Foreign spouses will have to pass language exam

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Foreign spouses will have to pass language exam

Foreign spouses of Korean citizens will be required to pass a Korean language proficiency test when applying for an F-6 marriage visa, beginning in April.

The stated minimum criteria is level 1 (the lowest level) of the Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK) conducted by the Korean Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation (KICE), or the completion of basic Korean language courses offered by accredited organizations.

The Ministry of Justice said it will later identify the courses that it perceives to be equivalent to the standard of TOPIK’s level 1.

In addition, Koreans with foreign spouses must earn at least 14.79 million won ($13,680) annually to demonstrate their financial stability.

But if the income of the foreign spouse, or another family member living with the Korean, is equivalent to that amount, the income requirement will be fulfilled. If a couple has a child, however, they are exempt from both requirements.

The change is part of the ministry’s move to strengthen visa rules, after a spate of reports highlighted troubles among multiethnic couples, especially between Korean men marrying women from Southeast Asian countries. The frictions range from husbands assaulting their wives to conflicts with in-laws to brides who run away abruptly.

“As we look into couples suffering problems, we found that the cause of misunderstandings and relationship troubles often stems from language barriers, which hampers them from properly settling their problems,” an official of the immigrant policy division at the Ministry of Justice told the Korea JoongAng Daily. “The ministry is enforcing those rules to prevent such issues.”

However, foreign spouses who have stayed in Korea for one year or have majored in Korean language at a university can be exempted from the new requirements. Couples who can communicate in a language other than Korean can also receive a waiver.

Given that couples such as Korean women and Western men can communicate in English, the new rules will mainly affect Korean men marrying women from Southeast Asian countries.

“As for the marriages between Korean men, who mostly live in the countryside, and Southeast Asian women, they sometimes tie the knot in seven or eight days after meeting through an agency,” the ministry official said. “In this case, troubles are bound to happen because they barely know each other.”

As more young Korean women leave their hometowns for careers in big cities, men in rural counties are increasingly looking overseas for brides.

The trend has been translated into a large influx of brides from poorer Asian nations such as Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines.

The number of Koreans marrying foreign spouses increased from 4,710 in 1990 to 29,224 in 2012, according to Statistics Korea.

But Korea has been grappling with shifting demographics and many of those marriages don’t turn out well.

The number of divorce cases involving a Korean and a foreign spouse increased to 10,887 in 2012, a drastic increase from 1,744 in 2000, according to Statistics Korea.


BY PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]

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