Workers or Residents? Diverging Patterns of Immigration Incorporation in Korea and Japan

Chung, Erin Aeran

In the mid 2000s, Korea and Japan unveiled unprecedented proposals for immigrant incorporation. This included the Basic Act on the Treatment of Foreigners in Korea and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications' plan for Multicultural Coexistence Promotion in Local Communities in Japan. These plans acknowledged for the first time the need to manage foreigners settled within each country. But they also represented contrasting frameworks for their incorporation. In Korea, there was centralized rights-based legislation that targeted specific immigrant groups and in Japan, there were decentralized guidelines that prioritized community-based partnerships.

How do we explain divergent policies for incorporating immigrants in Korea and Japan? Both countries share immigration and citizenship policies based on ethno-cultural homogeneity, overlapping immigrant populations from neighbouring Asian countries, and dilemmas for accommodating social diversity while adhering to liberal democratic principles. The divergent approaches are not products of deliberate decision-making to manage the permanent settlement of immigrants. Rather, the approaches are reflective of grassroots movements that drew on existing strategies previously applied to incorporate historically marginalized groups in each society prior to the establishment of official incorporation programs.

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