Spouse visa rules tightened over cost concerns

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Spouse visa rules tightened over cost concerns

A new requirement starting April 1 that requires foreigners getting married to Koreans to pass a Korean proficiency test to qualify for an F-6 marriage visa was actually spurred by a government fear that assistance for multiethnic families had grown too large, according to a report in today’s JoongAng Ilbo.

The original government announcement emphasized concern for the multiethnic relationships, particularly for men in the countryside who married women from Southeast Asia.

However, the JoongAng investigation suggests it was concerns at the Finance Ministry that actually led to a request being made to the Justice Ministry to tighten visa rules.

Public assistance for multiethnic families reached 123.2 billion won, or $114.6 million, last year, way up from 200 million won in 2005.

The amount of money earmarked to help foreign wives adjust to life in Korea took a major leap in 2008, rising to 31.7 billion won, following public calls for the government to help those families.

That lead to the Multicultural Family Support Program Act that same year.

Of the 123.2 billion won spent last year, 43.4 billion won went to helping foreign wives settle in the country, while 24 billion won was spent on education programs for children born to foreign mothers.

With additional support offered by local governments, the government determined that more than 200 billion won was spent overall.

Such a radical increase in funding for multiethnic families has caused an outcry that the amount is disproportionate to the amount of similar welfare benefits given to needy Korean citizens.

An official at the finance ministry told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday that the ongoing controversy over multiethnic families led the ministry to request the Justice Ministry toughen its visa requirements for female foreigners married to Korean husbands and who wish to live in the country.

A Justice Ministry official told the JoongAng that, because of the length the government goes to helping these families financially, “the government support measures have caused controversy, over whether they are discriminating against Korean families.”

According to the Justice Ministry, the government’s 123.2 billion for assisting multiethnic marriages went to 280,000 households.

As a point of comparison, it spent 66 billion won in subsidies to 218,000 single-parent families in the lowest income bracket, which works out to about half the money spent on each multiethnic household.

BY JUNG HYO-SIK [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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