A greater stream of foreigners to South Korea could be a breakthrough from the aggravating population structure caused by a sharp increase in senior citizens coupled with a record-low fertility rate, Prime Minster Han Duck-soo said Tuesday, urging an action plan to attract foreign workers.
"Now is the time to start discussing (creating) an independent government body to seek collaboration with foreign countries and attract more foreigner workforces." Han said, adding that these matters "must be seen through the lens of the population structure."
The remarks in the regular meeting with reporters effectively endorsed the setup of a new immigration- and foreigner-related agency, proposed by Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon on Thursday.
The Justice Minister earlier said the new government body will remove "overlapping or inefficient policies" by consolidating government functions related to immigrant administrative processes across different ministries. The Justice Minster currently runs the Seoul Immigration Office which handles administrative affairs for over 2 million expatriates here.
The Justice Ministry will also push to issue more visas to those founding a company and migrating to Korea; and to those dedicated to advanced technologies with a few restrictions to prevent technology theft. It vowed to establish the new body during the first half of this year, according to its tentative plan.
"We will discuss what must be dealt with and what we should be cautious about as we push forward with the plan to establish the body," Prime Minister Han said.
Prior to such action, the sense of hostility against immigrants must be rooted out among ordinary Korean people, Han said.
A survey conducted jointly by four agencies including Embrain Public showed in December 2022 that 46 percent of some 1,010 adult respondents opposed to the idea of attracting more immigrants to tackle the low birth rate and population ageing. The same survey showed that two-thirds of respondents were in favor of setting up an immigration-related agency.
"Importantly, it is high time for us to completely ditch the anti-foreigner sentiment," Han said. "We should be nurturing policies and mindsets towards being foreigner-friendly."
Han's remarks also resonate with the gloomy outlook for Korea's public retirement plan revealed Friday.
The public pension reserve by the National Pension Service is to be depleted by 2055, two years earlier than the previous projection in 2018.
"The worsening projection of Korea's population structure is to pose a disaster to us," Han said. "We are urged to immediately take actions to tackle the problem coming after 70 years."
The population structure of Korea could become worse than Japan, where nearly 30 percent of the population are aged 65 or older, according to Han.