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The Filipino Community in Korea

May 16, 2006 • Korea has long been considered a homogenous society, by both Koreans and non-Korean alike. This is beginning to change, though, as more and more foreign workers not only come to take up jobs in Korea, but also start to develop their own communities. While "community formation" is still nascent, there are indications that it is beginning to take root. One indication of this is the street market held every Sunday in front of the Hyehwa Catholic Church on Daehangno in central Seoul. Each week, dozens of Filipino and some Korean vendors gather to sell products "from home" to a primarily Filipino crowd. On a recent Sunday in May (2006) there were about 40 vendors and several hundred shoppers, although, throughout the day, it is possible that several thousand shoppers may show up from around the region (I was told, by one volunteer at the Philippine Community Center, that as many as 3,000 Filipino worshippers show up for Mass given by a Filipino priest, Father Glenn). Altogether, there are about 30,000~35,000 Filipinos living in Korea--most are migrant workers, but a small number came to Korea specifically for the purpose of marriage. Some of these marriages are arranged through "brokers" and some are through "mass weddings" arranged by the Unification Church, which remains influential in Korea. Not surprisingly, many of these marriages end up in abuse, divorce, and even death. (For an academic account of this situation, read this article by Young Hee Kwon.)

• For a related article, see "Foreign Workers Seek Comfort at Korean Churches" (Seoul Times)

Please write me if you would like to share your experiences as a Filipino migrant in South Korea. I am especially interested in hearing from anyone who has lived in Korea for more than five years, or who plans to "settle" in Korea. All responses will be kept confidential. E-maill me at

By Timothy C. Lim
Associate Professor
Department of Political Science
California State University Los Angeles

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