December 26, 2023
SEOUL – The number of foreign nationals working in South Korea reached an all-time high of nearly 1 million in 2023, though most of them were working at smaller companies, according to government data, Monday.
According to the data compiled by Statistics Korea, the number of people with foreign nationalities who have jobs here reached 923,000 as of May this year, jumping 10 percent on-year to hit a record high.
By nationality, ethnic Koreans with Chinese nationality constituted the largest number at 35.3 percent, followed by the Vietnamese with 11.3 percent and other Chinese with 4.9 percent.
The data also showed that most foreign workers have jobs at small companies, while few get into large companies.
Of all foreign workers in South Korea, 78.8 percent worked at companies with fewer than 50 employees, whereas 18.1 percent held jobs at companies with 50-299 employees. The percent of workers of foreign nationality who had jobs at large companies — defined as those with more than 300 employees — came to only 3 percent.
This overall picture has not changed much the past decade. The percentage of people of foreign nationality working at large companies here has remained very low and in fact declined, while those working at smaller firms has accounted for the vast majority since 2012, when the national statistics agency first started to compile the data.
In 2012, the proportion of foreign workers who worked at companies with more than 300 employees came to 3.4 percent of the then-total, 698,000. The percentage of foreign employees working at smaller companies with less than 50 employees reached 79.1 percent of the total, while those working at companies with 50-299 employees was 17.5 percent.
In terms of income, some improvements have been made this year. “The percentage of foreign workers who make monthly income over 3 million won ($2312) has increased to 35.8 percent this year from 30.1 percent last year,” an official from Statistics Korea said.
The data added that 50.6 percent of foreign workers earned a monthly salary between 2 million won and 3 million won in 2023.
For comparison, the average monthly salary for a Korean national between January and June this year was 3.4 million won, according to data from the Labor Ministry.
The proportion of foreign workers enrolled in employment insurance — offered to protect against job loss — has been on the upward trend, reaching 63.5 percent in 2023, up from 55.8 percent in 2021, 54.3 percent in 2020 and 32.5 percent in 2017.
“Public acceptance of foreign workers has continued to increase in recent years,” Statistics Korea’s report also stated, based on a survey in which Korean nationals were asked their thoughts on working with people of foreign nationality.