Sunday, August 05, 2007

How many Koreans are really here? Almost half a million? BI officials say only 11,889 are documented

Koreans are the top tourist arrivals in the Philippines.

The Department of Tourism’s figures show dramatic rise in Korean visitor arrivals from 489,465 in 2005 to 572,133 in 2006. The surge continues until the first quarter of the year.

From January to March 2007 there were 171,716 Korean tourist arrivals. This means there will at least be 684,000 by year-end. But the DOT—because it is carrying out a campaign to woo more and more Koreans to our shores—feel there will be much more.

The influx to Koreans come to become legal residents has also grown. According to the Korean Chamber of Commerce, from barely 7,000 in 1980, the number grew to 70,000 by 2005. Koreans living in the Philippines today are estimated by Korean sources to be more than 100,000.

Other estimates—including those of the Bureau of Immigration Intelligence Department—give a much higher figure of up to nearly half-a-million. Most of these are of course illegal and undocumented.

The tourists are starkly visible in the country’s major destinations—like Boracay, Davao, Cebu and Bohol.

Makati’s Barangay Poblacion is the most famous “Korean village” in Metro Manila. But there “Korean villages” and strings of Korean stores and restaurants also in Quezon City and even Cainta, Rizal.

Most of the resident-population, whether legal or not, are students—mainly studying to speak and read English.

Korean travel agencies have organized partnerships with Filipinos or fellow Koreans with legal residence in the Philippines to open English-language schools. Koreans of all ages then come to the Philippines as tourists with one-month visas or longer. During their stay, they do almost nothing else but attend English classes. Their teachers are Filipinos.

A similar course in Korea would cost them 20 times more than their expense for their tuition and plane tickets and lodging in the Philippines.

Then there are Korean students with proper visas to earn bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in Philippine colleges and universities. Many of them are enrolled in the provincial universities—like the ones in Bulacan, Bataan and Pam-panga here in Luzon.

The Philippines has also become a favorite destination for Korean retirees.

Korean retirees—just like their still business-active compatriots living and working here—are in almost all of the Philippines major urban areas. They are in Baguio, Subic, Angeles, Cebu, Iloilo and Bacolod, Davao and Cagayan de Oro.

Korean restaurants and grocery stores cater to them. Signs in Korean Hanggul script advertise their Korean names. There are Korean Protestant churches, hotels and bars.

They have for Koreans-only restaurants and subdivisions.

Most Filipinos welcome them. Some, who write to the newspapers, call up radio talk shows, damn them for being loud and noisy, rude and stingy.

Some Koreans came years ago as children and grew up here. They speak Tagalog and the regional languages. Besides English, they are particularly well versed in Ilokano, Ilongo, Capampangan and Cebuano.

Attractions such as cheaper English education, resorts and golf courses and wider business opportunities for those with some capital (much more than local small and medium size enterprises have) as well as Korea’s relative geographic proximity to the Philippines are the prime reasons behind the phenomenal rise of the Korean population here.

The hospitality for which the Filipinos are famous also drew them in.

Some records from the Bureau of Immigration indicate that Koreans come back after their first visit. Numbers of them return many times over and over again. They find and grab business opportunities. Koreans here are in tourism-related investments such as travel agencies, resorts, hotels, restaurants and spas that continue to sprout and grow in the major cities here.

Marketing initiatives, relaxed entry formalities and budget airlines as well as flight frequencies have also facilitated the Korean invasion.

The government is looking forward to reaching as high as 800,000 Koreans by the year 2010.

Meanwhile, as far as the BI data is concerned there are now 240,000 Koreans living in the country but only 11,889 of them are properly documented.
By Julia M. Fabon --With William Depasupil - Manila Times

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