North Korean Migrants' Integration into South Korean Society: Policies, Perceptions and Realities

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Kristi Andersen


Ethnic migration, Migration policy, National politics and geopolitics, North Korean migrants, Socio-economic integration, South Korean society

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


Ethnic migration may occur because of special provisions to persons with the same ethnic nationality. In this interpretation, ethnic migration represents three distinct patterns--shared ethnicity, a moral duty toward ethnic migrants and preference within receiving states' legislative and institutional practices. In looking at the movement of North Korean migrants to the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and their socio-economic integration experience, this study affirms these patterns exist. In addition, this paper's findings indicate that despite preferential treatment and generous support from receiving states, ethnic migrants do not fully enjoy economic stability and social acceptance in their new homeland. They often face the same difficulties as non-ethnic migrants.

I address the following research questions in this study: 1) What are the perceived benefits of South Korea's settlement support policy versus the realities? and 2) How well does the policy promote these migrants' integration into South Korean society? To answer these questions, I utilize two research methods: an archival, in-depth analysis of policy documents related to South Korea's settlement support policy and in-depth field interviews conducted from November 2006 to June 2007. Follow-up interviews continued until August 2008.

The findings show South Korea's settlement support policy is a significant determinant of North Korean migrants' movement to South Korea because they expect it will provide them with economic security, personal safety and social acceptance. However, in reality, the policy does not serve their real economic and societal needs. The findings of the study support that common ethnicity and preferential treatment do not automatically open the door for integration of ethnic migrants (Tinguy, 2003:125.)


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