[Letters] Laws discourage international couples

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[Letters] Laws discourage international couples

While there were 12,000 international marriages in Korea in 2001 and 20,000 in 2005, the figure went up to 40,000 in 2010. Many foreign brides now have Korean citizenship and vote in Korean elections. Some more fortunate brides, notably from the Philippines, have even had the luxury to move from farms to bigger cities and become English teachers. Then of course there are those brides who struggle to make ends meet and suffer turbulent marriages.

Bi-racial children often look Korean and have Korean names. They learn Korean in school and speak Korean at home. While they may suffer racial discrimination from classmates, they more often suffer from economic discrimination. Indeed, in a country that values degrees and high grades as well as endless hours of cramming in hagwons, such children cannot be offered to be tutored or to go to cram school and often perform more poorly at school than other Korean children who can afford such education.

While until 1998 any foreigner who married a Korean was granted the option of taking Korean citizenship, the Korean government is taking increasingly harsh measures towards foreigners marrying Korean citizens.

For foreigners to get a visa and marry Korean citizens, the Korean brides and grooms must prove that they are engaged in a legal professional activity in the country. This is a problem both for foreign men who marry Korean housewives and for foreign students who marry Korean students right after finishing college or graduate school. The problem is Korean visas either bind foreigners to an institution (school or company) or to a person (spouse). If a foreigner marries a Korean person who does not work, the individual has to remain bound to his company to stay in the country, meaning the person cannot quit or engage in any other paid activity.

For those foreigners who date Koreans during college or graduate school, foreigners have to leave Korea until their Korean partner finds a job. With an increasingly competitive job market, it can take months for the Korean partner to find a job. This is aggravated by the fact that even if the Korean partner does find a job, the foreigner must prove that he or she is in possession of enough money to “sustain the household.” Some argue this violates the Korean constitution, which guarantees Korean people’s right to happiness.

The Korean government is seeking even harsher measures for Koreans willing to marry foreigners (such as criminal background checks for Koreans). While Korean parents, once strongly opposed to their children marrying foreigners, now welcome foreigners as full members of the family, the government seems to be taking an opposite approach.

As the future husband of a Korean woman, I would suggest that the government take steps to establish a fiancee visa to help future couples prepare for marriage without facing the hardships of immigration laws, as well as grant F2 visas to all foreigners married to Koreans. Without such measures, international couples are being forced to leave.

Akli Hadid, a former student in Korea now residing in Algeria
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