In March, disaster emergency living expenses were distributed by Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) to relieve the economic burden of people living in Korea. However, foreign residents in Korea were deemed ineligible for the financial support. In response, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) stated that excluding non-Korean residents amounts to discrimination and a violation of human rights.
Migrants Center Friend, a nonprofit organization that supports immigrants in Korea regarding legal affairs in human rights and economic issues, set out to help foreign residents in Seoul who needed immediate help.
Support for foreign residents seeking emergency aid
The organization explained that the number of non-Korean residents who asked for help increased significantly following the outbreak of COVID-19. The cases were mainly related to labor and financial problems.
In the case of unemployment allowances, the organization explained that only those with a citizenship, permanent resident status, or family relations with Koreans could apply.
“There was a case of an immigrant woman who had divorced her husband,” the center explained. “As all her kids became adults this year, her visa had expired. Having no family relations and lacking appropriate status, she could not get the necessary help.”
With many immigrants in need of economic assistance, the center raised an emergency fund from July 17 until 31 to donate to the immigrants.
“Our center was able to collect 487 million won just in two weeks,” the center elaborated. “We realized there are many people who are deeply concerned about the matter and want to give help. We hope more Koreans and institutions follow this attitude as well.”
SMG accepted NHRCK’s statement and announced that Seoul will include non-Korean residents as well on Aug. 28. The online registration for emergency living expenses is available from Aug. 31 to Sept. 25. Offline registration will run from Sept. 14 to 25. In case of the latter, SMG designated days for residents to visit the office based on the year they were born to abide by the social distancing restrictions.
Seoul has limited application to those with visas that permit employment and profit-making activities. On the other hand, people with student visas or general training visas are ineligible to apply.
Online registration may only be completed by the head of the household. However, residents registering on-site are not restricted, and other members of the household are eligible to apply.
SMG also provided various measures to support 95,000 non-Korean beneficiaries during the registration period. Global Village Centers, centers that offer support to foreign residents in Korea, were assigned as call centers to provide multilingual consultation for inquiries. The centers also served as an application assistance center for those who experience difficulty registering.
Seoul Counseling Center for Migrant Women was also chosen as an assistance center for the application process. This was to provide help for migrant women who cannot register online from home or have difficulty signing up for the emergency living expenses.
Lee Jin-hye, who is an attorney at Duksu Law Offices, was the deputy petitioner at NHRCK who made possible the distribution of emergency living expenses to non-Koreans.
“The reason why I decided to petition against SMG was to prevent the adverse effect its exclusionary decision might bring about. I was worried that SMG’s decision may convey a message to people that it is okay to exclude and discriminate foreign residents,” Lee explained.
Although SMG’s decision to distribute emergency funds to the foreign residents is a good thing, Lee described there are problems that still remain unresolved.
The current emergency fund distribution is limited to those who have an income and are able to prove that payment. Lee pointed out that this policy did not consider those who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 and did not have any income.
Lee explained a case of a Chinese couple who are married in Korea. They have parents and kids to support, but as they were fired due to the pandemic, they had zero earnings. This made them ineligible for the SMG’s emergency fund, making them ask for help at a non-profit organization instead of the government.
“The impact COVID-19 has on personal and household economic conditions is getting bigger. I hope setting the boundary of ‘‘we’’ in this crisis is done considerately and carefully,” Lee said.