The history and present state of Korean diasporas

In-Jin Yoon


Diaspora, referring to mass dispersions of a population, is a term most notably used to mean the expulsion of Jews from Israel when they were taken to Babylon as captives after the fall ot the ancient Jewish Kingdom and, in particular, the dispersion of Jews to places around the world after the Roman Empire’s destruction ot Jerusalem. As time passed, this term came to refer to immigrants from various backgrounds and properties and fell into more popular use. Large- scale emigration of the Korean people began as early as the mid-19th century when they left tor Manchuria and the Maritime Province. Their emigration and settlement satisfy the required conditions to be called a Korean diaspora in terms of its history. Stalin’s deportation of ethnic Koreans in the Soviet Union to Central Asia demonstrates a typical aspect of a diaspora. Korean immigration to Central America, North America, Europe, and Oceania after the 1960s, however, was not forced but somewhat voluntary so it is hard to define it as such. The situation has been one in which any type ot diaspora has been grasped from an ultranationalist point ot view. And yet, overseas Korean nationals are living as objects of discrimination and exclusion, unappreciated as social members of the countries in which they reside, even now. Conservative right-wing Japanese people’s anti-Korea demonstrations and their hate speeches against the Korean people are a showcase ot the reality of members of the minority Korean diaspora who cannot help but live eternally as strangers or aliens in Japan even though they are fourth- or fifth-generation ethnic Koreans in Japan. North Korean defectors who had risked their lives to come to South Korea for freedom found themselves as the second-class citizens in their new homeland, and about 10% of them decided to immigrate to Western countries claiming they are refugees. The overseas North Korean refugees are a new addition to Korean diaspora.

Diaspora in this chapter is used as a concept to encompass multifarious facets of historical experiences of Korean people’s immigration to and settlement in foreign nations and to expound their correlations. Thus, the Korean diaspora is defined as “the dispersion of Korean people or people ot the same roots or ancestry living around the world after leaving their motherland.”

Table 4.1 The state of overseas Koreans, 2019








% in


Rate of increase

  • 2011-2019
  • (%>

Northeast Asia Japan
























South Asia and Pacific








North America United States
























Central and South America
























Middle East
















Source: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 2019 State of Overseas Koreans.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ 2019 statistics, the Korean diaspora with over 150-year history of emigration and settlement consists of 7,493,587 people in 193 countries around the world. This number ot Korean overseas nationals reaches roughly 10% of the total population of South and North Korea. In terms of region, Korean immigrants and descendants have dispersed far and wide including 3,286,732 people in Northeast Asia, 592,441 people in Southern Asia and the Pacific region, 2,788,732 people in North America, 103,617 people in Central and South America, 687,059 people in Europe, 10,877 people in Africa, and 24,498 people in the Middle East. This population is focused on countries such as the United States (2,546,982 people), China (2,461,386 people), Japan (824,977 people), Canada (241,750 people), Uzbekistan (177,270 people), Vietnam (172,684 people), Russia (169,933 people), Australia (167,331 people), Kazakhstan (109,923 people), and the Philippines (85,125 people) (see Table 4.1).

The above population figures show that the population of Korean compatriots in the Middle East, Southern Asia and the Pacific, and North America grew remarkably while the population in Northeast Asia, Central and South America, Europe, and Africa fell. Population growth in Southern Asia and the Pacific, especially that in Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia, is particularly remarkable. There are less Korean permanent residents as well as compatriots with citizenship whereas there is a plurality ot long-term stayers and students in these countries. This has resulted from an increase in Korean compatriots who emigrated to Southern Asia in the early 1990s for the purpose ot doing business, looking for a job, visiting, or studying. Ethnic Koreans in this region display a new settlement model referred to as “a community ot sedentary long-term sojourners” in which Korean people reside in a country while extending their temporary visas on account ot the policies of some nations that do not allow free immigration. Another notable trend is the increase in aged Korean compatriots. If the departure point of modern Korean immigration was the early 1960s, the first generation of Korean compatriots who immigrated in their 20s or 30s would currently be in their 70s or 80s. Overseas Korean society cannot be out of sync with the aging tendency just as Korea is becoming one of the world’s fastest super-aging societies, surpassing typical aging societies.

Ethnic Korean societies in South America, North America, Europe, and Oceania grew as the result of overseas immigration after the 1970s, but these societies seem to have reached a plateau in the 2000s. This could be on account of overseas immigration being reduced after the 1980s and a higher number of overseas Koreans returning to their motherland beginning in the early 1990s. Concepts which were considered significant in the growing period of ethnic Korean societies, i.e., adaptation, settlement, and ethnic identity, seem less important. Overseas Korean societies are currently undergoing a transition defined as the “end of a growth model.” As the inflow of new immigrants is halted and second- and third- generation Korean immigrants are gradually integrated into mainstream society, issues in the nations they reside such as those pertaining to intermarriage, multicultural families, multiracial identity, and main streaming have become more important. Overseas Korean societies whose populations stop growing and whose members have entered into mainstream society advance in a completely different direction.

History of the Korean diaspora

The dispersion of overseas Koreans has a relatively shorter history than that of other groups such as Jews, Chinese, Greeks, and Italians but has so broad a spectrum of experiences surrounding immigration and settlement that Koreans can be found everywhere around the world. The history of Korean immigration is largely divided into three types: the old immigration from the mid-19th century to the early 1960s, the new immigration from the early 1960s to the early 1990s, the return migration from the early 1990s to the present. More specifically, it can be divided into five periods as follows. The first period ranges from the 1860s to 1910 (the year when Japan formally annexed Korea). In this period, peasants and workers emigrated to China, Russia, Hawaii, Mexico, and Cuba to avoid famine, poverty, and oppression from the ruling class. People suffered from living-related hardships due to a recurring drought while undergoing severe social disorders in the late 19th century when Western powers were jostling one another for advantages in the land ot Joseon. In addition, a food shortage was escalating quickly as Japan plundered rice and grains from Joseon. Koreans who moved to Manchuria in China and the Maritime Province in Russia in the late Joseon period were economically drifting people who lived an unstable life in terms of status and had to reclaim agricultural land. Their immigration was initially economical to ameliorate the hardships of life, but the immigration of independent activists was a political move for the independence of their country. As a result, the Maritime Province was a Korean independence movement hub at the time.

The first large group of Korean immigrants arrived at a sugar plantation in Hawaii in 1903. Japan later prohibited Koreans from immigrating to Hawaii to protect the Japanese workers there in 1905. From January 1903 to August 1905, 7,291 Korean immigrants, mostly bachelors in their 20s, arrived in Hawaii. Approximately 1,000 Korean women moved to Hawaii to marry them in 1924 and formed families via photographic marriages (Yoon, 2003). The first large group ot Korean immigrants to Central and South America arrived at a henequen farm in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico in 1905 as indentured servants, roughly 300 of whom would later immigrate to Cuba in 1921 (K. Lee, 2007). Even though these Korean immigrants and their descendants maintained very small communities, they rapidly assimilated into local societies and cultures as their connections to their homeland were severed.

The second period is the Japanese colonial era (1910—1945) during which both farmers and workers who had been deprived of their means of production immigrated to Manchuria, China and Japan. In addition, political refugees and independence activists moved to China, Russia, and America to continue their independence movement. Japan carried out a mass immigration of Korean people for the purpose of developing Manchuria, which they later used as an opportunity to launch the Manchurian Incident in 1931 and establish Manchukuo, a puppet state of the Empire ot Japan in Northeast China in 1932. With this, the total population of Koreans in the region increased to roughly 500,000 people in the late 1930s, of which approximately 250,000 Koreans are known to have arrived through mass migration (Kwon, 1996).

Japan experienced an economic boom during World War 1, leading Koreans to move to Japan to be workers. As a result, the population ot Koreans in Japan numbered almost

300.000 by the end of the 1920s. A large number ot Koreans were taken to mines or battlefields with the Sino-Japanese War in 1937 and the Pacific War in 1941. The number of Korean residents in Japan had rapidly increased due to this series of upheavals and was around 2.3 million people as of August 1945 when Japan was defeated by the United States. Afterward, a vast number of Koreans permanently returned to their motherland and the population rapidly decreased to 598,507 people in 1947 (Lee, 1996).

Koreans drafted into the Japanese military by force in the latter half ot the period ofjapanese colonial rule between 1939 and 1945 moved to South Sakhalin, a Japanese territory at the time. These Koreans and some of their descendants permanently returned to Korea in the 1990s. Some Koreans had voluntarily immigrated to Sakhalin to engage in agriculture as early as the 1860s but the number was no more than 67 according to a census conducted by the Russian government in 1897 (Cho, 2009). As Korean peasants began immigrating to Sakhalin during the Japanese colonial era, the population continued to grow. Later, Koreans in the Maritime Province and about 1,000 Koreans in North Sakhalin were deported to Central Asia on account of Stalin’s deportation policy of Korean people in the former Soviet Union in 1937. Since then, Koreans have only resided in South Sakhalin. Japan moved Koreans to Sakhalin under the National Mobilization Act stipulated in 1938 and forced them to work in nearly 30 mines, log yards, and airport construction sites as well as on roads and railways. The number of forcibly drafted Koreans is estimated at 60,000—150,000 people (Cho, 2009). When the former Soviet Union occupied South Sakhalin in August 1945 after declaring war against Japan, Koreans were expected to return to their homeland, but the Soviet Union has forbidden about

43.000 Korean people with Japanese nationality from leaving Sakhalin. They were deprived of their Japanese nationality by the Soviet government followingjapan’s defeat and were left to acquire Russian citizenship. Koreans in Sakhalin were unable to return to Korea for over 30 years after the war. Thankfully, the first generation of Korean immigrants in this region were able to go back home by 1990 when the Soviet government finally allowed them to visit their homeland and return for good beginning in 1988.

The third period ranges from 1945 to 1962, the year when the Korean government first formulated its immigration policy. The scale of Korean overseas compatriots was temporarily reduced during this period on account of Koreans residing in China and Japan coming back to Korea following the country’s liberation from Japanese rule. The number of individuals who returned home immediately after Korea’s liberation is estimated at 700,000 people, 40% ot the total population of Koreans residing in China at the time. Official figures released by the Japanese government suggest that 1.04 million Koreans returned to Korea between August 1945 and 1950; however, the actual number is estimated to be higher as this statistical data does not include the number of Koreans who returned at their own expense (Yoon, 2003).

Some Koreans continued to move overseas during this period. War orphans created by the Korean War, women who married U.S. soldiers, and children of mixed parentage immigrated to the United States and Canada. A considerable number of students who went to the United States to study settled in the nation regardless of whether they obtained a degree. Like Korean women who married American soldiers, these Koreans paved the path for a series of immigration. When the U.S. government opened its doors wide for immigrants in 1965, they went on to invite their families to join them (Yoon, 2003).

Korean society in Japan has been divided into two groups under the Cold War system: the General Association ot Korean Residents in Japan (Chochongryeon, for short) and the Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan, tor short). North Korea has implemented aggressive overseas North Korean policies, which include North Koreans in Japan. North Korea intended to accept Koreans in Japan to secure a labor force to restore the nation after the war while Japan wanted to repatriate them to North Korea. The project of repatriating Koreans in Japan to North Korea was launched on account of the two governments’ shared interests. As a result, 93,000 Koreans living in Japan were repatriated to North Korea between 1959 and 1984. These Koreans migrated to North Korea under the belief that it was a paradise. In actuality, most of them were punished as impure elements and put into political prisoner camps where they lived out a miserable existence until they died (Oh, 2010).

The fourth period ranges from 1962 to 1990 when South Korea and the Soviet Union entered into diplomatic relations. Since then, immigration has been carried out with the goal of settlement. Most Korean immigrants and their descendants, save tor those in China, Japan, and the Commonwealth of Independent States, immigrated during this period. The Korean government began to carry out collective immigration or contracted immigration to South America, Western Europe, the Middle East, and North America in 1962. The objectives ot its immigration policy during this period were to lower demographic pressure by sending its surplus population to foreign countries and to acquire foreign currencies which would be sent back home by overseas Koreans. The first round of collective immigration was the agricultural immigration of 103 peasants to Brazil in 1963. Afterward, Koreans were sent to Central and South American countries such as Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia under the pretext ot reclaiming agricultural land. However, most immigrants immediately moved to big cities and engaged in commerce as they had no agricultural experience and reclaiming wastelands was much too difficult (Son, 2007). Also in 1963, miners and nurses were sent to West Germany as contract migrants: 5,323 miners in total were sent until 1977, including 247 workers who were first sent in 1963; 10,032 nurses in total were dispatched until 1976, including 128 nurses who were first dispatched in 1966 (Korea-Europe Society, 2003).

Immigration to the United States and Canada began in earnest when an immigration law which had favored immigrants from Northern and Western Europe was revised in the mid-1960s. White-collar workers and highly educated middle-class Koreans were most active in their attempts to immigrate to the United States and Canada (Yoon, 2003). Approximately 35,000 Koreans immigrated to the United States every year between 1985 and 1987 and, consequently, Korea had become one of the top three countries with immigrants following Mexico and the Philippines. Immigration to the United States began to decrease after the Seoul Olympics in 1988 while the number of those returning to Korea began to increase.

After being revised in 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act of the United States served as an opportunity to pave a path for sedentary family immigration whereas the Vietnam War from 1955 to 1975 served as an impetus for technicians to be dispatched to Vietnam. After the war, these Korean technical experts migrated to the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Australia, forging the foundation for Korean societies in those regions. From 1965 when the battles were particularly intense to 1973 when a peace treaty between the United States and Vietnam was signed, Korea dispatched 312,853 soldiers in total and roughly 2,000 technicians for military aid. These technical personnel belonged to Korean companies like Hanjin, Hyundai, and Samhwan and American firms like Vinnell and PA&E. They received personal economic gains while they dedicated themselves to Korea’s economic growth through their paramilitary economic practices.

Immediately after the conclusion of the Vietnam War, the 1973 oil crisis pulled not only Korea but also Western countries into an economic crisis. Based on its experience of sending mine workers and nurses to West Germany, the Korean government dispatched workers to the Middle East’s construction markets in order to solve the unemployment problem. In 1985 when increased demands for construction marked a climactic point, 120,245 workers were working in construction sites in the Middle East. After the construction boom was dampened, these Korean workers migrated to other nations to seek new jobs.

The immigration of Koreans to Australia gained a new turning point with the migration of Koreans who had worked as contract workers in Germany, Vietnam, and the Middle East between the 1960s and the 1980s. Koreans also began to immigrate to Australia in search of job opportunities derived from the mine development boom. As many as 500 technicians dispatched to Vietnam and discharged soldiers migrated to Australia on a heroic scale. They entered Australia with short-term tourist visas and stayed and worked there illegally. They later acquired permanent residence following the Australian government’s decree of amnesty and invited their families whom they had left behind in Korea to join them. This move drew out Koreans staying in Iran and South American nations such as Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay as well as the miners and nurses in West Germany to Australia.

Illegal immigrants were able to settle down legally after the Australian government announced a second decree of amnesty in June 1980. With these Koreans reuniting with their families, Korean society in Australia began to grow in earnest. However, new Korean immigrants who were entering Australia by way of an investment immigration campaign launched in 1986 were different from pre-existing members of Korean society in terms of character. They immigrated with capital and had a high standard of social and economic life. Differences between the old and new immigrants in terms of their background and method of immigration and the process of settlement became a cause of confrontation and conflict, creating a rift between the two groups.

The starting point of the fifth period was the reintegration of Korean compatriots in the former Soviet Union and China through the establishment of diplomatic ties between South Korea and the Soviet Union in 1990 and South Korea and China in 1992. Korean compatriots in the communist bloc were deemed unimportant under the Cold War system but began to be included in statistical data after the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and China. According to the current status of overseas Korean compatriots (as of 2017) by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the number of overseas Koreans rapidly increased from 2.32 million people in 1991 to 5.54 million in 1995. During this period in particular, more ethnic Koreans living in China entered Korea to find jobs, get married, study, or visit, resulting in an increase in their influence.

At the end of the 1990s, Koreans in their 30s who had lost their jobs and were worried about job insecurity due to the 1997 Asian financial crisis began to look toward immigration to solve their problems. In 1999, 5,267 people immigrated to find a job, a number which had increased to 8,369 by 2000 (Yoon, 2013). These Koreans were mostly in their 30s and lived stable lives as highly educated individuals with professional backgrounds. Given how Canada has enacted an immigration policy that gives preference to highly educated professional workers, the country has become a new destination for Korean immigration in lieu of the United States.

The large populations of Korean societies in English-speaking countries including Canada were in part Korean students who went overseas for study at an early age and students tor language courses in the late 1990s. In particular, Canada accepted many students when it carried out the visa exemption agreement with Korea in 1994. The United States also carried out a visa exemption program for Korean students in 2008 so students for language courses went to the United States instead of Canada. As these students stayed for a short period of time, they are usually not considered overseas Koreans and have no sympathy with other Korean compatriots. Although they have little contact with Korean compatriots, they are the main customers of Korean shops, boarding houses, and language training institutes with their economic power that is by no means negligible. And, some ot those students are included as new members of Korean society after gaining permanent residence through employment and marriage.

The current state of Korean diaspora

As reviewed above, each period ot Korean immigration depends on different factors in both Korea and the nations to which they have immigrated. Korean immigrants in each period differ greatly in terms of their motivation to immigrate, their background, and human resources. With this, overseas Koreans in each region throughout the world have been incorporated into the societies of the countries where they have taken up residence and the social aspects they face have been quite different.

Koreans in China

Koreans in China (referred to as Joseonjok in South Korea and Chaoxianzu in China) have been undergoing problems such as unemployment and poverty caused by their alienation in the process ot China’s economic growth, a decrease in population, and a decline in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture due to population movement and a falling birth rate (Han and Kwon, 1993; Jung, 2009; Kim and Huh, 2001). Population decreases in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture have resulted in several crises such as a brain drain, a decline in the standard of national education, and Koreans becoming part of Han society due to an increase in Han residents in the region. However, Joseonjok who move to large cities like Beijing, Shenyang, Shanghai, and Qingdao manage to adapt themselves to the capitalistic economic environment while engaging in urban-type occupations such as commerce, sales, service, and production work. They have forged a loose urban community through their voluntarily organized associations and racial press media (Yoon, 2003). Thus, agricultural Korean communities in Northeast China, or Dongbei, have been deconstructed and weakened while urban Korean communities have been enlivened. Old-time Joseonjok and Korean newcomers are forming Korean societies in Beijing’s Wangjing, Shenyang’s Xita Street, and Qingdao’s Chengyang District.

Koreans in the Commonwealth of Independent States

Ethnic Koreans (called Koryeoins or Koryeo-saram) in the Commonwealth of Independent States including Central Asia have faced a series of problems after the collapse of the Soviet Union. They suffer from serious economic difficulties that have arisen from the deconstruction of the Soviet Union in 1989, discrimination resulting from nationalism following the independence of Central Asian states in 1991, the loss of their own native language, and the extinction of national culture. Koreans who have migrated to the Maritime Province and Volgograd undergo hardships in terms of occupation, housing, income, and education (Yoon, 2003). The biggest problems Koryeoins currently face are in regard to education and migrant labor (Sung, 2018). Koryeoins had managed to advance to professional work that requires high education under the former Soviet Union system, but free education was dissolved and public education collapsed as the government’s investment into education reduced sharply after the independence of Central Asian states. The next generation of highly uneducated Koryeoins will be facing a bleak future in an environment of education and employment policies that give preference to local citizens. More and more Koryeoins living primarily in Uzbekistan are immigrating to South Korea to overcome such problems. However, they face difficulties in regard to settling in Korea because their legal status is unstable and their visa sojourn period is limited. They also have trouble escaping from complications that arise due to issues with language, child education, and family dispersion.

Koreans in Japan

Koreans in Japan face problems such as discrimination in the workplace, public service, and political participation; rapid assimilation into Japanese society and culture due to an increasing rate of marriage to Japanese citizens; and the weakening of national education (Han, 2002). The number of first- and second-generation Koreans has gradually declined and more third- and fourth-generation Koreans have assimilated into Japanese society by acquiring Japanese citizenship or being born in the country, as is the case with fourth-generation Koreans. Korean society in Japan consists of mainly next-generation Koreans who are less associated with and connected to their motherland. Contrary to this, Koreans who came to Japan after the Korean government’s liberalization of overseas trips in 1989 are called “newcomers.” They breathe vitality into Korean society in Japan with occupations, lifestyles, and identities that are different from those of the older generations of immigrants.

Koreans in Japan are still restricted by how they can join Japanese mainstream society: they are not yet guaranteed fundamental human rights like suffrage due to Japanese society’s rightward shift in the 2000s and chauvinism. Their political power cannot help but be limited until the situation is improved by granting permanent expat residents the right to vote. In addition, expulsion agitations and hate speeches by a Japanese chauvinist group continue to seriously threaten Korean immigrants’ life, safety, and right to pursue happiness.

Koreans in the United States

Koreans in the United States live in relatively more affluent, liberal surroundings compared to Koreans in other regions. They are seen as having overcome the matter of basic survival to some extent and no longer face racial discrimination in the arena of laws and institutions. Instead, pending issues in Korean society in the United States are apropos of racial identity, exogamy, conflicts between generations, and political participation (Hurh, 1998).

The relationship between Koreans and Black Americans has improved since the 1992 Los Angeles riots but there are still differences in perceptions between the two groups 28 years after the uprising. Koreans do not tend to find themselves in constant, infinite relationships with Black Americans and the two groups only make contact with one another when necessary. Experts warn of a second riot, seeing the current situation as a state of truce. Korean employers are also facing trouble with Latin employees regarding the employment of illegal immigrants, low wages, excessive working hours, and human rights violations, which might ignite new racial conflicts.

The trend of change in Korean society in the United States is also due to exogamy referring to marriage outside a racial or social group. According to the United States Census ot 2010, 280,000 Koreans, about 17% ot 1.7 million Korean people in the United States, had a multiracial background. As 54% of Korean Americans born in the United States marry people of other races, not Koreans, the population of Koreans with a multiracial background will increase continuously (Min and Kim, 2009).

Another noticeable trend is aging. As mentioned above, the first-generation Korean immigrants who trailblazed immigration in the early 1970s are now in their 70s or 80s. The number ot senior citizen-aged Koreans reported in the United States Census ot 2010 was 9%. This figure rapidly increased trom 5% in 1990 (Min and Kim, 2009). The aging index of South Korea is 14% as of 2018 and Korean Americans are also predicted to increase in the same direction of their homeland. If newcomers to America decrease and old-timers steadily increase, Korean society in the United States will integrate into mainstream American society, stopping its growth. This prospect will be the same for other Korean societies in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, as well as European and Central and South American nations.

Koreans in Canada

Because the immigration and settlement ot Koreans in Canada has a shorter history than that of America, it can be said to have been in an early stage. Issues pertaining to Korean immigration are still unemployment and discrimination in the labor market. Korean people who recently immigrate to Canada are mostly highly educated professional white-collar workers in their 30s or 40s. As Canadian employers usually require on-site work experience, they seek a conversion to self-employment or technical work, unable to find a job in their major fields. A multitude of primary, middle, and high school students stay for the purpose ot overseas study but a considerable number of students have troubles adjusting to society due to an academic slump, emotional instability, and poor education in the family.

Koreans in Central and South America

There is a big generation gap in Korean immigration to Central and South America. Descendants ot early immigrants to Mexico in the early 20th century have assimilated with local society and culture so it is difficult to find their identity as Korean people while Koreans who immigrated as agricultural workers in the early 1960s and by family invitation and for investment in the 1980s have a distinct identity and pride as Korean people. With this, there is no practical exchange between descendants of early immigrants and latter immigrants and Korean society in Mexico is led primarily by the latter immigrants (J. Lee, 2007). Korean people in Central and South America including Mexico have laid an economic base mainly through the garment business and paid attention to their children’s education but they have a weak will to settle in those nations. This is mainly because such Central and South American countries are politically and economically insecure. This has been pointed out as one ot the critical problems in Korean societies in those nations. Other problems include too much competition among Korean people as they engage in only a limited type of business and anti-Korean sentiment caused by Korean merchants’ violation of local laws.

The fashion business, especially women’s clothing, through which many Koreans living in Brazil and Argentina have laid their economic foundation, has been in a serious crisis owing to economic difficulty South American nations have undergone since 2013. In addition, both Bolivians and Chinese illegal immigrants pardoned after the mid-1990s have emerged as strong contenders against Korean garment businessmen in the field of women’s clothing. The economic situation of Korean people has worsened with this as young Korean people cannot get jobs. Additionally, an increased number ot Korean people re-immigrate to North America or return to Korea for good (Choi, 2018).

Koreans in Europe

Korean people’s immigration to Europe has a relatively shorter history than that of Asia and America and has fewer immigrants. And, there are more short-term residents. Korean immigration to Europe varies by period: adopted orphans after the Korean War, mine workers and female nurses to West Germany, student immigration and resident employee work immigration. The most important groups of immigrants are the miners and nurses to West Germany, students, and resident employees. Korean immigrants to Germany, Switzerland, and Austria are mostly those with a background as miners and nurses while Korean immigrants in the UK, France, Italy, and Spain are mostly students and sojourning employees at branches of Korean trading firms. Germany had the largest Korean population up to the 1980s, but the UK has been the center of Korean immigration since the 1990s. Unlike American countries, European nations have not accepted the immigrants actively so Korean societies in Europe will not see any tremendous growth. However, tourists, students, and sojourning employees and their families will increase since trade will be invigorated by the Free Trade Agreement settled between South Korea and the EU. Thus, Korean societies will attain a gradual growth from some ot those Koreans who will settle in these regions.

Koreans in Australia and New Zealand

Korean society in Australia experienced severe conflicts between old-comers and newcomers. The old-comers had entered with a tourist visa between the 1960s and the 1980s and stayed in the country illegally but were later pardoned by the Australian government. The newcomers, on the other hand, had entered the country under a form of investment or business immigration beginning in 1986. Like Koreans in America, a large number of Koreans in Australia are self-employed. They suffer from low earnings as their customers are mostly Korean compatriots and they engage in limited types of business. Given how their tourist-related businesses are heavily dependent on Korean tourists, they are vulnerable and sensitive to business fluctuations in Korea.

Korean society in New Zealand has a shorter history and smaller population than that in Australia. The number of Koreans who re-immigrated to Australia, America, and Canada is increasing as they have not been able to get a break from the long period of economic depression due to little domestic demand. Korean society is undergoing difficulty as many Koreans re-immigrate to Australia tor their children’s college education.

Evolution of Korean diaspora

As mentioned above, the Korean diaspora, which began in the middle of the 19th century, has been changing or evolving in direction, membership, and pattern for over 150 years. First, in terms of direction, the Korean diaspora was an “out-migration” from the mid-19th century to the end of the 1980s, going abroad from the Korean Peninsula. Then, from the late 1980s, the return of overseas Koreans, foreign workers, marriage immigrants, and international students transformed South Korea into an immigrant-receiving country. From now on, the Korean diaspora will become two-way migration going in and out of Korea.

Second, in relation to the members, the Korean diaspora was the migration of Koreans at the beginning, but Korean diaspora’s leading role changed from Koreans to non-Korean immigrants to Korea from the early 1990s. As of January, 2020, foreign residents exceeded 2.4 million people, accounting for 5% of the South Korean population. The multicultural family formed through international marriages between Koreans and foreigners passed one million in 2018, and the cumulative number of naturalized foreigners was over 200,000. As South Korea has transformed itself from a mono-ethnic and mono-cultural society to a multi-ethnic and multicultural one, the Korean diaspora has become a concept that refers to what Koreans experience while living abroad and what immigrants experience while living in Korea.

Third, in the aspect of form, in the early stages, the Korean diaspora took the form of “ethnic dispersal,” involuntarily immigrating due to tragic experiences in the home country. The next step was to form a “network” between overseas Koreans residing in countries around the world formed by onward migration from the home country to intermediate countries and to the destination countries. At this stage, concepts such as “Korean ethnic network community” and “global Korean network” were proposed by scholars and policy makers to utilize the network between overseas Koreans and their home country tor mutual benefits and prosperity. As the next step, Yoon (2019) applies the concept of platform to Korean diaspora. As a platform, Korean diaspora produces a win-win ecosystem where overseas Koreans around the world and Koreans in the home country interact and exchange with each other on the basis of global Korean networks and create new opportunities and values. The development of transportation and information and the rise of Korea as a global leader facilitate this kind of platform industry. The best example of this would be the World Korean Business Convention where Korean entrepreneurs around the world participate to locate buyers and sellers and make business transactions expanding economic activities. It started in 2002 and it has continued to grow in the number of participants and business transactions. Therefore, Korean diaspora has evolved from ethnic dispersal to network and to the platform as the time and space of Korean diaspora has continued to expand over 150 years.

Onward migration and multilateral coethnic relationships

The migration of Koreans has not been unilinear nor strictly based on permanent settlement in their first host country. Overseas Koreans have instead continued migrating for better opportunities, and have repeatedly settled in many countries. Links between overseas Korean communities have been strengthened through this onward migration. A good example of this pattern is the Latin American case. Although collective immigration to Latin American countries (planned by the Korean government in the 1960s) was originally carried out for the purpose of cultivating local farmlands, Korean immigrants immediately remigrated to big cities, such as Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, and Asuncion. After engaging in peddling occupations, called vende (“vendor,” in English) in big cities, some migrants developed apparel businesses that became their bread-and-butter jobs (Son, 2007). When political and economic situations in Latin American countries became unstable, a large number ot Koreans remigrated to the United States and Canada. Based on their job experience in apparel businesses in Latin America, they were able to run garment manufacturing firms in major U.S. cities. The “Java Market” in Los Angeles is the most successful Korean fashion district in the United States (Yoon, 2017).

We can also find this type ot onward migration elsewhere. Both miners and nurses dispatched to West Germany in the early 1960s re-immigrated to America, Canada, Australia, and Britain and played a decisive role in laying the economic and cultural foundation for Korean communities. They have revitalized overseas Korean communities through their success as entrepreneurs, scholars, and pastors, overcoming early hardships with their strong ability to maintain a livelihood and solidarity with other Koreans. Also, both soldiers and technicians sent to the Vietnam War between 1965 and 1973 re-immigrated to the Middle East, Southeast Asian nations, and Australia after the end of the war and laid the foundation for Korean communities in those countries.

Due to onward migration ot overseas Koreans with different migration periods and backgrounds, transnational networks were formed between the home country, transit countries, and the host countries, and the overseas Korean community has developed complex symbiotic relationships between old comers and newcomers. Since the 1990s, the migration of Korean Chinese, Koreans from the Commonwealth of Independent States, North Korean defectors, and Korean nationals has accelerated, and Koreans from different nationalities coexist in overseas Korean communities to form multilateral co-ethnic relations. Even it they are the same Korean in ethnicity, they are no longer considered a single homogeneous ethnic group due to differences in national origin, life experience, and legal status. Their concept ot ethnic identity and their adaptation and social integration patterns also show significant differences. This phenomenon became apparent in the 2000s, and it has become difficult to explain with the conventional concept of ethnicity, which categorizes people on the basis of presumed similarities in common language, ancestry, history, culture, and identity. We need to pay attention to the presence of multiple sub-groups in overseas Korean communities according to country ot origin and nationality and the formation of multilateral relationships within the same ethnic group.

Summary and conclusion

The Korean diaspora, formed in different regions and in different periods and later by successive rounds of immigration, has resulted in the creation of supranational networks among their motherland, the countries they have traveled through, and the nations in which they finally reside, even though it was not intended. Overseas Koreans of our time have lived more dynamically with flexible, multiple identities in a supranational space where time and space remain condensed thanks to the development of transportation, information, and communication.

The second and later generations of overseas Koreans were brought up on the economic basis the first generation had laid with their blood, sweat, and tears and its members have either grown into the main pillars of the nations in which they reside. In most countries, the successive generations of Koreans have achieved at least the middle-class positions with high levels of education. However, as the mainstreaming of the next generation of Koreans progresses, their ethnic culture and identity weakens, and instead the assimilation to mainstream culture accelerates. Interracial or interethnic marriage is quite common among the later generations; the children ot mixed heritages tend to adopt the culture and identity of the dominant ethnic group of the host society.

However, new conditions have emerged since the late 20th century that could slow this general trend. Due to globalization and informatization, overseas Koreans have crossed the barriers of time and space, living transnational lives. And their identities have become flexible and multiple in forms that are not limited to either the home country or the country of residence. As mentioned above, the migration, economic life, and family life of Korean Chinese are taking place in Northeast Asia as a transnational space, and Korean Americans born and raised in the United States are working in multinational companies that have entered Korea. Therefore, the transnational network between the home country and the country of residence can evoke the desire among the younger generation of overseas Koreans to strengthen their ties with the home country and to utilize their networks with their home country for their career development.

It is difficult to predict the future course of Korean diaspora because there are countervailing forces at work. Mainstreaming of overseas Koreans will weaken Korean ethnic identity and networks with the home country while transnationalism will strengthen ethnic ties and solidarity. Also, the rising standard of living in the home country will reduce people’s motivation to immigrate while the current bleak situation of Korea’s young people may encourage them to follow the footstep of their predecessors in the 1960s and 1970s. Nonetheless, it is certain that the future Korean diaspora will become more complex in terms ot direction, form, and members. Also, it will continue to affect significantly people in both the home country and the host country, and there will be people who actively utilize it for their career development. In a sense, in the 21st century, we need to change our common perception of diaspora as being ethnic dispersal, homelessness, and disconnectedness to network, development, cooperation, multiculture, and creativity. The study of diaspora also needs to uncover and expand its positive aspects by revealing its contributions to human civilizations and developing plans and strategies ot utilizing diaspora for sustainable development of the world.


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