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[Herald Interview] ‘Foreigners in Seoul want more benefits, less discrimination’

‘Seoul an inclusive city where foreigners want to live, but discrimination in tax and benefits still exist’

Boqiev Ahrorjon, chair of the council of foreign residents, poses at the Embassy of the Republic of Tajikistan. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Boqiev Ahrorjon, chair of the council of foreign residents, poses at the Embassy of the Republic of Tajikistan. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Seoul is an attractive city for expats, but administrative discrimination must be addressed, says the new chair of the foreign resident council that represents around 500,000 foreigners in Seoul, vowing to improve the quality of their life in cooperation with council members and the government.

“Seoul is a globalized and inclusive city that foreigners want to live. However, there is still discrimination against foreigners in the workplace and in terms of social benefits,” said Boqiev Ahrorjon in an interview with The Korea Herald.

The foreign resident council was launched by the Seoul city government to improve the quality of life for foreigners in the city in December 2015. Boqiev was elected as the chair of the third batch of the council on Jan. 26. He will serve for two years.

Taking the example of the national disaster relief fund provided last year, he said, “Even foreigners who work legally and pay taxes were excluded from the benefits.”

Last year, relief funds -- aiming to help the self-employed and small businesses hit hard by extended social distancing rules -- were, in principle, not provided for foreigners except for permanent residents and married immigrants.

Boqiev hoped foreigners would be included in the next round of the fund. The government is currently discussing the extent of the fourth round of disaster relief funds, including whether to include foreign residents.

He also took the example of child care-related benefits provided by companies and the government.

“For Koreans, there are various benefits, such as incentives for childbirth or subsidies for using day care centers and kindergarten. But those benefits are still limited for foreign workers,” he said, hoping more foreigners would not be excluded from the benefits.

As the new chair, his top priority this year is to deliver proper vaccination information to foreign residents when vaccines are available around fall.

The government recently said all residents, including foreigners, will get the shots for free to build herd immunity.

“Since information is mostly distributed in Korean, foreigners who are not good at Korean language may find it difficult in accessing the information. Together with council members, we will work hard to deliver the correct inoculation method and target to their communities,” he said.

The council comprises 30 foreign residents from 20 countries as its members, including nine Central Asians, five Chinese Koreans, five Middle Easterns, three Europeans, five Southeast Asians and many more.

The 28-year-old Tajik came to Korea in 2015 through a government sponsorship program and majored in aerospace information engineering at a graduate school of Konkuk University. He is now working as an administrative officer at the Embassy of the Republic of Tajikistan.

Boqiev ran for the chair of the council believing he could contribute to foreign communities with his five years of living experience in Korea and the network he had gained through two years of volunteering activities in Seoul.

Over the last five years, he has noticed changes in the way Koreans looked at and behaved toward foreigners here based on race and the color of their skin.

“In the past, I would see people behaved differently toward foreigners from rich countries, such as the US, France and the UK, and those from developing countries, such as Bangladesh, Myanmar, Pakistan and Tajikistan,” he said.

“Now, I can see such racism has declined a lot and the city has become more inclusive.”

The efforts of the foreign resident council may have played a part.

Since its launch in December 2015, council members have proposed a total of 108 policies to the Seoul Metropolitan Government, and 67 of them have been reflected.

The changed policies include the payment of the mutual benefit fund for retirement in the event of the death of a foreign construction worker, supporting immigrant children’s native language education and providing diverse languages on maps and information boards.

By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)

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