By Jung Min-ho
The Ministry of Justice eased visa restrictions Tuesday for foreigners with a Korean college degree in an effort to keep more international talent in the country.
The policy change will enable foreigners who have earned bachelor's or higher degrees in Korea to get an E-7 (designated activities) visa, even if what they do in the workplace is unrelated to their major. Previously, that relevancy was required.
A GPA of at least 3.0, a national certificate and recommendations of professors are no longer required from foreigners to apply for a D-10 (job seeking) visa.
Also, the length of stay for D-10 visa holders has been extended from one to two years.
Meanwhile, obtaining permanent residency in Korea has become easier.
Foreigners who received their bachelor's degree in science or engineering in Korea are now eligible to get permanent residency if they lived here for more than three years and their annual salary is higher than Korea's per capita gross national income (GNI). In 2013, that was $26,205.
Previously, the opportunity for permanent residency was limited to foreigners that studied one of only nine programs in college ― IT, technology management, nanotechnology, digital electronics, biotechnology, transport, new material, environment and energy.
Those who earned their master's or a higher degree in Korea are eligible to get permanent residency regardless of their majors, if they lived in Korea more than three years and their annual salary is higher than the GNI per capita.
The D-9 (international trading) visas will be issued for foreigners that invested more than 100 million won ($91,000) into Korea as long as they have a master's or higher degree from here.
Degree-seeking students in their master's or doctor's program are now allowed to bring two of their immediate family members or spouse to Korea after the first six months.
The number of foreign students in Korea has increased to 86,410 in 2014, a 6.7 percent increase from 80,985 in 2009.
"We expect more foreign talent to help boost the economy," a ministry official said.
As part of its efforts to tackle the nation's declining labor force, the ministry is expected to continue to open more doors for foreign talent.
In December, the government said it also plans to relax the current points-based system to give permanent residency to more talented foreign workers.
As the nation's birth rate remains stubbornly low at 1.19 children per woman, many concerns have been raised that it could seriously erode the national economy's growth potential. The rate is one of the lowest in the world, along with Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau and Singapore.
The government believes that the working age population is 73 percent of the nation's total this year ― the highest rate ever, but it is expected to decrease from 2017.
If the government's efforts to boost the birth rate continue to be futile, many experts say that the only other way to keep the country afloat is attracting more foreign talent.