History of Korea's Overseas Employment and Migration

Korea International Cooperation Agency

The exhibition contains the images of Korea encouraging the overseas employment for economic growth in the 1960s and 1970s and the Korean people's arduous days with blood and sweat.

Korea Overseas Development Corporation (KODC)

In the 1960s, the economy of the Republic of Korea (hereafter, Korea) was heavily relied on the agricultural sector and infrastructure was still in a poor shape. To stimulate the economy, the Korean government took the initiative in pursuing economic growth. This meant that the government needed external funds to finance its domestic development programs. Against this backdrop, the Korea Overseas Development Corporation (KODC) was established under the slogan of "Planting Korea's seeds across the world" on June 10, 1965.

As a government foundation, the KODC aimed at reducing unemployment rate, adjusting population growth, improving international balance of payments, promoting trade and increasing foreign exchange primarily by encouraging overseas employment and migration of Koreans.

Catholic churches and medical institutions in Germany used to operate nurse deployment programs in a small scale. Then, the Korean government began to take charge of the technical cooperation and exchange of workforce from 1960s until 1970s.

The German Hospital Association President was invited to Korea to discuss the plan for deployment of Korean nurses to West Germany.

Recruitment of Workers Sent to West Germany

In 1960s and 1970s, jobs were scarce in Korea. Even university graduates had difficulty in getting a decent job. With so many people lining up behind a job, a program to dispatch workers to mines in West Germany gained in popularity. At that time, applicants should be male and aged between 20 and 35 with at least one year of experience in mines. However, there was almost no one who had previous experiences in mines. In its early days, many youngsters, including university graduates, applied for the job to make money and fulfill their dream in the future.

For recruitment of nurses, job requirements were unmarried women aged between 20 and 30 who possess licence for nursery. It was a three-year contract with the monthly salary of 627 Deutshe Mark (about 157 dollars).

Korean miners worked 1,200m underground. Covered in sweat and dirts all day, they carried bags of coal as heavy as they were.
Some miners could not safely make out of mines. Methane gas explosion that resulted in the collapse of mines and accidents involving mining equipment claimed the lives of young Korean miners.

The Economic Planning Board sent an inquiry to the Ministry of Health and Society regarding the conditions of nurses dispatched to West Germany to find out whether there is a need for an intergovernmental agreement for deployment of nurses and whether West Germany covers travel expenses of Korean nurses.

This is a journal written by one of the Korean miners. He elaborated on how painful the work was and how he learned to be patient through physical and mental sufferings. On top, he also drew himself crawling in a narrow tunnel for hours and hours.

Language difference and home sickness did not stop Korean miners and nurses from working diligently. In addition, rather than spending money for themselves, they sent remittances amounting to USD 100 million to their families and loved ones back in Korea.
At the time, Korea was in desperate need for foreign currency and the remittances sent by them served as seed money for Korea to achieve rapid economic growth.

President's Visit to West Germany

At the invitation of Karl Heinrich Lübke, the President of West Germany, the Korean President Chung-hee Park visited West Germany on December 6, 1964. The official purpose of the presidential visit was to observe the Miracle on the Rhine and learn lessons from West Germany to explore ways for Korea to move ahead.

From 1966 to 1977, roughly 10,000 nurses and 8,000 miners went to West Germany for work.

To efficiently operate the national program of sending workers to abroad, the KODC was responsible for facilitating overseas migration and assisting overseas employment not only in West Germany but also in America, Canada, the Middle East, etc.

By sending workers abroad, the corporation brought it foreign exchange and advanced technologies necessary for economic development, which laid the foundation for the Korean government to better draw up and implement its long-term national economic development plans.

In the 1970s, Koreans were dispatched to other countries as sailors, miners, nurses, trainees, doctors, etc.

Thanks to our people's tears and sweat dropped in foreign countries far from home, Korea could build up its national strength and achieve rapid economic growth.

Korea International Cooperation Agency
Credits: Story

Exhibition Curator l Ran Ro

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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