|Foreign residents participate in a mock poll at a multicultural family support center in Busan, April 16, 2018, ahead of the nationwide local elections, which were held on June 13, 2018. Korea Times file|
By Lee Hyo-jin
Foreign residents in Seoul, including eligible immigrant voters of the mayoral by-election, shared various expectations from the new mayor on making the capital a more foreigner-friendly city.
As foreign nationals who have been in the country for over three years after obtaining permanent residency are given the right to vote in local elections, 38,126 foreign residents in Seoul were eligible to cast their votes in the election, according to the National Election Committee (NEC).
"The amount of the city budget allocated to programs supporting foreigners has declined in the past three years so I hope to see that decline arrested by the new mayor," said Paul Carver from the United Kingdom, 44, who works here as an accountant. He was the head of the Seoul Global Center, an organization established to support foreign residents in the capital, between 2016 and 2019.
But at the same time, he expressed disappointment that there had been no information contained in the candidates' campaign pledges on specific support policies for foreign residents, who account for about 5 percent of the total population in Seoul.
Lee Yu-jin, a resident from Russia in her 40s, hoped for a safe environment to raise her children in. "I hope that the new mayor will implement strengthened disciplinary measures against bullying at school, including bullying and discrimination against students from multicultural backgrounds," she said.
"I'm not asking for special protection only for multicultural children, but in general, school bullying issues in Seoul are not being addressed properly."
Lee, who works as a foreign language tutor, also asked for better treatment for language tutors at schools and multicultural family support centers. Such jobs are offered by the central and local governments to migrant women who are fluent in Korean and speak another language natively, but according to migrant women's groups, many of the tutors are suffering from unequal treatment, compared to their Korean colleagues.
"Migrant workers who are doing the same work as Korean nationals get paid less, and often suffer from an unequal environment. Although Seoul has established a lot of multicultural support centers across the city, there's still much to be improved," said Marisa Bitas from the Philippines.
Dominic Phua, an office worker from Singapore, expressed hopes for the new mayor to make a more inclusive society for foreign residents, while not repeating discriminatory policies, such as the recent mandatory COVID-19 testing order for foreign workers.
"Such a policy that has no effect on the COVID-19 pandemic and only spreads fear that foreigners are likely to spread the virus, should never be repeated under the new mayor," he said.
Phua also pointed out that there has been so much miscommunication from the administration to foreign residents regarding coronavirus-related information, with the 1345 health hotline, local news and civil servants on site giving out different instructions and thus causing confusion among the foreign community.
Jennifer Flinn from the U.S. said, "I want the new mayor to make sure all services are equitable and available to foreign residents since lots of city services currently can be so difficult to access."
She elaborated on how it is inconvenient to use the city's webpages, which require frustrating registration procedures or the installing of multiple apps, while not recognizing foreign names properly.