Will government establish new immigration agency?

Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon delivers his congratulatory remarks at a Together Day ceremony held at the ministry office in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province, May 20. Together Day was designated by the government as a day of national celebration in 2008, aiming to create a society where Korean and foreign national residents live harmoniously, respecting each other's cultures. Yonhap

Experts call for swift launch of immigration agency

By Lee Hyo-jin

Discussions over the possible launch of a new government agency encompassing migrant-related policies are expected to pick up speed under the Yoon Suk-yeol administration, as newly-appointed Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon vowed to carry out advanced immigration policies.

Migrant experts welcomed the ministry's plan and called for the swift establishment of the immigration agency, pointing out that Korea's migration policies have already fallen behind those of other Asian countries.

During his inauguration speech on May 17, Han said, "We will establish a system to carry out advanced immigration policies, including reviewing the launch of an immigration department." On May 20, delivering congratulatory remarks at a ceremony held for foreign national residents, the minister said that his ministry will improve immigration measures to encourage talented residents of foreign nationality to become a driving force of Korean society.

The need for a separate government agency dedicated to migrant policies has long been stressed by many immigration experts and policymakers, who believe that the absence of a "control tower" agency to draft an overall policy framework is the main reason the country has failed to implement coherent immigration policies.

Currently, Korea's immigration policy is handled separately by different branches of the government: the Ministry of Labor, covering migrant workers; the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, creating policies for marriage migrants and their children; the Ministry of Education, handling international students; the Ministry of Justice, covering visa status and other administrative affairs; and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, dealing with ethnic Koreans overseas.

Cho Young-hee, a researcher at the Migration Research and Training Center, viewed that despite the value and contributions that migrants bring to Korean society, migrant policies have not been recognized as a key policy task in previous administrations.

"Until now, migrant issues have not been considered as important on the government's agenda. Since the enactment of the Framework Act on Treatment of Foreigners Residing in the Republic of Korea in 2007, which served as the legal basis to create migrant-related policies, measures have expanded in quantity, but not in quality," she told The Korea Times.

An immigration office in central Seoul / Korea Times file

"Thus, the establishment of an immigration agency would be a turning point in Korea's handling of immigration affairs, which would enable the government to introduce more organized, effective migration policies," she added.

According to Cho, not only do relatively immigration-friendly countries such as Germany and Canada have separate government bodies dedicated to immigration management, but also, even Asian countries ― some of which have more restrictive immigration policies ― have launched single agencies to oversee immigration-related functions in recent years.

China launched the National Immigration Administration in 2018, while Japan established the Immigration Service Agency the following year.

"Korea is already falling behind in the competition to attract foreign talent in Asia. The government should act fast to maintain our position as a popular immigration destination country in the region," she said.

Steve Hamilton, the chief of mission of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Seoul office, said, "It would clearly be advantageous for immigration policies to be centralized under one department, which is then given the necessary authority and resources to coordinate."

He stressed that spreading out responsibility among too many agencies creates gaps, as most of the ministries involved have other very specific policies they are also responsible for. Moreover, scattering the policies among several ministries could lead to overlap, where different agencies might be running similar programs as others, he said.

"In this regard, empowering a single agency would enable better centralized development of migration policy, coordination of the work and assessment of the effectiveness of various agencies' performance in their immigration-related functions," he said.

Lee Hyo-jin lhj@koreatimes.co.kr

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