-EDIT 2/3/2010- Update on immigration law is available at this post. Please read both posts for complete information.
I am a white guy born a U.S. citizen. I know the mechanics of becoming a U.S. citizen. If I were to relocate to South Korea, what would I have to do to become a citizen? Is it even possible?
Flame away if you like, I enjoy your perspective.
The Korean can smell the stench of your intention behind the question all the way out in New York. But it’s a straight question, and the Korean will give a straight answer. Yes, it is possible for one to immigrate to Korea and obtain Korean citizenship, even though Korea is not known as a popular immigration destination.
There are largely three ways obtaining Korean citizenship: General naturalization, simplified naturalization, and special naturalization.
First, general naturalization. There are five requirements:
1. Maintain a legal address for five years in Korea
2. Must be an adult, according to Korean law (= 20 years old)
3. Must have clean and orderly behavior (= no criminals or those with communicable disease)
4. Must have the ability to support oneself, or must have other family members who can support the whole family (usually proven by a professional license, real estate deeds, or a bank account with at least $30,000)
5. Must have basic Korean language ability and knowledge about Korean culture (involves written test and an interview – the test is around fourth grade level.)
The only real difficulty in general naturalization is maintaining legal address in Korea for five years, because realistically, the only way to legally stay in Korea for five years is to have a job in Korea – one cannot maintain an address in Korea for five years with tourist visa. But compared to U.S. immigration law, the requirements are surprisingly lax. There is no quota for immigrants, or any requirements as to the type of jobs one may have. The person only has to legally live in Korea for five years.
Second, simplified naturalization. Since having legal address for five years is the most difficult part, certain people in the following can get around it. Namely:
1. If one of your parents was a Korean citizen. (Emphasis on “was”. It’s ok if your parent renounced Korean citizenship.)
2. If you were born in Korea, and one of your parents was born in Korea.
3. If you are an adult adoptee of a Korean citizen.
People under 1 through 3 only have to maintain legal address in Korea for three years. But there are more categories of people who can apply for simplified naturalization.
4. If your spouse is Korean, and maintained legal Korean address for two years while being married
5. If your spouse is Korean, and stayed married for three years, while maintaining legal Korean address for one year
6. If you could not meet the requirements of items 4 or 5 because the spouse died, went missing, or the marriage could not continue through no fault of the person, and you filled the years requirements without being married
7. If you could not meet the requirements of items 4 or 5, but is raising or will raise a minor child out of the marriage, and you filled the years requirement without being married.
Again, the Korean would say this is pretty generous compared to the U.S., especially items 2, 3, and 7.
Third, special naturalization. Every requirement under general naturalization, except “clean and orderly behavior”, is waived if:
1. One of your parents is Korean citizen. (Unless you are an adult adoptee.)
2. You contributed greatly to Korea, subject to the President’s approval.
So Doug, get your paperwork ready. Getting a job in Korea should be a breeze – the Korean hears there are a lot of teaching opportunities, even though you misspelled several words in your very short email.
Got a question or comment for the Korean? Email away at firstname.lastname@example.org
-EDIT: 5/11/2008- Doug emailed the Korean after seeing the post, and assured that there was no ill intention behind the question. So fellas, go easy on him.
-EDIT: 12/9/2008- This post is strictly based on what is publicly available through Korea Immigration Agency website. If you have a specific question about your status, please consult the KIA, Korean embassy/consulate (if you are not in Korea), or an immigration attorney.