Marriage Visa in Korea: Foreigners used for National Interest?

Yes, the title is very provocative, but sadly there is a lot of truth to it.

Everything starts with me being so exhausted and frustrated at the preparation process for a spouse visa in South Korea. As an Italian citizen, I know that it is fairly easy to receive a spouse visa in my country, and more in general within the European Union. Because of rightful laws for the protection of human rights, even if one of the two spouses resides as an illegal immigrant, it is almost impossible to expel him or her from Italy and separate the couple.

Unfortunately, such is not the case with Korea: a racially very homogeneous nation seeking “elite” foreigners that can contribute to economic growth through their education, professional and technical skills. Although this system is legit and highly understandable, it is also true that it precludes entry and right of stay to those individuals that seek in this country to improve their economic and educational possibilities by either working or studying. You see, many people get rejected or aren’t even considered “qualified” to receive a Korean visa only because they lack sufficient “economic” or “educational” credentials. Even I, who come from a so-called “developed country” have had difficulties applying given the scant amount of money in my bank account. None of my family have ever been from the middle class, and if it were for Korea’s immigration system alone I wouldn’t have been able to stay here for the last 4 years or so. Luckily, I was given a chance to break this vicious cycle on the account of being granted a full tuition scholarship by a South Korean university, whose degree will hopefully give me a place in a higher social and economic structure.

In substance, and to be very down to earth, you either have a lot of money previous to coming here (and can prove that), or you’d better save the little money you have and pack your luggage for somewhere else, possibly more economically and racially inclusive.

I am sorry to present you with this very grim perspective, but this comes all from my experience, which is not absolute by all means, so you can take it for what it is worth. Maybe some of you reading this post have gone or are going through a similar experience, not necessarily in Korea, and can understand what I am trying to say.

Enough said on this, I want to go back to the main topic, that is specifically about getting a marriage visa in Korea. Because of the above reasons and a few more that I will add hereafter, this visa is perhaps the most difficult type to obtain here. I understand that economic feasibility is an important factor to ponder over in marriage life, but I ask myself: why is it necessary to be so scrutinous for a Korean+Foreigner couple when two ordinary Korean citizens (regardless of their economic background) are free to live together without the fear of being separated at any moment?

The question of money comes into play because Korea has, for the last 10 years and more, been dealing with a social issue concerning foreign brides, mainly from East Asia. These women (disclaimer: not all women from East Asia), hoping to take their families out of poverty, often engage in arranged marriages to Korean bachelors that mostly reside in the countryside. The issue is very complex, so I will limit myself to giving you some general guidelines.
The Korean government has for a long time turned a blind eye towards this phenomenon (if not secretly support its system) because it provides a makeshift solution to the problem of decreasing marriage and birth rate in South Korea. Instead of promoting welfare to encourage and support young Korean couples to marry and have children, they have preferred to rely and “use” foreigners to patch this growing issue. However, given the arranged nature of these marriages, foreign brides encounter numerous difficulties once they meet the groom and his family for the first time in Korea. You can only imagine how a foreign woman, not speaking nor knowing the local language and culture, would experience isolation in the remote countryside, and how often she could be abused under the strictly patriarchal-confucian system of this society. These women’s expectations for a better life soon turn into disillusionment, and, having no one to rely on or confide their tribulations, they usually end up running away from this abusive environment (often times stealing some of the husband’s and his family’s money). I am not condoning their stealing money, but I think we should try to understand the circumstances that lead them to this act and consider how the government is doing nothing to improve the situation after encouraging it for mere national profit.

All of this long explanation was to show you the reason why the immigration office is extremely scrutinous towards international couples when it comes to conceding marriage visas. As I have said, I really don’t think money should be weighed as the most important criteria to judge whether a spouse is “worthy” of a visa or not. On the contrary, I believe that the authorities should focus on determining whether a couple is “real” or not. As in the case of Korean bachelors from the countryside; they might have enough money through their family activity (such as farming) to fulfill the economic requirement to sustain a wife’s stay in the country, but this cannot prove whether the couple is genuine, and most of all cannot curb the future problems arising from cultural differences.
Recently, the spouse visa (F6) application process has become even more strict to address the latter issues, and has been extended also to those individuals not only coming from East Asia. Despite my deepest awareness and comprehension of the “foreign brides” affair, I cannot help but perceive slight racist attitudes in this process nonetheless. All of this leads to me and my husband having to print out a whole bunch of photos (each with precise date and description labels!) we took in the last 5 years to prove our actual dating; our PRIVATE (!!!!!) Kakaotalk conversations screenshots to prove our ability to communicate with one another; an essay describing our history together; and probably we will have to take a future interview by an assessing officer. Aside from this, my husband had to provide countless documents regarding his financial situation, which is going to make it very hard for me to obtain this visa because he is a part-time worker living independently from his family. Because of his “lacking” economic credentials we were told straight out by the immigration officer gathering our documents that:

“Just because you really love each other doesn’t mean we will give you a visa.”

At that moment I felt so angry and frustrated, because I am a recently graduated student and my husband has always worked hard for us to live together, and despite all of our love and best efforts to survive economically we are still not considered “fit” enough for this country’s standards…
To put the icing on the cake, it is absurd that if you do happen to have a child, then the money issue becomes of secondary relevance and you would be granted an F6 visa. So … this is their effin’ way of reasoning: YOU EITHER HAVE THE MONEY TO STAY HERE (like we don’t want poor foreigners in our country, only those that bring us the money) OR YOU CAN SERVE US AS A BABY MAKING MACHINE TO SOLVE OUR COUNTRY’S DECLINING POPULATION.

I am so sorry for this sudden outburst.. but I hope you can understand my frustration. With this, I will conclude my post and I really hope that if you have reached this point you will leave a like and comment!~

Have a great day 🙂


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