Park's immigration policy 'mistake'
This is the second in a three-part series highlighting the need for what commentators call a Ministry of Immigration in the incoming Park Geun-hye administration. ㅡ ED
By Park Si-soo
|Seok Dong-hyeon, former head of the Korea Immigration Service|
President Park Geun-hye’s plan to downsize the existing immigration office under the Ministry of Justice and degrade its chief is “short-sighted” and will only serve as a “stumbling block” to the country’s irreversible transition into a multiracial society, said Seok Dong-hyeon, former head of the Korea Immigration Service, during a recent interview.
Noting the importance of having an “independent control tower” on immigration issues, he said its absence from previous administrations, including former President Lee Myung-bak’s, has caused substantial budget waste, miscommunication and other inefficiencies.
Seok also suggested that the creation of a powerful standing committee composed of experts on immigration affairs under the Prime Minister’s Office will make it easier for the immigration office to tackle these problems.
“The time has come for the country to have a so-called Ministry of Immigration that is bigger and more powerful than the existing immigration office to ensure an integrated, systematized creation to implement policies,” Seok said. “The ministry, if established, should be tasked to do everything related with immigration and expatriate affairs.”
The 53-year-old was appointed to lead the Korea Immigration Service in August 2009 while serving as a senior prosecutor, heralding former President Lee’s increased effort to accelerate administrative readiness for a multiracial society. Seok retired as a prosecutor in December and currently serves as a certified lawyer.
He said the ideal moment to bring changes to the immigration office’s structure and status is “right now” but one thing that is regrettable is that few politicians are inspired to back this up.
“It’s all but impossible to reorganize the government structure or create a new ministry ㅡ no matter how small it may be ㅡ in the midst of a presidential term. But it’s much easier during a power transition period,” he said. “One of the key prerequisites may be public support that is strong enough to inspire politicians to move. Regrettably, however, this is not the case.”
Many immigration experts hailed Park’s election as the next President in December because she was well known for having paid keen attention to immigration affairs. During the presidential campaign, Park made various commitments to upgrade the nation’s immigration system, one of which was the creation of an independent control tower on immigration affairs.
Echoing this, the Ministry of Justice suggested the idea of creating an independent control tower to the President-elect in January.
But many of her pledges were not included in the new President’s primary to-do list during her five-year term released by her power transition team last week.
Rather, experts were taken aback with her government restructuring plan, under which the existing immigration office faces the risk of losing political power to a large extent. The rank of its boss ㅡ currently at vice minister-level ㅡ is set to be degraded by one notch under the plan that is awaiting parliamentary approval.
Seok said ambivalence over the issue occurred because immigrants don’t have voting rights.
“The flip-flop caused little criticism within political circles and the public wouldn’t have let it happen if they (immigrants) had voting rights or strong political influence,” he said. “In democratic politics, politicians’ attention is always focused on eligible voters.”
Despite the fact that only a few immigrants are eligible to cast ballots, he said, it’s a short-sighted action to pay little attention to their livelihood and welfare.
“Don’t forget how many eligible voters they may have among their family members, relatives and friends in Korea,” Seok said. “It’s probably a huge number.”
The number of foreigners categorized as long-term sojourners after staying here for more than 90 days reached 1.44 million last year. This is forecast to swell to 2.5 million by 2020, nearly five percent of South Korea’s 48 million people.
“Considering that the number of immigrants who win Korean citizenship and voting rights through marriage with Koreans is on the rise, politicians should be more active about improving the livelihoods of expats here.”
Source: Korea Times, (2013. 02. 26)