Language Tests Make Life Tough for Cross-Cultural Couples

      April 25, 2015 08:10

      The Justice Ministry tightened visa standards in April last year for foreign women who marry Korean men and started requiring them to pass Korean language tests to obtain visas to come here. The aim was to stem the chronic marital strife resulting from communication problems that has led to many of migrant wives seeking refuge in shelters.

      But a lack of educational institutions abroad teaching the language is making it tough for women from abroad to join their Korean husbands here.

      According to the Korean Embassy in Vietnam, the number of visas granted to Vietnamese brides fell from 5,708 in 2013 to 2,967 in 2014.

      Justice Ministry data also show that the overall number of foreign brides who entered Korea fell from 98,965 to 98,364 over the same period.

      In January and February, the number fell nine percent on-year to 17,522.

      Now some critics say the rules are unfair to bona-fide married women who already have marriage licenses. One man in the southern port city of Busan killed the owner of a matchmaking company after his new wife was unable to enter Korea because she kept failing her language test.

      Lee Soo-han at the South Gyeongsang Province chapter of Women Migrants Human Rights Center said, "The aim of the revised regulations is reasonable, but the problem is that the rules are too strict since brides who fail the test have to wait six months to take the next exam."

      Husbands and wives are often outraged that they are prevented from living together simply because of red tape.

      Others say it is preposterous to tighten only visa rules for migrant wives when there are few restrictions to registering their marriage in the first place. Under the current law, any Korean couple can freely register their marriage at government agencies.

      Kim Ok-soon, who counsels foreign migrant workers in Daegu, said, "Often these couples are husband and wife only on paper, and if they're separated for a long time the women just give up and file for divorce."

      Kim said the rules need to be applied more flexibly. Authorities could for example check the language skills before they report their marriage or provide other options for those who keep failing in the test.

      But a Justice Ministry official said, "The aim of the measure is to curb illegal matchmaking agencies. If a couple are genuinely interested in their marriage and demonstrate that they are able to communicate, we often allow foreign brides to forego the language test."

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