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July 2006, Volume 13, Number 3

Japan, Korea

Since 1990, ethnic Japanese have been allowed to move to Japan and work. About 20 percent of Japan's two million foreigners are Nikkei, second- or third-generation descendants of Japanese who emigrated to Brazil and Peru early in the 20th century. Another 600,000 foreigners in Japan are Koreans.

Japan is aging, but Tara Kono, Japan's vice justice minister, said in June 2006 that foreigners should remain less than three percent of the population (they are now about 1.6 percent of Japanese residents).

Japan in 2006 began to recover from 15 years of economic stagnation amidst rising inequality. In Osaka, almost 30 percent of school children qualify for small education aid payments, in part because their parents' incomes have not risen in the past decade. Parents with money put their children into private junior high schools that offer guaranteed access to prestigious private high schools and thus raise the chances of getting into a top university.

Japan was a highly stratified society before World War II, but after the war became an egalitarian society in which large companies offered lifetime employment and promoted employees according to seniority. Today, Japanese in their 20s and 30s are divided between those who are full-time employees and permanent temporary workers.

Korea. South Korea on May 31, 2006 became the first Asian nation to allow foreigners to vote in local elections. Foreign nationals 20 years and older with F-2 visas may vote in local elections. The number of foreigners who qualify is limited, since the F-2 visa usually requires seven years residence to obtain. The foreigners' voting law says that a foreigner must have F-2 status for at least five years and wait another three before voting (foreign spouses of Korean nationals do not have to wait seven years to get an F-2 visa).

Of the about 6,700 foreigners who were eligible to vote in May 2006, 97 percent were Taiwanese. The 500,000 migrant workers present in Korea were not eligible to vote.

The 2006 Migrants' Arirang, an annual multicultural event, was held May 28, 2006 at the Olympic Park in southern Seoul. It featured exhibition booths from 18 countries that send migrant workers to Korea.

Kim Tong-hyung, "Foreigners Cynical About Voting Right," Korea Times, June 6, 2006.