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Foreign residents shut out of virus relief funds

Apr 05. 2020
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By The Korea Herald/ANN

The city of Ansan is the only municipality giving out relief cash to every resident regardless of nationality

outh Korea’s government and municipalities are introducing direct cash payments to citizens here as part of efforts to help them cope with the economic fallout amid a prolonged coronavirus crisis. 

Some details are still sketchy, but it looks like foreigners, whether they pay taxes here or not, will largely be excluded from the assistance programs unless they are married to Korean nationals. 

“In principle, foreigners are not eligible for the emergency funds. But in case of an international marriage, we will take into account the foreign spouse so that the Korean national will not be disadvantaged (in receiving the payouts),” an official from the Ministry of Health and Welfare said. 

“Specific details by case will be confirmed later.” 

In a one-off stimulus program, Korea plans to offer cash handouts to all families except those in the top 30 percent income bracket. About 1.4 million households in the bottom 70 percent will receive relief money, depending on the size of the household, with the maximum set at 1 million won for a household with four or more people. 

Whether a household is eligible for the cash handouts and how much is offered will be decided based on health insurance premiums paid for March. Korea levies health insurance premiums based on individuals’ income. 

The Seoul Metropolitan Government said it will provide emergency relief funds of up to 500,000 won for low-income earners. Among foreigners, those legally married to Koreans can receive the funds.

Gyeonggi Province plans to give 100,000 won to every citizen who has a registered address in the province. Foreigners are excluded because it is “complicated” to sort out who’s eligible and who’s not, an official from the provincial government said. 

The city of Ansan, where more than 11 percent of the population are foreign residents, is the only municipality giving out cash payouts to foreigners, regardless of whether they are married to Korean nationals. It gives out 100,000 won to Koreans and 70,000 won to foreigners. 

Foreigners will receive 70 percent of what Koreans get in cash payouts, given foreigners are allocated 70 percent of local grant tax from the central government, an official from the city explained. 

A petition was uploaded on the presidential office’s website last week, demanding the government pay emergency relief funds to foreigners living here as well. 

“Foreigners living in Korea with legitimate work permits and paying taxes should be able to receive emergency relief funds and allowances for children,” said the petitioner. “Foreign families and children going through this tough time also need help.”

Some 4,500 people had signed the petition as of Sunday afternoon. 

An association of 62 civic groups advocating for refugees and foreign workers filed a petition against the National Human Rights Commission of Korea last week, calling for disaster response policies that do not discriminate against foreigners. 

“Virus is affecting not only Koreans, but foreigners too. I am living here and paying taxes just like Koreans. It is an obvious discrimination that we are excluded from the financial support scheme,” said Udaya Rai, a Nepalese who has been in Korea for 20 years and is head of the country’s first migrants’ labor union. 

In Korea, 1.21 million foreigners are part of the country’s national health insurance scheme, according to government data. Starting in July last year, the government has required foreigners residing here for more than six months and Koreans living overseas to join the insurance scheme.

The direct monetary assistance program comes as the government seeks to help Koreans maintain their livelihoods and prop-up the regional economy hit hard by the protracted outbreak of the coronavirus. 

If the government’s cash payouts were to prop up the coronavirus-hit economy, including foreign residents in the scheme would be more helpful for it to achieve its policy goal, an activist said. 

Migrants workers, asylum seekers and those on humanitarian visas – who are usually hired on a temporary contract and working in manufacturing and services sectors -- were the first to lose jobs amid the drawn-out economic impact of the COVID-19, Kim pointed out.

“Foreigners married to Koreans are still included in the country’s welfare system. Those who have no ties to Koreans are the most vulnerable ones,” said Kim Young-ah, executive director for Migration to Asian Peace. 

“It is not that Koreans and foreigners here are living in two different economic spheres. If the policy were to revitalize the economy, foreigners need to receive the cash funds so that they can pay for their rent, necessities and so on.” 

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