Expat workers need more care
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Marriage migrants, who account for merely 10 percent of the foreign population here, are eligible for overlapping welfare programs, whereas migrant workers taking the lion’s share of the population were left helpless.
International experts voiced concern about a waste of government budget, noting this is a setback to the effort to put multiculturalism in place in this country.
“I do worry that too much focus on the foreign bride issue and not yet a clear policy framework about migrant workers,” Will Kymlicka, professor and Canada Research Chair at Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada, told The Korea Times Saturday.
“I don’t think it’s fair and also don’t think it’s feasible to think of foreign workers as just disposable labor you can bring in for a few years and get rid of. More systematic multiculturalism has to think about the ways in which foreign workers will be and should be allowed to become members of Korean society, not just foreign brides.”
Kymlicka said the government’s multiculturalism policy was doomed to be short-lived, unless the current policy is redirected.
The Canadian expert predicted that sooner or later Korea will face controversial debates on immigration because of the fear that foreigners steal jobs, which was spotted in some European nations and North America.
He, however, noted immigration is unavoidable and necessary.
“Any movement Korea makes has to be accompanied by explaining to average citizens why these changes are necessary, whey they are good for everybody, why they are legitimate claims immigrants have,” he said.
“The European experiences show that it has to be controversial debates, rather than pretending you can avoid them.”
Kymlicka was one of the renowned international experts who were in Seoul for the Korea Foundation Global Seminar on Challenges of a Multicultural World and Global Approaches to Coexistence held at Mayfield Hotel from last Thursday to Monday. Some 50 experts from 20 countries joined the five-day program.
Nearly 1.5 million of foreign-born nationals, including migrant workers and marriage migrants, reside in this country. Some of them are naturalized Koreans. Approximately 10 percent are from China, Japan, Southeast Asian nations and Central Asian countries.
Migrant workers, especially those who are employed in the manufacturing sector, account for one third of the foreign population here.
June J.H. Lee, chief of mission of International Organization for Migration in Seoul, said the government’s policy is unfair because it favors marriage migrants.
Foreign brides “shop” welfare programs as there were various benefits available and some of them are overlapping as several ministries provide similar programs, whereas migrant workers were not entitled to most benefits foreign brides are entitled to, she said.
Lee also pointed out benefit inequality among foreign brides. “Both Chinese and Japanese marriage migrants together account for nearly 50 percent of foreign brides. But these women are not entitled to most benefits, and the beneficiaries are mostly those from Vietnam, Indonesia, Mongolia and other countries,” she alleged.
If the government continues to use this approach in order to counter the falling birthrate in the future, she said, those policies will not bear fruit because that among those women is not as high as the government wants to see.
Experts said overlapping welfare programs for foreign brides is the consequence of a turf war among ministries.
The Ministry of Family and Gender Equality and the Ministry of Justice fight each other to secure more budget for marriage migrants, demanding each to stop projects.
The consequence is that there are several similar language and adjustment programs for marriage migrants, leading these foreign-born spouses to allegedly cheery-pick benefits.
Erin Aeran Chung, an associate professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, said the government’s prioritizing foreign brides as a key policy target was salient under the Lee Myung-bak government.
“Many of the civic group organizations that were active in democratization, such as labor unions, women’s movement groups, student groups, and churches, have turned their attention to foreign workers, especially in the late 1980s and until the 2000s,” she said.
“Because of the time period especially when Roh Moo-hyun was president, they actually had a significant access to the government and was quite largely successful in enacting those legislation. Now Lee has beome a president there has been less success in kind of pushing toward legislation of undocumented workers but it has been much easier to shift their attention to marriage migrants.”
This, Chung said, has become a national campaign.