Foreign Workers in the Korean Labour Market: Current Status and Policy Issues

13 Pages Posted: 13 Feb 2019

Date Written: December 21, 2018


The number of foreign workers in Korea is growing rapidly, increasing from 1.1 million in 2012 to 1.4 million in 2016. As a result, the impact of foreign workers on the labour market and Korean society is expected to increase.

As industrialisation and income levels advanced from the late 1980s, a shortage of low-skilled workers developed. From the early 1990s, the industrial trainee system encouraged an influx of foreign workers. Currently, quotas for foreign workers are in place to ensure their orderly entry and management.

The inflow of foreign workers is seen to have had a generally positive effect on the Korean economy, contributing to domestic economic growth by increasing labour input in industries that are less favoured by domestic workers, and easing the trend towards workforce ageing in the Korean labour market. But, as most foreign workers are engaged in low-skilled, low-wage occupations, the inflow has tended to exacerbate labour market polarisation and to delay the restructuring of marginal companies.

Full Publication: Globalisation and Deglobalisation

Keywords: Foreign workers, Korean labour market, foreign workforce policy

JEL Classification: F16, J61, J68

Suggested Citation

Jeon, Seung-Cheol, Foreign Workers in the Korean Labour Market: Current Status and Policy Issues (December 21, 2018). BIS Paper No. 100m, Available at SSRN:

Seung-Cheol Jeon (Contact Author)

The Bank of Korea

39, Namdaemun-ro, Jung-gu
Seoul, 04531
Korea, Republic of (South Korea)

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