Migration and Diasporas
Several thousand Koreans work in Singapore in global financial or informational technology firms such as Goldman Sachs or Google and globalized Korean firms like Samsung. Recently, several thousand young Koreans have also migrated there to work in hospitality. Drawing from qualitative interview data from a project on transnational Korean professionals in Singapore, I examine the global mobility options of young Korean professional and semi-professional migrants working at non-Korean global firms. Conducting fieldwork from the ground up, I find that 1) many Korean professionals have high levels of capital and have lived in that are commonly regarded as ‘preferred’ destinations such as the USA and Europe; 2) semi-professionals, to a lesser degree, have similar capital and experiences, but receive starting salaries at about the Korean minimum wage; and 3) many members of both groups try to acquire permanent residency in Singapore. Why would they choose Singapore and even try to settle permanently when they have many other mobility options? Expanding on concepts of international stepwise migration (Paul 2011, 2017) and the portability of qualification (Collins and Ho 2018), I suggest that professional and semi-professional migrants construct their global hierarchies based on social networks and their own portable experiences. They highly value what Singapore and their work there offers, including a global city in Asia, a gateway to another destination, the relatively easier portability of global firm work experience, a less gendered working environment, and favorable societal reception for Koreans that is free of racial discrimination.