The Korea Herald


Seoul's population falls, gets more diverse

Foreign national resident population up 120% from 20 years ago

By Lee Jung-joo

Published : June 17, 2024 - 15:45

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Seoul’s total population over the first quarter of 2024 dropped to 9.38 million, a 6.4 percent decline from the total population 20 years ago, 10.2 million, according to the Seoul Metropolitan Government on Monday.

Out of the 25 districts in the city, Nowon-gu in northern Seoul has seen a 20 percent fall in its population over the last 20 years. While the district saw its population reach 630,555 in 2004, these numbers saw a large decline in the first quarter of 2023 to 501,727.

Besides Nowon-gu, Dobong-gu and Gangbuk-gu -- both also in northern Seoul -- saw their populations decrease by approximately 70,000 over the last 20 years.

On the other hand, Gangnam-gu, Seocho-gu and Songpa-gu in southern Seoul -- commonly referred to as the Gangnam area -- and Gangseo-gu in western Seoul have seen their populations increase compared to 20 years ago.

“The continued population decline in northern Seoul is due to three reasons: housing, job and education conditions in the area,” said professor Lee Chul-hee from Seoul National University’s Department of Economics. “Compared to the three districts in northern Seoul, the Gangnam area and Gangseo-gu have more newer homes, are close to business and office districts and are known to be where good schools are concentrated, which all work to help reduce population decline.”

On the other hand, the population of registered foreign national residents in Seoul has increased from 114,685 in 2004 to 250,706 as of April 2024.

The city government defines registered foreign nationals as those legally living in the city for longer than 90 days for long-term residential purposes, educational purposes, training purposes and working holidays.

These figures exclude overseas Koreans living in the capital with F-4 visas. There were 145,320 F-4 visa holders alone as of the first quarter of 2024, a major 1,036.4 percent increase from 12,788 visa holders in 2004.

While the increase in the population of foreign national residents is being discussed as one way to slow down Korea‘s population decline, at the current figures, it is unlikely to increase the capital’s total population a great deal. According to Statistics Korea’s prediction presented by the city government, Seoul’s total population is estimated to fall to 8.09 million in 2050, with some 36 percent of its residents age 65 or older.

To lessen the impacts of population decline, the city government announced that it would work with the central government to expand employment for foreign nationals under the E-9 nonprofessional employment visa, as well as attract more foreign nationals in high-tech fields to study and work in Seoul.

However, Lee states that other problems must be addressed to lessen the capital‘s population decline overall.

“Adding better infrastructure and housing is important in Seoul, but it is also important to note that many young people are leaving the city due to rising housing prices,” said Lee.

“Seoul needs more policies aimed at preventing housing prices from rising to make sure there isn’t an outflow of young people from the city.”