South Korea should be welcoming to outsiders. The nation is ageing faster than any other developed economy, having an ever-falling fertility rate and more elderly than young people. But government efforts to encourage couples to have more children are having little impact, making migration, as Japan is finally doing, the best approach to invigorating and growing the population. Standing in the way, though, as Chinese residents well know, are racism, xenophobia and discriminatory policies. Less than 5 per cent of South Korea’s population of 51 million count themselves as non-Korean. Despite the geographical proximity of China, just 18,000 are ethnic Chinese, a number down from 40,000 in 1970. The figure does not include the estimated one million workers from mainland China brought in on short-term visas to do menial jobs on construction sites and in factories and restaurants. Complaints from the diaspora and overseas hires alike are the same; prejudices and lingering legal restrictions make for inequality and an environment that drives away rather than attracts. Authoritarian governments in the 1960s and 1970s imposed rules restricting foreigners from owning land and doing business, measures only dropped or relaxed in the 1990s to attract overseas investment. Chinese were specifically targeted, with governments seeking to build nationalist pride and fuel Korean-led growth being mindful of their powerful involvement in economies in Southeast Asia. A myth of racial purity was taught in schools to promote unity, with generations of children wrongly learning that South Korea is a single-blood nation. Only in 2007, following complaints from the United Nations, were changes made to the education curriculum. Unsurprisingly, surveys of Koreans show majorities frown on mixed-race marriages, do not perceive workers from overseas as members of society, and are unwilling to have foreign neighbours. One study found that 45.9 per cent of respondents had a negative view of ethnic Korean Chinese workers, 12 per cent of them feeling they prevented Koreans from getting jobs – perhaps prompted by rising youth unemployment. Such racist views were also behind protests last year against Seoul accepting 494 Yemeni asylum seekers who arrived on Jeju Island. While more than 400 can stay for a year, just two have been granted refugee status. The government has been slow to adopt legislation shunning racism and discrimination and protecting the rights of foreign workers. Yet, in the face of new record low fertility statistics showing that the number of babies a South Korean woman is likely to have in her lifetime is now just 0.98, far below the replenishment rate of 2.1, it is time for policies that are friendly to minorities and migrants. Only then will attitudes among Koreans dramatically change.