[NOTEBOOK]All families must be protectedTen years after they began arriving here in large numbers, more and more immigrant workers are marrying Koreans and starting families. But they face many obstacles.
The nationality law, amended in July 1998, allows children of international marriages to acquire Korean citizenship if either of their parents is Korean －－ the old law granted nationality only if the father is Korean. Under the law, foreigners can acquire Korean citizenship if they have been married to a Korean more than three years and lived in Korea more than a year or have lived in Korea and been married to a Korean more than two years.
The new law appears to treat men and women equally but has many flaws. To establish an address in Korea, foreigners need a visa, but the Ministry of Justice has rules that discriminate against foreign males who are married to Korean women. Foreign women who are married to Korean males receive a visa, called F2, which enables them to work legally and live in Korea for two years, but foreign men who are married to Korean females are issued an F1 visa, which allows them to stay in Korea three months to one year, but it does not include a work permit.
The only way a foreign male can lead a normal life in Korea is to naturalize and acquire Korean citizenship, but they would still encounter inequalities. Foreign females do not need to take state-administered tests to obtain Korean nationality, but foreign males are required to follow a complicated procedure, including testing. Because of difficulties in receiving a visa and acquiring nationality, families formed between foreign males and Korean females are not guaranteed the right to live in Korea and are forced to separate or move abroad to the husbands' country. The most important thing to be considered in the naturalization procedure is not the prevention of the acquisition of nationality through sham marriages but to protect the rights of those who actually start families here. As long as the marriages are found to be legitimate, excessive procedures should not lead to unnecessary pain for these married couples and their families. If the government expands the resident visa, F2, which guarantees the right to work and obtain wealth without being naturalized, foreigners will not be pressured to give up their citizenship to live in Korea.
Our constitution stipulates that everyone is equal under the law and that no one should be discriminated against, regardless of their sex, religion or social status. It also says that under international laws and treaties, foreign citizens' rights are fully protected. Although man, woman and society as a whole should share the responsibility of supporting families, Korean immigration laws limit some families' economic activities, including depriving them of the right to work because the husband is not a Korean citizen. Korean legislators should consider the fact that Japan amended its laws so that even illegal aliens, men and women, can seek employment and live in Japan if they marry a Japanese citizen. This was done for humanitarian reasons and also to protect families.
The writer is head of Korea Family Legal Service Center.
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