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The South Korean government is to ease visa restrictions for foreign workers in R&D and new industries such as AI to attract skilled expatriates, it was reported in The Korea Times.

The government will also create what it calls a “digital nomad visa” that would allow skilled foreign IT workers to remain in South Korea – even if they are not employed by organisations based in the country.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun finalised the initiative during a foreigners’ policy committee on 31 March. The move is aimed at addressing a decrease in the South Korea’s population – exacerbated by an ageing population – leading to an anticipated shortfall in the country’s workforce.

The government will also remove limits on the number of expats to be employed by companies in new sectors, such as AI and bioscience, to lower the barrier to foreigners’ employment in local organisations.

The new visa – which will be issued even to applicants not working for companies based in South Korea – will enable them to stay in the country while working remotely, in line with a is a growing global trend.

American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) Board of Governors Chairman, Jeffery Jones, said the government’s moves to more actively attract skilled foreign professionals would help boost to the country's economy, but added one thing that was still unclear in the latest measures was the adjustment of tax policies for foreign workers.

“South Korea tends to impose heavier taxes on foreign workers, compared to Singapore and Hong Kong. To attract more skilled foreign professionals, tax benefits should be enhanced as well,” he said.

The government will also allow foreign workers to extend their stay by up to one year if it’s impractical for them to return to their home countries due to outbreaks of infectious diseases or natural disasters.

Another issue is the concentration of South Korea’s workforce, with two-thirds (66%) of foreign nationals working in Seoul – making it more difficult for local governments to attract foreign workers. To deal with this issue, the government will soon unveil incentives to help them settle in areas outside of Seoul.

The measures come as a significant shift in South Korea’s population is unfolding. In 2020, the country’s population fell year-on-year for the first time in recorded history – with deaths surpassing births – according to the latest census figures released by the Ministry of Interior and Safety.