Reverse immigration from US rising
By Jane Han
NEW YORK — By all means, 24 hours isn’t enough for Cho Mi-na these days. Camped out in front of the computer all day, the 46-year-old is busy searching for an apartment, checking how to get a driver’s license and finding schools for her two kids.
It’s immigration all over again — but this time, back home to Korea. “The good thing is that there’s no language barrier this time around. Trust me, that makes a world of difference,” said Cho, who finally reached an agreement with her husband to return to Korea after living in the U.S. for 15 years.
The couple made a tough decision to shut down their struggling deli shop in New Jersey and return to their hometown Busan, where both sides of their family still live.
“We gave it our best shot, but sometimes, things just don’t work out the way we want,” said Cho, who blamed financial problems, high medical costs and a severe case of homesickness, which are all made the worse in the ongoing economic difficulty sweeping the U.S. “I’m not sure life in Korea will be happier and easier. But at least I won’t be lonely.” Some people may find Cho’s decision odd, but in reality, reverse immigration is anything but unusual.
A growing number of Koreans in the U.S. are jumping on the road back home for the very same reasons.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2,122 Koreans in the U.S. permanently returned to Korea last year, up more than 60 percent from 1,319 in 2005.
The number is expected to be much higher if we take into account all the reverse immigrants who hold the F-4 overseas Korean visa.
“It’s a trend for sure, especially among the older generation who are ready to retire,” says Kim Tae-woong, an official of the Federation of Korean Associations, U.S.A. “America isn’t the America it used to be and Korea isn’t the Korea it was before, so people are starting to rethink their decisions.” This is apparent from the growing number and popularity of online sites, communities and forums, where hopeful reverse immigrants exchange information about settling down in Korea.
One community site on Daum saw a 50-percent increase in new memberships over just one year. Here, people ask about everything from Korean’s elderly welfare programs to average grocery prices.
“It’s been almost 20 years since I left Korea. There is so much to reacquaint myself with,” wrote one user by the name Seoulite.
Another user identified as RL wrote, “I’m ready to face cultural differences, but at least it’s right back in my home turf.” Experts expect reverse immigrations to continue heading up in the next several years.
The older generation likely to be Korea bound cite high medical costs in the U.S., while younger families seek to enjoy a more convenient and financially stable life in Korea.
“These changes are only natural considering the prolonged economic slowdown here,” says an official of the Korean-American Association of Greater New York.
“People seek immigration in hopes to live a better life, so they’ll continue to be on the move to find what they’re looking for.”