South Korean Nurses to West Germany: Reassessing the Role of the State in Postwar Global Labour Migration


  • Hye-Sim Na Sungkyunkwan University



Between the mid-1950s and the mid-1970s, 12,000 South Korean women worked as nurses in West Germany. Focusing on this migration allows for a reassessment of the role of the state in international labour migration prior to the era of globalization post-1980. Although Cold War politics shaped the diplomatic relationships that channeled South Korean nurses to West Germany, and contrary to narratives that celebrate the South Korean state’s central role in exporting female labour as the basis for South Korea’s economic miracle in the decades after the Korean War, the South Korean state played no direct role in the migration of nurses from South Korea to West Germany. South Korean nurses moved largely through the interventions not of the state but of private Catholic actors and not in the interests of South Korea’s economy but out of personal economic motivations.





Research Note