S Korea Embassy Suspends Marriage Visas

Following the release of an International Organization for Migration report highlighting the vulnerability of Cambodian brides migrating to South Korea in increasing numbers, the South Korean embassy in Phnom Penh has announced the indefinite suspension of marriage visas.

“Recently, Cambodian authorities deferred processing relevant procedures for international marriages between Cambodian women and foreign men,” Kim in-Kook, second secretary at the South Korean embassy, wrote by e-mail Wednesday evening.

“Accordingly, the Embassy of the Republic of Korea to Phnom Penh suspended issuing F-2 visas (residence visas) to Cambodian nationals who wish to marry Korean men,” he said, declining to comment further.

Women’s Affairs Ministry Secretary of State You Ay said Wednesday evening by telephone that the Cambodian government decided as of March 29 to stop issuing the necessary papers for Cambodian brides to travel to South Korea, and urged the South Korean embassy to cooperate.

“In order to prevent human trafficking through marriage, we have temporarily stopped all visas for Cambodian ladies to get married to foreign men,” You Ay said, adding that she was not sure whether the suspension applied to nations other than South Korea.

“It is the right of the people [to marry], and we are not opposed to this, but we need more education, awareness in the family and a legal framework,” she said.

IOM Project Coordinator John McGeoghan said Wednesday that he welcomed the suspension as a “good move until there is an improved system in place to reduce the vulnerability of the women traveling over.”

“It would seem that the report had the desired effect,” he added.

The IOM report, entitled “The Marriage Brokerage System from Cambodia to Korea” notes that 1,759 marriage visas were issued in 2007, up from only 72 in 2004. More than 400 visas have been issued so far in 2008, according to the South Korean embassy.

In addition to the vulnerability of the Cambodian brides, most of whom are poor and illiterate, the report describes how most marriages are arranged hastily by brokers who stand to make large profits. While no systematic exploitation has been reported, a few isolated cases of abuse have raised what McGeoghan called a “red flag.”

You Ay said a Wednesday meeting between officials from the ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs and Women’s Affairs was held to discuss how to develop a legal framework and otherwise strengthen procedures for women who “get married with foreign men.”

In addition, she said that three registered South Korean marriage brokerage agencies have been closed down.

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