However, there are no checks on senior ethnic Koreans’ ability to support themselves, and little in the way of assistance for them, as existing support centers are geared mainly toward migrant wives, workers and entrepreneurs.
The number of long-term foreign residents in South Korea stood at 1.38 million at the end of 2014, up from 1.02 million at the end of 2010, according to Justice Ministry statistics.
Ethnic Koreans have made up more than half of the increase, with the number of registered holders of the F-4 visa for ethnic Koreans rising from 83,000 in 2010 to 286,000 in 2014.
But while their age profile used to peak in the 20s and tail off, a second peak has appeared in the 60-65 category. The number of F-4 holders who are over 60 rose from 12,000 to 93,000 over the same period.
The Justice Ministry has eased the rules on F-4 visas in recent years, allowing many more people to live in the country on the visa, mostly from China, where the population of ethnic Koreans is aging more rapidly than South Korea’s population. More than half of Korean-Chinese are over 40, data from China’s Minzu University shows.
While there are work or other documentation requirements for many of them, these are lifted for ethnic Koreans over 60 years of age.
Oh Jung-eun, chief of research and education at the International Organization of Migration’s Migrant Training and Research Center in Korea, said that senior migrants was an area of interest, but the center had not yet been able to study it in depth.
She was not aware of many programs in place for senior ethnic Koreans, although she did not know of major problems either.
“The main reason that older Koreans wish to return to Korea is to return to their hometowns and families,” she said.
Oh said one project to help senior ethnic Korean migrants was the German Village in Namhae, South Gyeongsang Province. The project is small ― just 83 F-4 visa-holders are registered in the county ― but three-quarters are over age 55.
Oh suggested that the majority would have pensions from their home countries.
“I think only those people with a specific plan to cover the cost of living would move back to Korea at an old age,” said Oh.
However the Justice Ministry told The Korea Herald that there were no financial requirements for seniors wishing to stay in Korea on an F-4 visa.
The ministry said the government programs in place for seniors focused on language and cultural education.
Local migrant centers said they had not noticed an increase in cases of hardship, but said that enquiries from senior migrants focused on medical costs and starting a business.
While health care is a universal concern for seniors, the interest in start-ups suggests many senior migrants may be reliant on work to support themselves in Korea.
Michelle Kang from the Seoul Global Center said they would provide assistance on these issues.
“Health care and health care costs are among the major concerns among senior citizens including expats. They want to know about medical expenses and medical insurance coverage,” she said.
“As they are reaching retirement age, some overseas Koreans want to start a business here.
“We do provide general counseling on health insurance (national and private), as well as business start-ups.”
By Paul Kerry (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Kim Yu-ah contributed to this report. ― Ed.