addressing their concerns can be implemented.
Seoul City is also diversifying its facilities and programs for the education and training of immigrants. For example, the Seoul Global Center in Jongno provides centralized, comprehensive services for immigrants struggling to adapt to life in Seoul. In addition, the management of the 42 immigrant support centers across Seoul, including the Global Centers, has been reorganized to provide weekend programs and services. Seoul also opened the Civics Academy in 2015 to help immigrants engage as citizens fully aware of their rights and duties and participate more actively in Korean society.
The city government provides diverse forms of support for migrant workers, international students, immigrant wives and husbands, and people of Korean descent born and raised abroad who wish to establish and run their own businesses in Seoul. It also helps international students find internships at Korean businesses, in addition to providing specialized occupational and entrepreneurial training and jobs (e.g., tour guides and interpreters) for people who have immigrated to Korea by marriage.
Seoul provides support designed to help immigrants adapt to life in the city through the 24 Multicultural Family Support Centers operated by borough offices. It also operates 19 additional immigrant support centers catering to other immigrants besides families. The 19 Immigrant Support Centers include the six Migrant Workers Centers, which support the settlement and welfare of migrant workers; seven Global Village Centers, located in areas with sizable immigrant populations; two Global Business Centers, which assist the entrepreneurial initiatives of immigrants; the Seoul Global Center, which performs a supervisory role; the Southwest Global Center, which provides assistance for the Chinese immigrants of Korean descent living in the southwestern part of the city; the Dongdaemun Global Center, catering to Mongolian and Russian immigrants; and the Global Culture Experience Center, which helps foreign visitors experience various elements of Korean culture.
The Seoul Global Center is located in the heart of downtown Seoul (near Jonggak Subway Station in Jongno) in a 15-story building that also houses the Immigration Control Office, an international conference hall, and global banks catering to non-Korean clientele, providing a comprehensive range of services that immigrants and foreigners need all in one location. Cui Jinghe, CEO of Cui Trade, a startup company tenant of the Entrepreneurship Incubation Space within the Seoul Global Center, has long entertained the idea of exporting Korea’s bamboo salt to China, taking advantage of the ongoing “Korean Wave” in China and Chinese people’s increasing interest in Korean health products. This dream led Cui to complete the Trade Academy courses offered at the Center, where he also found a working space for his new business. Since 2010, the Center’s Entrepreneurial Incubation Space has enabled 58 businesses to successfully launch their products and services. Moreover, 34 percent of its tenants succeed in founding their businesses and generating revenue while they are still tenants there. The Seoul Global Center provides a host of other services for immigrants, including consultations and advice on everyday matters and Korean language classes. There are about two dozen consultants on hand at the Center to assist immigrants in 10 languages, including Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese (Mandarin), and Vietnamese.
|Migrant Workers Centers in Seoul||Available at the Seoul Global Center|
There are currently six Migrant Workers Centers across Seoul, providing education programs, counseling, healthcare, and occupational competency enhancement programs for foreigners working in Korea. A Vietnamese woman working at an authorized Korean business found that one of her fingers had sustained damage after only one year of working. The woman told her employer about the pain, but all her employer did was reproach her for “whining” and punish her by not paying her for a month. The woman took her case to the nearby Seongdong Migrant Workers Center, which referred her to a doctor specializing in occupational injuries and a certified labor attorney. With their help, the woman was able to apply for workers’ compensation and finally receive the wages she was owed as well as compensation for her treatment.
An aspiring barista, Isaac registered at the Yangcheon Migrant Workers Center to take the barista course. With the center’s help, he earned a barista certificate and began investing in the coffee industry in his homeland. Seoul’s Migrant Workers Centers provide effective solutions for a wide range of problems that migrant workers face while in Korea.
|Seoul Global Center||Immigrant Business Support Workshop|
The Multicultural Family Support Center, a joint endeavor of the central government and the SMG, provides a wide range of services designed to support immigrants and their families in Korea, including education, counseling and advice, Korean language classes, referrals to other services, job-seeking support and information, and translation and interpretation services.
Yeonho, a child of an immigrant mother who is now enrolled in Grade 3 at a Korean public school, had had little exposure to the Korean language prior to attending school here. He struggled to understand what teachers said and had difficulty expressing what he wanted to say. However, thanks to the linguistic development program offered at the Multicultural Family Support Center, Yeonho’s Korean proficiency improved dramatically in only six months.
Children of immigrant families often face considerable difficulty at school due to the language barrier. The Multicultural Family Support Center helps these children adapt better to school environments in addition to providing a variety of other services for immigrant families, including a mentoring program in which women who have emigrated to and settled in Korea for marriage offer advice to other women immigrants.
|Korean class field trip||Seoul Living Assistant|
In an effort to help immigrants participate more actively in Seoul’s policymaking process, the city government organized the Immigrant Representatives Committee in late 2015. Comprising 38 immigrants from 23 countries who are now residents of Seoul, the committee represents diverse immigrant groups, including married immigrants, migrant workers, international students, and foreigners with business interests in Seoul. It produces various proposals for improving foreigner-related policies in Seoul, the most recent of which include the change of required information on alien registration cards and creation of an agency to support adopted children.
The city government ensures that the committee’s proposals are shared with its own divisions as well as relevant departments and agencies of the central government in order to promote the implementation of policies that more effectively cater to the interests of immigrants. Moreover, Seoul has appointed 100 “Seoul Living Assistants,” who are immigrants themselves, and tasked them with helping other newly arrived immigrants solve various problems and better adapt to life in Seoul.
Immigrants continue to make up a sizable and growing proportion of the population of Seoul. The city government is thus dedicating an increasing amount of its policy resources and energy toward fostering a social environment that respects diversity and welcomes immigrants rather than excluding them as aliens. For their part, immigrants and their families also help strengthen Seoul’s interactions and relations, as a major global city, with other cities and countries around the world. Respecting immigrants as competent individuals conversant in both languages and cultures, Seoul intends to continue providing effective support to help such residents adapt to life in the city.