The number of multicultural families is growing fast in Korea. So is the number of problems arising from the demographic change, which is obliging policymakers to work out proper countermeasures.
It is therefore noteworthy that the government has set out new rules on granting visas for foreign spouses of Korean nationals. The measure, which will take effect April 1, mainly deals with the Korean language ability of foreign spouses and the economic status of their Korean partners.
In short, any foreigner who applies for an F-6 visa to live with a Korean spouse must pass the lowest level of the Test of Proficiency in Korean administered by the state-run Korean Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation.
Applicants who complete courses at government-accredited Korean language schools overseas will not need to take the test. Foreigners who have lived in Korea for at least one year or have studied the Korean language at a university are also exempt from the requirement.
The other key element of the new visa rules for foreign spouses is that the Korean partner must prove that he or she earns at least 14.8 million won a year. If the income of the foreign spouse or a family member of the Korean partner is equivalent to the minimum monthly income, the Korean partner can be exempted.
All things considered, the government, specifically the Ministry of Justice, has taken a step in the right direction since communication and economic status are vital for the success of international marriages and multicultural families.
Government statistics show that the number of Koreans marrying foreigners increased from 4,710 in 1990 to 29,224 in 2012. The majority of these are Korean men tying the knot with women from countries like Vietnam, China, Cambodia, the Philippines, Mongolia and Uzbekistan.
What’s beyond dispute is that, by and large, multicultural couples and their family members experience language barriers, which often result in a crisis in their marriage.
It is no coincidence that the number of divorce cases involving multiethnic couples increased from 1,744 in 2000 to 10,887 in 2012. Domestic violence was reported among 70.4 percent of multicultural couples, according to a 2010 government survey. Multiethnic couples remained married for 5.3 years on average, compared with 15 years for all-Korean couples.
Having foreign spouses achieve a minimum level of Korean language ability will certainly help Korea’s multicultural society become healthier. The new visa rules could also contribute to curbing fraud and crime involving the steadily increasing number of immigrant spouses and workers.