South Korea sees surge in international students: A boon for the future workforce

Government and corporations attempt to retain global talent amidst demographic challenges

Esther Baek 승인 2024.07.02 19:04 | 최종 수정 2024.07.02 22:19 의견 0

A recruiter for a Korean company interviews an international student / Photo credit: The Korea Herald

The Korea Labor Institute announced that as of June 23, the number of international students in South Korea has reached 187,856 in 2023. This is a significant increase compared to 136,995 in 2020 and an even more staggering increase compared to 98,602 in 2017. These numbers differ slightly from what the South Korean Ministry of Education revealed in February. According to their statistics, the number of new international students was 182,000 in 2023, which is also an increase compared to 167,000 in 2022.

The Ministry of Education and Ministry of Justice annually examine universities' internationalization competencies to determine how well schools can handle an increase in foreign students. In 2023, 134 universities were recognized for meeting the Ministry of Education’s standards regarding global competency in their curriculums. These standards include factors such as having less than 3% illegal immigration rates, whether the school has established programs to help students with employment opportunities, support for international students’ education, and more. For language exchange programs, 90 universities met the standards, which are more relaxed than the standards for being able to accept international students for a full 4-year program.

According to the Korea Labor Institute, the percentages of new international students in 2023 were distributed into the majors as follows: 28.8% in social sciences, 20.6% in Korean studies, 17.2% in education, arts, and humanities, 14.9% in language training, and 11.7% in IT and engineering.

As South Korea continues to struggle with the decline in population and an increase in the elderly demographic, the potential labor shortage issue may be mitigated by an influx of international students who wish to stay after their studies. In 2023, 65% of international students in IT and engineering majors had plans to settle in Korea, compared to 33% in 2017.

The South Korean government and larger Korean corporations have increased their efforts and implemented policies to better harness international student talent. The government’s ‘Plan for Rational Management of Foreign Workforce’ was released on June 20, and it discusses granting residence visas (F-2) to international students who graduated from a Korean university and majored in specialized science and technology. The plan also mentions the potential for granting permanent residence or paths for naturalization based on performance. Notably the Samsung Group has begun the ‘Recruitment of Foreign Experienced Employees in Research and Development’ during the latter half of 2023 and the first half of 2024. This program is geared towards international students who graduated with a master’s or a doctoral degree from a South Korean university.

Although both the South Korean government and Korean companies are beginning to recognize the need for an inflow of foreign workers, how positively the new policies and attempts for aid will affect international students remains to be seen.

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