The number of families of migrant workers and North Korean defectors are on the rise. But due to legal restrictions and social prejudice, these people are living as aliens, deprived of the basic rights that families are entitled to. On the occasion of Family Month, The Women’s News takes a closer look at the families of migrant workers and North Korean defectors, and points out improvements that need to be made if our society is to embrace the families of minorities. – editor
It is quite easy these days to see families born of international marriages in Korea, and past censure of such marriages have diminished considerably.
However, if the marriage involves a migrant worker from a so-called ‘poor country,’ and especially if the marriage is between a Korean woman and a foreign man, there are still many hurdles to overcome.
The first hurdle would be the marriage registration. This is a complicated process, with each Gu (district) office applying different criteria. Furthermore, the foreign husband-to-be has to go back to his country to register the marriage first, obtain an F1 visa, and then come back to submit these documents before being allowed to register his marriage in Korea.
Even if the couple has crossed the first hurdle, the F1 visa (visitor’s visa) that most migrant workers are issued does not allow employment in Korea, thereby endangering the survival of the new family. To make things worse, the F1 visa is good for a period ranging from three months to a year, meaning that if the Korean authorities refuse to extend the visa, the husband has to go back to his country to wait for the Korean embassy to review his case and issue a new visa.
Consequently, a considerable number of migrant workers with families are staying in Korea illegally and are earning money illegally. They naturally have to put up with unstable living conditions. Their families also have to bear the torment of being separated on a regular basis whenever the husband flies back home to renew his visa. Furthermore, the majority of migrant workers are poorly paid, meaning that the Korean wife usually has to be the breadwinner.
Choi Jin Young, who is in charge of families of international marriages at the Seoul Migrant Workers’ Center, says, “The only way for migrant workers to marry Koreans and make families here is naturalization.” In the case of a foreign woman marrying a Korean man, the wife can obtain Korean nationality without much difficulty if she stays in Korea for two years and submits proof thereof. But a foreign man marrying Korean woman is a different story. The husband has to prove that he is economically capable, meaning that it is a futile case for illegal migrant workers.
Legal restrictions are not the only cruelty that families of migrant workers have to bear. They are faced with serious social prejudice because of their skin color and their ‘poor homeland.’
Thirty-three-year-old Park, who has maintained a marital relationship with Nepal migrant worker “L” for ten years, loses sleep every night worrying about sending her seven-year-old to school next year. “I worry that other kids will make fun of my child for having a different skin color. And how will my child respond to the fact that his father is an illegal migrant worker when he grows up?” With each day bringing greater burdens to bear, Park says, “If I had known from the beginning that I would be facing all these problems, I would not have chosen to marry him.”
For several years now, civic groups advocating human rights of migrant workers have demanded the issuance of the F2 visa, which acknowledges the labor and resident rights of migrant workers who have married Korean nationals. Another alternative suggested by the human rights groups is to grant F1 visa holders the right to employment and to lower the standards for extending the term of the F1 visa.
The Immigration Bureau of the Ministry of Justice, however, responds, “We are in the process of easing current laws, including lowering standards for visa extension. But it is difficult to expand the scope of employment for F1 visa holders any further than teachers in schools for foreigners.”
Currently, the number of illegal migrant workers has reached some 200,000, and the number of families of such workers is on the rise as well. But without labor and resident rights, these families have to struggle to make ends meet. And social and institutional discrimination rampant in Korean society is depriving them of the inherent rights of families.