Let Korean dream come true
Commissioner, Invest KOREA
The National Statistics Office recently reported that the number of prime age workers has decreased for the first time since the first demographic census was taken in 1949.
This alarming reality, which stems from a low birthrate and an aging population, will eventually bring about declines in our potential growth and rattle our social safety net.
According to a Korea Development Institute study on our potential growth rates, they are projected to fall to 2.7 percent in the 2021-2030 period from 4.6 percent during 2006-2010. Our aging society is a ticking time bomb for our economic growth.
The solutions that first come to policymakers’ minds may be policy options (a) to increase the birthrate by providing subsidies and childcare facilities at work and in the community and (b) to empower women by ensuring equal employment and promotion opportunities.
However, a sure solution may be to emulate measures taken by other developed economies that faced the same concern about low birth rates and aging populations.
Countries like the U.K., Canada and Australia have taken bold steps to draw ambitious, talented immigrants to their shores while focusing on public concerns about job competition, wage pressures and the social costs of illegal immigrants.
According to empirical studies in these countries, immigrant workers contribute income taxes to social security and to health care. In a nutshell, the growth and prosperity of these countries have been dependent on immigrants replenishing their workforce.
Here I must note that local newspapers recently reported that 41 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants to the U.S. or their children.
To our surprise, they include such great brands as Apple, Google, AT&T, Budweiser, Philip Morris, DuPont, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America Corp., Citigroup, eBay, Intel, Yahoo, Sun, Qualcomm, GE, IBM, Ford, McDonald’s, Kraft, Proctor & Gamble, Mattel, Pfizer, Heinz, Home Depot, Hertz, Estee Lauder, UPS, Boeing and Disney.
America’s economy has profited from the steady influx of foreign-born talent, the story said.
Throughout American history, the forward-thinking, creative nature of immigrants has led them to spur success in lands far from their own. Immigrant entrepreneurs have proved capable not only of founding major U.S. firms, but also of economically revitalizing entire geographic areas.
The list of pros for immigration is compelling:
• Immigrant entrepreneurs create companies and jobs.
• Immigrants are inventors and help develop the next new ideas.
• Immigrants studying in America’s universities become many of America’s next scientists, engineers and inventors.
• Immigration leads to higher wages for the overwhelming majority of U.S.-born workers.
• Immigrants don’t compete with native-born workers for jobs because they often work in complementary areas.
• New immigrants mean new economic growth; immigrants spend considerably on goods and services.
• In addition to spending directly into the economy, immigrants pay billions of dollars in federal, state and local taxes.
• Immigrants generally contribute more to the government in revenue than they cost in services because they tend to come when they are young, working, paying taxes and not drawing extensively on social services.
• In large part because of immigration, the U.S. has a relatively young and growing population ― a demographic advantage over many other mature economies.
• The presence of immigrants from many nations boosts international trade as the immigrants’ expertise, linguistic skills and personal connections with their countries of origin help forge international trade ties.
It is a fact that countries with lower birthrates and fewer immigrants are struggling to support their elderly. Hence, we must take meaningful steps to reverse the population stagnation.
We must make Korea a gateway for immigrants pursuing the Korean dream while creating jobs and renewing the nation’s economy.
How do we do this? We begin by creating the Immigration and Naturalization Office as a control tower that coordinates among government agencies.
We provide foreign university students in Korea with incentives and opportunities to stay after graduating with advanced degrees, especially in such critical fields as science and technology.
We make it easier for businesses to hire and retain the highly skilled immigrants they need to thrive.
Simply put, we treat immigrants not as temporary migrants, but as our own ― as new neighbors with whom we will make history.