Immigrant and Multiethnic Children Live Outside of Seoul: Data

Diverse countrywide, monoethnic metropolis.

Immigrant and Multiethnic Children Live Outside of Seoul: Data

Image: Proportion of immigrant and multiethnic children in each locality. Credit: JoongAng Ilbo.

Despite its reputation, South Korea is already a nation of immigrants. More than 2.5m non-Korean nationals live in South Korea, a record number. Significant immigration to South Korea began in the early 2000s, creating a generation of new Koreans with non-Korean or half-Korean ethnicity and parentage.

According to the office of Assembly Member Lee Tae-gyu 이태규 국회의원, more than 10% of elementary school students are immigrants and/or multiethnic in 56 of South Korea’s 228 localities (city 시, county 군 and district 구) - the smallest unit of local government. Currently, 181k multicultural students are enrolled in South Korean schools, accounting for 3.5% of all students nationwide. As of 2022, 77 of South Korea’s 6,087 elementary schools had student bodies where more than 50% of students were immigrants and/or multicultural.

Most of these children, who typically trace their heritage to China, Russia, and Southeast and Central Asia, live in rural areas and manufacturing bases. The farmlands of Hampyeong-gun County, Jeollanam-do Province 전라남도 함평군 had the highest proportion of multiethnic elementary school students, at 20.5%, followed by Yeongyang-gun County, Gyeongsangbuk-do Province 경상북도 영양군 at 20.2%. One elementary school in the factory town of Ansan, Gyeonggi-do Province 경기도 안산시, in the outskirts of Seoul, has a student body that is 95% immigrant and/or multiethnic.

Only three localities in South Korea had student populations with fewer than 1% immigrant and/or multiethnic students: the ultra-wealthy Gangnam-gu 강남구 and Seocho-gu Districts 서초구 of Seoul, and the prosperous suburb Gwacheon, Gyeonggi-do Province 경기도 과천. In many countries, wealthy cities are where the immigrants live, while rural areas remain monoethnic; in South Korea, that convention is reversed.

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