The Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) surveyed the excellent policies of Seoul in the age of COVID-19 on the website of the SMG that is rendered in 6 foreign languages targeting foreigners from Nov. 30 to Dec. 9, 2020. A total of 9,681 participated in the poll, and each participant could choose three excellent policies. The percentage of voters was 80.5% in English, 3.5% in simplified Chinese, 14.8% in traditional Chinese, 1.1% in Japanese, 0.04% in Spanish, and 0.07% in French, resulting to 29,040 votes in total.
The “Drive-thru & Walk-thru Screening Center,” the policy of which the creativity was acknowledged, ranked 1st place followed by the “COVID-19 Support Center for Foreign Residents.” The “Mask Distribution for Foreign Residents” also ranked in the top range. This shows that the efforts of the SMG to secure the safety of foreign residents have been acknowledged by the beneficiaries.
Recently, there are a great number of foreigners living in Korea, particularly in Seoul. The number of multicultural families is increasing day by day. Still, foreign residents are treated as strangers in Korean society. There are concerns that the COVID-19 situation had made the attitude towards foreign residents worse. In these circumstances, the SMG is preventing foreign residents from being alienated from the information on COVID-19 and helping them respond to COVID-19 by establishing the COVID-19 Support Center for Foreign Residents where they can get assistance in 8 different languages. In March, when the “5-Day Rotation System for Mask Distribution” policy was implemented, the SMG distributed 100,000 masks with replaceable filters to foreign students and residents who have not subscribed to health insurance and who find it difficult to get masks.
These were measures firstly for the safety of foreign residents, and fundamentally the ways to secure the Korean residents’ safety. The policies of SMG that do not discriminate against foreign residents and help them become members of the society are remarkable in the COVID-19 situation.
In September, the SMG distributed the “Disaster Emergency Living Expenses” to some foreign residents living in Seoul. This was accepting the advice of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, “The government should distribute the Disaster Emergency Living Expenses in order not to violate the equal rights by discriminating foreign residents who are suffering from COVID-19 same as the Korean residents without rational reasons.”
The qualification is those who are registered as a foreign resident in Seoul at least 90 days before Aug. 27, 2020 and have a working visa, and whose income is below 100% of median income (regardless of general and financial property). Those who have a student visa or job training visa or are working in the field that is not acknowledged by their visa and illegal immigrants are disqualified.
The Living Expenses were distributed from KRW 300,000 to KRW 500,000 according to the number of household members. The income criteria and the amount of fund were the same as those of the Living Expenses distributed to Korean citizens in March.
The SMG also made it possible for foreign applicants to get a consultation before application in their mother tongue through call centers where a total of 17 language services were available. The efforts of the SMG of making foreigners live safely as Seoul residents were not limited to the response to COVID-19.
In November, the SMG made the “Silent Book” or picture book for foreign construction workers who are not familiar with Korean for safety education. This was the first of its kind in the nation. As of November, 18% of the workers who are working for 80 plus public constructions ordered by the SMG are beneficiaries of the measure. This was planned for foreign construction workers whose nationality is different, such as Vietnamese, Myanmarese, Cambodian, Sri Lankan, Chinese, and Filipino, to learn about safety rules without translation or interpretation.
The book was issued in a compact size (17.2×10.2 cm) so that the workers can take them wherever and whenever they want. In addition, the SMG expanded the languages that are available on its foreign website from six (English, simplified and traditional Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, and French) to 100, including minor languages, such as Nepali, Vietnamese, and Cambodian, on Dec. 30.
This service will enable foreign residents in Seoul who are not fluent in Korean approach the municipal administration conveniently in their mother tongue. All they need is to visit the auto-translated foreign website of the Seoul Metropolitan Government (http://world.seoul.go.kr) and choose the language from the drop-down menu on the top.
A more radical policy has been introduced as well. Starting in the new year, a foreign resident can request an audit and inspection on the SMG and its affiliated institutions, following the passing of the “Seoul Metropolitan Government Ordinance on the Operation of the Citizen Audit Ombudsman Committee and Residents’ Audit Petition (Amended)” on Dec. 16 by the Seoul Metropolitan Council. Any foreigners who are registered on the register of aliens of the jurisdiction of the SMG according to the Immigration Act can exercise their rights as a Seoul citizen just as a Korean resident does.