Go Northern Europe, Korean young man!

August 29, 2014

As English-speaking countries become stricter with their immigration laws, more and more Koreans ― especially those in their 30s and 40s ― are migrating to Denmark, Netherlands and Norway.

By Jung Min-ho

An increasing number of Koreans ― especially those in their 30s and 40s ― are emigrating to Northern European countries in pursuit of better lives and “superior” social welfare and education systems.

English-speaking countries, such as the United States, Canada and Australia, remain popular destinations for Korean emigrants.

As these countries become stricter with their immigration laws, more people are choosing to head to Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway instead, industry sources say.

According to data from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the number of Koreans who emigrated to Denmark almost tripled from 120 in 2011 to 358 in 2013.

The number of Koreans who earned permanent residency in the Netherlands also rose by 39 percent, from 614 to 853, during the same period. The number also rose 26 percent, from 144 to 182, in Norway.

“Northern European nations still have stringent immigration laws, but they welcome immigrants with college degrees or professional skills,” said Sammy Lee, CEO of the SYL Global Emigration Consulting Company, based in Seoul.

Lee said it is relatively easy for Koreans to emigrate to Northern Europe compared to popular English-speaking countries. For instance, Denmark’s technical immigration prefers people with a professional job or a master’s degree, and any Korean can emigrate to Sweden if they invest more than $70,000 in the country.

The non-competitive environment in Northern European countries also appeals to Koreans.

A 38-year-old researcher, surnamed Yoon, settled in Denmark in November with his wife and 9-year-old child. He lived a fairly successful life in Korea, but decided to leave because of the “unbearable” working environment in Korea.

“I used to work at a conglomerate before moving to a public institution. I only took two days off a month, working from 7:30 a.m. to almost midnight every day,” Yoon told The Korea Times, asking not to be named.

He suffered from an eye disease due to stress from his job when he worked for the conglomerate. After undergoing surgery, he moved to a public institution seen as a dream workplace in Korea for its job security and easier workload. However, he faced a different kind of challenge there.

“I couldn’t see any future doing my job. There was no motivation whatsoever. I was stifled by the hierarchy that prevails in the public sector,” Yoon said.

Kim, 36, an architect, is now preparing to migrate to a Northern European country. He also complained of stressful working conditions in Korea. “I have never had a break from working long hours without vacation or sleep. I soon realized that I could not live in Korea any longer,” Kim said.

Operators of Immigration Cafe (http://cafe.daum.net/gohozoo), a popular online site with about 46,000 members, say they receive more than 10 inquiries on how to move to Northern Europe every day. Many seek to leave Korea for better security insurance and a non-competitive educational system, they said.

“Personally, I hope to enjoy well-designed security insurance when I grow old, and for my child I want her to live with being less stressed about scores and test performance, and be more inspired by creativity,” a 39-year-old housewife who plans to move to Denmark or Sweden, wrote on the website.

Some people prefer Northern European countries due to the change of English proficiency level needed to emigrate to Canada and Australia.

Immigrants used to need to only score a level of 5.0 in the International English Language Test, a standardized English proficiency test for non-native speakers, but now a 7.0 is required. Experts say it is nearly impossible to earn that score, even for people with master’s or doctorate degrees.