KARP Policy Brief: Migration and Diaspora
The KARP roundtable series bring together individual Australians and Koreans from a diverse range of fields and industries who collectively represent the contemporary bilateral relationship. The four roundtables in the series will cover migration and diaspora, energy and the environment, food and agriculture, and media and education.
These fields have been identified as priority sectors for expanding the bilateral relationship and are also areas where Australia and Korea have world-leading strengths to be harnessed. The goal of the roundtables is to highlight the lived experiences of individuals and how these people have transformed the bilateral relationship over the years.
The first roundtable on migration and diasporas sets the scene for how different waves and types of migration and settlement have created new communities in both countries. The roundtable explored the challenges and opportunities of various cohorts of Korean diasporas in Australia as well as Australian diasporas in South Korea. It also included those involved in facilitating and promoting these communities in a bilateral context such as immigration agents, employers, and community leaders.
This policy brief summarises the key discussion points from the roundtable. The analysis is supplemented by additional interviews that the project members have conducted with Korean and Australian communities. The report offers key policy recommendations that can make migration more accessible and diasporas more enduring.
The full Policy Brief can be downloaded below:
There are significant transformations underway in terms of the composition and identities of Korean diaspora communities in Australia and Australian diaspora communities in Korea. With over 170,000 Australians of Korean ancestry now living in Australia, this has created new opportunities for representation. Meanwhile, newer Australian migrants in Korea tended to have higher Korean-language proficiency and were able to better navigate employment opportunities. What is often overlooked are the wide range of groups within both diasporas who are largely absent in the discourse on the bilateral relationship.
A challenge faced by many Australians in Korea is being able to register and standardise their personal identification across Korean government and public services. Specifically, existing Korean records systems are poorly equipped to register non-Korean names. This results in inconsistent and incorrect personal names being stored across services such as banking, healthcare, housing and schooling.
Although Korea and Australia successfully handled the pandemic, participants noted the inconsistent government political messaging towards non-citizens. In the case of Australia, Korean students, working holidaymakers, and many skilled migrant visa holders were banned from re-entering Australia. Those who remained received little financial support throughout the pandemic. In the case of Korea, provincial and central governments also had inconsistent political messaging towards non-citizens, including discriminatory health testing policies.
A major source of frustration for both Korean and Australian participants and a point of unanimous consensus was the difficulty of navigating the visa process to live and work in both countries. Many visa categories have tight conditions and the eligibility and application process tend to change at short notice, giving applicants little time to adjust. Pathways to long-term residency were especially seen as difficult to navigate.
Korea is often depicted as a hyper-competitive society in contrast to Australia’s relaxed and slow-paced lifestyle; but there is more to the story. Some Australian participants emphasised how Korea’s competitiveness offers global international opportunities lacking in Australia. Others noted that Korean workplace competitiveness was less applicable to foreigners. For Korean participants, Australia’s quality of life was highly valued but the migrant experience itself was seen as equally competitive as their lives in Korea.
Finally, participants identified as a common challenge the issue of how to build sustainable careers. Related to the problems of long-term visas and residency, many migrants had difficulty in pursuing new job opportunities or being promoted.