Solving a crisis requires a commitment to transparency
The author is the minister of government legislation.
Under the exceptional circumstance that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused, nations around the world have been struggling for survival. Although Korea became an object of concern for other countries when it had the second-highest number of Covid-19 infections after China, other nations now facing a similar rise in infections have lauded Korea for its success in controlling the outbreak. Foreign media report that the key of Korea’s successful handing is “transparent and rapid dissemination of information related on Covid-19.” The Korean government has given a briefing twice a day to provide information including the number of new infections, the movements of people who tested positive and changes in government restrictions and support. The administration’s transparency creates a sense of trust among the citizens, which can lead them to comply voluntarily with the governments’s guidelines.
As we can see from the above example, in a modern society, information is a vital resource along with the three basic needs in our daily life — food, clothing and shelter. In particular, legal information, such as statutes and notices, along with the criteria for implementing government policies, is essential information to apply to our daily life. Unless legal information is shared to the public, people have difficulty understanding and using necessary policies.
I heard that migrant workers who have symptoms of Covid-19 are reluctant to visit medical centers to get tested due to the testing cost and the probability of a refusal to extend their visa to stay in Korea. However, a person who has suspicious symptoms, even if he or she is foreigner, can get a Covid-19 test free of charge, pursuant to the Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act. Also, the Ministry of Justice permitted the extension of visas for registered foreigners without any application by three months, pursuant to the Immigration Act. Despite these institutional supports for migrant workers, they have difficulty accessing and understanding necessary information due to the language barrier.
To solve this problem, the Ministry of Government Legislation has provided legal information in multiple languages to help foreigners living in Korea to easily access necessary statutes and notices since 2009. The Multi-language Legal Information Service is an online service that provides legal information translated into 12 languages, including English, Chinese and Vietnamese. It provides statutes and notices that might be needed for foreigners’ time in Korea, whether it’s regarding the visa process, health insurance or starting a business.
After President Moon Jae-in took office, our ministry provided interpretation services for foreigners who are unfamiliar with Korea’s legal system in order to combat social discrimination. And we reformed the service’s website (http://easylaw.go.kr) for users’ convenience. Since April of this year, we have provided a customized legal information service to foreigners living in Korea. When they make a request for legal information, we translate and provide it within seven days from the date of request.
There is a high level of satisfaction in providing legal information in various languages. In particular, the requests for customized legal information have been increasing during certain times, including the coronavirus outbreak. They have submitted requests for legal information, treatment and support that foreigners living in Korea can receive when they are infected and information about punishment when they violate the mandatory self-quarantine. We provide relevant laws and regulations, translating them into English and Chinese within three days.
A Vietnamese worker was dismissed from his job due to his company’s financial difficulty and requested relevant legal information about severance pay and unemployment benefits. We provided relevant laws in the Vietnamese language, including the Act on the Employment, etc. of Foreign Workers. The Vietnamese worker expressed his gratitude for the free legal information provided in his language.
Providing legal information to people who have difficulty accessing and understanding it can be one of the best ways to eliminate discrimination against the disadvantaged. In particular, the number of foreigners staying in Korea, such as married immigrants and migrant workers, stands at about 2.5 million, accounting for 5 percent of Korea’s population. I believe that providing Korea’s legal information in various languages should be the foundation for developing a multicultural society.
Our ministry will provide more legal information in different languages to foreigners living in Korea, who can become alienated from various policies because they don’t speak Korean and don’t know much about Korean laws. We have a plan to translate civil and criminal suit procedures into 12 languages to help foreigners to handle legal disputes. We are now providing a customized legal information service only in English and Chinese, but we will provide it also in Vietnamese and Thai in the coming years.
The Ministry of Government Legislation will endeavor to ensure that everyone, including foreigners, has a fair opportunity to access necessary legal information, regardless of nationality and race. This will allow them to enjoy the advantages of Korea’s democratic transparency, which has been highly regarded by nations around the world, without any discrimination.