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January 1996, Volume 3, Number 1

South Koreans in Argentina

South Korean immigrants are a prosperous community of about 35,000 in Argentina. South Koreans operate more about 1,000 businesses in Argentina, many in the garment districts of Once and Flores. There are about 300 Korean cultural, athletic and business associations, and some 30 Protestant churches with predominantly Korean congregations in the country.

Some Jewish shop owners said that the South Koreans were "taking over." The South Koreans work 12 to 14 hours per day, sell merchandise at low prices, and hire cheap labor from Bolivia.

The first wave of South Korean immigrants to South America went to Brazil in 1961. The South Korean government persuaded Brazil to accept the immigrants, and allowed each to take $40,000 to South America. The second wave of South Koreans came four years later to Argentina, Paraguay, and Chile. From 1965 to 1985, about 6,000 South Koreans emigrated to Argentina and, by 1985, there were 50,000 South Koreans in the Southern Cone nation.

Sociologists say that the South Koreans were successful in Argentina because they shared credit and employment inside large families and because they brought in cheap labor from neighboring countries. A series of newspaper articles published several years ago tarnished the image of South Korean entrepreneurs, who were accused of operating sweat shops with undocumented Bolivians .

The South Koreans charge that their success has led to discrimination against them, aggravated by recession.

Argentinean police broke up a smuggling ring that helped smuggle Chinese and Hong Kong residents through Argentina to Canada and the United States. The illegal immigrants paid about $30,000 dollars each for the voyage. Many of the immigrants were employed in Chinese restaurants while their documents to be smuggled into the US or Canada were prepared. Seventy-five immigrants were captured and between 30 and 40 were deported.

After growing by over seven percent in 1994, economic growth in Argentina slowed to one percent in 1995, prompting the government to crack down on illegal immigrants.

Calvin Sims, "South Korean emigrants fulfilling dreams of prosperity in Argentina," Dallas Morning News, December 3, 1995. "Asian smuggling ring busted in Argentina," Agence France Presse, October 13, 1995.