In early March of this year, both the Seoul Metropolitan Government and Gyeonggi Provincial Government mandated that all foreign workers get a coronavirus test and that all violators would be penalized with a fine. For the over 85,000 foreign workers in Gyeonggi Province, the deadline to get tested was March 22nd. If violated, the fine was 2 million to 3 million won along with the reimbursement to the government for any testing, treatments, and investigations for contact tracing. The deadline for all foreign workers in Seoul was March 31st and the fine was up to 2 million won.
This mandatory testing for all foreign workers sparked criticism from foreign embassies and even an investigation by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea for possible discrimination and human rights violations. Due to mounting pressure, the Seoul Metropolitan Government revised the mandatory testing order on March 19th. The order has been changed to a recommendation that foreign workers in high-risk workplaces get tested. However, the Gyeonggi Provincial Government, which was relatively spared media attention for the order compared to Seoul, did not change its testing policy. As a result, the deadline passed on March 22nd.
|[Screenshot of an interview via Google Meets. Photo Credit: Moonjeong Seo]|
To get more into how this order affected foreigners and the process, I interviewed a foreign national who lives in Bundang-gu, Gyeonggi Province and had to get tested because she works in Pangyo Techno Valley. Sarah Lee is a US citizen who has lived in South Korea since 2018 when she transferred to the South Korean office of her American IT firm. Ms. Lee first heard about the order through an article in an English-language daily. However, she was confused as she wasn’t sure if the order was for all migrant workers to get tested or for all foreign workers. As she is not proficient in the Korean language, she contacted me as I am her younger cousin, and I assisted her in the process.
|[The COVID-19 testing area at the Bundang Community Health Center.
Photo Credit: Moonjeong Seo]
First, I called the Suwon Immigration Office in Gyeonggi Province to clarify if all foreigners had to get tested. The civil servant told me that the immigration office was under the Ministry of Justice while the order was given by the Gyeonggi Provincial Government so I had to contact them. I then called the office of the Gyeonggi Provincial Government and the civil employee informed me that if a foreigner is employed at a company in Gyeonggi Province, the foreigner had to get tested by Match 22nd. Thus, Ms. Lee had to get tested, so I accompanied her to get tested at the Bundang Community Health Center (Bogunso) on Saturday, March 20th.
|[A COVID-19 testing vial. Photo credit by Moonjeong Seo]|
The testing site was not that busy as generally fewer people get tested on the weekends. The worker at the site told people waiting in line to go on the mobile Naver app and into a portal to input personal information such as name, phone number, address, and a few others. However, there were no options for English and other foreign languages available. Ms. Lee would not have been able to read through the instructions if I did not accompany her. After registering, she got a testing vial, waited in line for about 20 minutes, went up to the testing booth, and got her nose swabbed. The negative test result arrived by text message the following day before 10 am.
|[A COVID-19 testing booth. Photo credit by Moonjeong Seo]|
When I asked her about the order for all foreign workers and the testing process, she responded that she was disappointed at how disorganized the process was. There was no official contact by the government with specific guidelines and she would not have heard about it if she didn’t read about it online. She was also surprised that the registration process was only in the Korean language when the specific order was for only foreigners to get tested. Furthermore, only the foreigners in her office had to get tested while the Korean workers who sit right next to her did not have to get tested. This made her feel like foreigners in the country were being discriminated against.
As the country is currently in the midst of a possible 4th wave of the pandemic this spring, there could be stricter virus measures on the way to curb infections. This invisible enemy has wreaked havoc in everybody’s lives, both citizens and foreigners. The virus does not distinguish between nationalities. The appropriate response by the government should take that into account. Suppose a specific group is targeted for testing. The government should make sure that all orders are clear and free of discrimination.
Seoul Scholars International
Moonjeong Seo email@example.com