Korea eases visa rules for overseas researchers in talent bid

Relaxed regulations will allow more universities to recruit researchers at different stages in their careers

July 2, 2024
People with suitcases and luggage carts at Incheon International Airport.
Source: iStock/danr13

More international researchers and students will be eligible for South Korean visas as the government attempts to broaden the country’s science and technology talent pool.

The Ministry of Justice, which oversees immigration, announced on 1 July that it was expanding the number of South Korean universities able to invite undergraduate researchers under new rules.

D2-5 visas for research studies were formerly issued only to postgraduate degree holders and foreign undergraduates invited by a few leading institutions, including the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology (DGIST).

This prevented the rest of South Korea’s universities from recruiting overseas undergraduate students wishing to conduct research activities.

Now, any university ranked highly in leading global league tables, including the top 200 of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, can invite research students at undergraduate level.

Similarly, the E-3 visa, issued to international researchers focusing on technology and natural sciences, was previously granted only to master’s or PhD holders with three or more years of work experience.

The government, having received feedback from universities reporting that this made it “difficult to attract researchers”, has now waived the work requirements in the case of researchers who have graduated from a “world-class” university or have authored an “excellent” academic paper, as judged by Clarivate’s Science Citation Index Expanded.

This is the latest signal that the country is making serious attempts to further internationalise its science and research sectors. Earlier this year, South Korea agreed a deal to join Horizon Europe, which will allow it to access European Union funding and expand international collaborations.

At the time, the Science Ministry said this would offer “an opportunity to expand the openness of Korea’s national innovation system”.

The Ministry of Justice has hinted that further measures to attract international researchers may be in the works. In a statement, the department said it “plans to gradually expand the scope of research-related visa issuance in order to attract outstanding global talent in the science and technology fields”.

It promised to “pursue improvements” to the visa system while maintaining balance by “collecting opinions from related ministries and the science and technology community”.

South Korea is one of the countries suffering the most from talent shortages as it grapples with a rapidly ageing population, but recruiting more international academics and researchers is proving to be a challenge for policymakers.

Scholars have previously told THE about the barriers academics face when working in the country’s universities, such as the lack of acceptance from their South Korean counterparts.


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