The government is considering granting permanent residency status to foreigners who live in Korea for more than five years after purchasing at least US$500,000 worth of real estate. Existing regulations aimed at promoting foreign investment offer permanent residence to those who invest at least $500,000 in business purposes and employ five or more workers. Now the government hopes to attract foreign funds by granting this right to investors in real estate, including condominiums and resorts.
Until now Korea's immigration policies have been focused mainly on protecting the country's borders and its labor market. But this has posed obstacles to drawing investment and highly-skilled professionals from abroad.
Many countries around the world are racing to attract foreigners in order to help drive development. Over the past decade Canada has granted permanent residence to some 200,000 foreigners who each invested at least $400,000 over a period of five years. Recently Canadian lawmakers have been pushing for reforms that would open its borders to a wider number of immigrants. Australia and New Zealand allows foreigners to stay permanently if they invest at least $1.5 million over four years or more. And the countries take a hands-off approach to the investments, whether they are parked in stocks, real estate or even money lending.
Hong Kong provides jobs to foreigners who invest HK$6.5 million (W1 billion, US$1=W1,204) and even guarantees schooling for their children. If they stay for more than a year they become eligible for permanent residence. The U.S. government early this year began offering permanent residence, or green cards, to foreigners who invest more than $500,000 in real estate, shifting from an earlier policy that required investment of at least $1 million and employment of 10 or more workers.
Korea's immigration policies must be changed in order to deal with the low birth rate and aging population. The National Statistical Office forecasts that the ratio of working-age Koreans (ages 16 to 64) will fall from 73 percent of the total population in 2016 to 55.1 percent in 2050. Unless some revolutionary measures are devised that can boost the birth rate, we should change the immigration rules so that we can attract skilled foreign workers and make up for the labor shortfall.
But as we open our doors wider to immigrants, we must also prepare to deal with a possible rise in crime committed by foreigners. Right now all Korean citizens must be fingerprinted in order to get their resident registration cards. Similar measures should be considered for foreigners as part of the government's open-door policy.