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South Korea Makes New Rules for International Marriages

  • Jason Strother / Malte Kollenberg

Tens of thousands of South Korean men have married foreign women over the past decade. According to government statistics, however, many of those marriages have ended in divorce. The South Korean government is trying to change that.

Lee Soo-yeon is a Vietnamese migrant bride who now goes by her Korean name. The 36-year-old works as a translator at a center for immigrant women in Asan, a city 48 kilometers south of Seoul. She said her six-year marriage to a Korean man did not go so well.

“At first we could not communicate well. And later we began to fight a lot. He hit me. I do not hate him now, but I realized he has a drinking problem,” she said.

The couple’s young child now lives with Lee’s mother-in-law. She said it does not look like she will reunite with her husband. Lee blamed the marriage agency that introduced them to each other back in Vietnam.

“Marriage agencies do not provide any information about the men they introduce to the women," she complained. "We need to know more about these men, their personalities and their financial stability.”

Faced with the rising number of divorces amongst international couples, the South Korean government has made new rules for obtaining marriage visas.

Seeking understanding

There are financial requirements, but, the couple also must demonstrate they speak a common language.

Chung Chin-sung is a sociology professor at Seoul National University and advises the Korean government on multicultural family policy. She said a language requirement could help improve marriages, but the new visa rules do not address the problem at the core of these unions.

“That kind of marriage market where, especially when women become a product, not a human being, should be corrected,” she said.

Chung said that could include banning agencies that arrange quick marriages between people who barely know each other.

Jolly Regacho, a counselor at the Asan migrant center, said if the South Korean government wants to make marriages last, more education might work better.

“They should also make a project for the husband to learn the culture of their wife, as well,” said Regacho.

Migrant bride Lee Soo-yeon said that despite the break-up of her marriage, she does not plan to go back to Vietnam. She said she will stay in Korea, her new home.

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