By: Lauren Lee & Sarah Choe
This blog post explains the factors that pushed Koreans to emigrate out of Korea and the factors that pulled those immigrants to Canada. Please read to the end to see Lauren and Sarah’s personal reflections on the content of the post.
What factors in Korea led to Korean immigration to Canada?
What factors in Canada led to opening its doors to immigrants from Korea?
The relationship between Canada and Korea originated with Canadian missionaries in Korea. The missionaries encouraged and provided education and healthcare to Koreans and were one of the reasons why Korean students were allowed to study in Canada. This connection eventually led to the initiation of immigration of Koreans to Canada. As time passed, the needs of Canada changed, as reflected in its immigration policy. This change, paired with several factors in Korea, such as poor economic conditions, growing pressure on the country in terms of population, political instability, and a military dictatorship in South Korea, also contributed to the major immigration of Koreans to Canada. These push and pull factors shaped the Korean community that developed in Canada afterwards. Throughout the history of immigration, we are able to see how God worked in the lives of the immigrants.
Emigration out of Korea occurred in four distinct time periods which are characterized by the social-class origins of the immigrants. The first time period was the Pre-Migration Period that occurred prior to 1963. However, the second wave of immigrants, in the early 60s to the mid-80s, was the wave that established permanent settlers in Canada. Following these two periods was the Period of Business-Class Dominance from 1985 to 2003, and finally the Regionalization and Transnational Migrants from 2004 to the present day.
Several major factors played into the decision of emigration out of Korea during the second major immigration wave. This wave was known as the Permanent Pioneers wave and occurred from 1963 to 1985. It began in the early 60s, following the effects of the Korean War, which occurred between 1950 and 1953. The aftermath of the Korean War led many North Koreans to migrate south, as living conditions in all of Korea were comparable to the poorest countries in Africa. Despite this, it created ideal conditions for a post-war baby boom. South Korea was facing increasing population pressures due to the baby boom, an influx of North Koreans in the South, as well as a decreasing mortality rate. This pushed the government to encourage emigration through an emigration policy, which promoted dispersion out of Korea.
Due to the economic disarray that they faced at the time, the South Korean government wanted to secure foreign exchange. As a result, they encouraged emigration to other countries overseas. Despite the relationship between Canada and Korea, very few immigrants arrived directly from Korea. Majority of the first immigrants were Koreans who immigrated to Canada after working in Germany in a guest worker program, as nurses and miners. It was only in the early 1970s when permanent migrants arrived in Canada directly from Korea.
This “first” relatively large wave of immigrants was influenced by the poor living conditions of Korea at the time. Korea faced many challenges, such as a poor economy, political instability and a military dictatorship between the 60s and 70s. The South Korean economy deteriorated due to heavy inflation and a high unemployment rate. These factors further lead to food shortages around the country that were pressured by a fast-growing population. So, many Koreans sought out other work options and lives in foreign countries, such as Canada. Conveniently it aligned with the desires of those job markets as they were looking for people to do labour as well. There was also a strong opposition amongst civilians to the autocratic government of South Korea at the time. Military control had a great influence on Korean society, however, due to their power and control, opposition and differences in opinions of the general people were consistently repressed. All of these factors combined had a huge part in pushing Koreans to Canada, with peak migration occurring in 1975.
Koreans began to immigrate to Canada after World War II, with the help of Canadian missionaries. In the early 60s, the first known Koreans in Canada were brought by missionaries to receive an education. The Canadian immigration policy was originally extremely racist and only allowed those from certain European countries, and of Caucasian descent, to enter the country. However, due to the pressures such as an increased need for workers, the immigration policy was revised to be slightly more open and accepting. Unfortunately, this included a racist hierarchy of preferred immigrants. British people were most favoured, and all the way at the bottom of the hierarchy, on the last level, were Asians, including Koreans, who were the least favoured. This policy was put into place to prevent Asian individuals in Canada from successfully sponsoring their families. Canada did not want to let ‘coloured people’ taint their country. It was still a racist place, and they opened their borders out of necessity rather than good will.
As time passed the Canadian economy kept expanding and, with it, the need for more labourers. Taik-bo Chun, the president of a Korean shipping company, helped convince the Canadian government to open its borders to Koreans. Canada revised its policy in 1967 and switched over to a non-discriminatory points system. This system was put in place to supply the labour force in Canada. It valued fluency in French or English, education, and job opportunity. The new policy also allowed for Asian individuals to sponsor their families, even as distant as uncles and aunts. This shift led to a huge increase in Koreans immigrating and also influenced the demographics of those in the country. Since then, the relationship between Canada and Korea improved exponentially. In 1973, the Canadian embassy opened its doors in South Korea. This lead to a huge influx of Korean immigrants that ultimately peaked in immigration in 1975.
Since skills that would allow immigrants to be a part of the workforce helped Koreans to get into Canada, many Koreans who came to Canada were highly educated and hardworking. Korean immigrants were focused on a new opportunity in Canada. They had to start anew and find a place for their families who came with them. However, it was difficult to find opportunities to fully succeed due to language barriers, discrimination, and marginalization. Although Canada is stereotypically the nicest and most welcoming country, the reality that the immigrants faced was a racist society that looked down upon them. They had to find work immediately, because they came with next to nothing, but no one would hire them. Their degrees that they had earned in Korea weren’t recognized here, and Canadian employers didn’t accept previous work experience from Korea either. So, they had to find any work they could; work that was labour intensive, under their qualifications, and low in pay. They were isolated from the rest of Canadian society in social status, job, and language. Despite these barriers, parents worked hard and devoted their lives to their children’s futures. Their life choices, from where they lived to where they worked, were made with that purpose. This kind of mindset is familiar to many members of our church. Their parents, who had left whatever they had in Korea, worked hard to create an opportunity for their children in Canada.
Bless the Lord
What did it mean to bless the Lord during those times? This is an important question for every generation to make, especially for those who were moving all the way across the world. The immigrants had to make huge, life-changing decisions; decisions which were exciting but also very scary. Those who chose to leave Korea did so due to the poor circumstances there, however, they were given a chance for an opportunity to start a new life in Canada. This new possibility was initiated by Canadian missionaries in Korea, who brought the first Koreans to Canada. Since then, the relationship between Korea and Canada has strengthened, as Korea and Canada have both changed and grown together over the years. We can see God working through that first interaction through the missionaries who initiated immigration, as well as through time since then.
It seems as though the countries’ needs almost mirrored each other. As Koreans had more reasons to move out of the country, Canada provided with a greater need for labourers and therefore opened its doors to Korea, more and more. The 1960s and 1970s exemplify the huge changes in both countries. Korea was recovering from the Korean War and was facing several political, military, economic, and population issues. These circumstances were difficult to live in, and these people looked to Canada for a chance for freedom and opportunity. This opportunity was new, not only for those in Korea but also for Canada, who had changed their immigration policy at the time and was looking for more workers. The timing was quite perfect, and we are able to see how God was working on both the national and international level.
Similar to how God told Abraham to move, the entire circumstances seemed as though God was telling the people of Korea to travel and build up their lives in a new place, Canada. The promise was born and instilled in the past of Christianity in Korea, and the immigration wave mimics Jacob’s story, of continuing and fulfilling that promise. Reading other stories in the Bible that talk about being away from comfort, home, or being lost must have spoken to the immigrants in Canada and given them hope. They faced many difficult situations, where they were looked down on, discriminated against, and marginalized. However, they were able to relate their experiences with those of characters in the Bible. Through those stories, they could see how God would be with them and protect them. The immigrants were able to put their trust in God, and through faith, they were able to build up God’s kingdom by creating a new life and community in a foreign land.
How does this affect the way I think about my faith?
Throughout the process of researching and writing this post, I’ve learned a lot about what people went through when they came to Canada in a very real way. The struggles that they faced and the hardships they went through became a lot more concrete, and I came to an appreciation of their strength and what they did for us. I believe that this strength that allowed them to persevere came from faith and trust in God. It must have been a really hard decision to move halfway across the world, and although Canada seems like such a good place, it was a harsh environment to live in when they got here. My life has been really stable; I have a good family, a good education, and a good community. However, those who left Korea, where the circumstances seemed bleak, and coming to Canada only to face marginalization, discrimination, constantly looking for ways to survive is so much harder. Despite this, I worry so much about things that seem so small in comparison to what Korean immigrants went through. I hope to be able to have faith that allows me to trust God, and persevere through the struggles that I face as well.
How does this affect the way I think about my faith?
After researching about the immigration of Koreans to Canada, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for the sacrifices that were made by the first immigrants. I’ve learned a lot about the reasons why people left their homes in Korea and the struggles that they faced entering a completely new country. When I think about my own faith, I don’t think that it has affected the way I think about it, but
it has furthered my realization in God’s presence. When we take the time to reflect on our lives, we can see where God was present and understand more on why he puts us through certain things. So, I hope that my walk of faith will be filled with reflecting and the reassurance that he’s always there alongside us. I also hope to have the perseverance to power through struggles that I face in my own life, like the first immigrants.
Stories of Faith is the theme of our 2019 ESM Summer Retreat, and this mini-series will be a lead-up to the retreat. Learn more about the retreat and register now!