The South Korean Justice Ministry announced that from this April those applying for a resident-by-marriage visa must pass a government-approved Korean language proficiency exam and provide proof of an income of more than 14.8 million won ($13,750) in the past year.
The government will allow couples to opt out of the language requirement if they can prove that they can communicate in a different tongue or if they have children.
The new rules come amid the controversy surrounding the phenomenon of Korean men “ordering” wives from less-developed Asian countries through matchmaking services.
South Korean men, especially those who live in the countryside, are facing a shortage of bachelorettes to marry. Increasingly, women in the rural areas are flocking to big cities to pursue careers. Korean men in the countryside are now turning to poorer Asian nations such as Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines to find a wife. These women, in turn, are promised an exit from poverty.
There has been explosive growth in international marriages in the last decade. In 2000, 3.5 percent of marriages were between a Korean national and a foreigner. In 2005, that figure rose to 13.5 percent but the number went down slightly to 10.9 percent in 2009. In the provinces, the number is higher. In Southern Cholla, for example, 43.5 percent of all farmers who married that year took a foreign bride.
Some argue that many of these arranged marriages can lead to domestic violence and a breakdown of the marriage due to the language and cultural barriers between the couple. The Justice Ministry argues that many of these marriages are arranged “in four to five days” between couples who barely know each other.
“We hope to normalize the abnormal interracial marriages in which men and women who cannot even have a conversation tie the knot. We also expect to prevent foreigners from abusing the system by marrying Koreans only to enter the country,” the Justice Ministry added.
Even some people in the foreign community support the new rules. Jasmine Lee, who became the first naturalized citizen and Filipino woman to have a seat in the National Assembly, agreed that the law would prevent divorce.
“Marriage should be based on mutual love and trust. But in some international marriages, there is a lack of trust as marriage brokers give misleading information to foreign women about their prospective Korean husbands because they want to make money,” she said.