National-Local Networks and Immigration Governance: Policy Distance in South Korea

Policy Distance in South Korea

  • Jill L. Tao Professor at the Incheon National University, Incheon, South Korea
Keywords: immigration, local politics, policy distance, local autonomy, intergovernmental relations, local labor markets, South Korea


The ability to regulate the flow of goods, capital and people across borders is one of the defining characteristics of nation-state political power. But there is not always agreement between the central government and local officials as to the desirability of immigration, where local governments may desire greater, or fewer, numbers of immigrants, depending on the local economy and labor needs. In
South Korea, a unitary form of government offers an opportunity to examine the policy distance between the national government’s stance on immigration based on the politics of the ruling party, and the attitudes of local officials who work for metropolitan-level governments (those with a population of one million or more).
I look at the impact of local economic market needs on local attitudes towards national immigration policy through the lens of intergovernmental relations and Lipsky’s concept of bureaucratic discretion. Comparing two cases drawn from local governments in South Korea with dissimilar economic bases but similar levels of local autonomy, I find that economic needs at the local level are addressed by local approaches to  immigration policy. Contrary to expectations, the cases illustrate the relative importance of fiscal autonomy and a new understanding for political autonomy. These cases illustrate the need for caution when applying
political and institutional theory within new contexts and offer new variables for future investigations of local autonomy.