Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Becoming Korean Citizen -- Update

Dear Korean,

Which of the ethnic Koreans (if any) in other parts of the world would be recognized as Korean by the South Korean Government were they to try to move to Korea?

Michael G.

Dear Michael,

The Korean previously wrote about acquiring Korean citizenship, but major changes of law regarding citizenship and immigration happened this past December that warranted an update.

But first, the Korean must put up a big caveat, given the types of questions he received since the last post:

THE KOREAN IS NOT AN IMMIGRATION LAWYER, OKAY? Everything in this post is based on his reading of newspaper articles and a little bit of Internet search. The Korean has no idea how your particular situation might work in terms of gaining Korean citizenship. The Korean has neither the ability nor time to track down every little regulation in the immigration law that might decide your fate. A very simple Naver search for 이민 변호사 will give you plenty to go by if you want any detailed discussion.

What, you don’t know what Naver is? And you don’t know what 이민 변호사 means either? You don’t speak Korean and need help? THEN WHY THE HELL ARE YOU TRYING TO GET KOREAN CITIZENSHIP???? For God’s sake people, THINK for yourselves once in a while. Although this is not quite yet the season for “Best of the Worst 2010”, the Korean will reproduce an early entrant for it below. This is an example of stupidity. Learn from it, and stop doing it. Please.
From: Brandon C.
To: The Korean

I have a question for you while I was reading "Becoming a Korean Citizen"
I am concerned whether I should renounce my Korean citizen or recover it...

My current story: I am a "former" Korean citizen who currently is living in Canada with a US citizenship, a Commonwealth citizenship, and a Canadian Citizenship. I have an old Korean citizenship card and passport that no longer works online anymore... My parents may have renounced mine as well...

Although I plan to recover the citizenship at one point, but I'm also concerned if I have to attend the compulsory military service in Korea that all Korean men require to do, since I am a Korean male. I'm even more concerned if I can recover the citizenship in the first place.

I am most likely going to follow the "simplified naturalization" path rather than "general naturalization" although I have a Korean vocabulary and grammar knowledge of a Jr.High school student despite me being a current high school student senior...

PS: The real reason of recovery of my Korean citizen is to continue enjoying registration and playing on Korean sites and online games and keep up with my cousins and childhood friends whom most of them are still in Korea ...

If there is a way to recover my citizenship other than military service, can you please tell me? or it must be done as a Korean male?
I do not mind living in Korea for another 3 years to get the citizenship if I have to ...
If yes, then do I have to talk to the ROK Consular General in Toronto regarding these issues or should it be done by KIA?
(Emphasis added by the Korean)

You want Korean citizenship because you want to play some goddamn ONLINE GAMES?? ARE YOU KIDDING ME??

THIS is worth changing your citizenship over?

Alright, deep breath. Now that the Korean vented enough, let’s get down to business.

-EDIT 2/3/2010- Commenter Michelle noted that the reformed Citizenship Act did not yet pass, and she is correct. The revision was finalized at the executive branch on Dec. 22, 2009, and will be submitted to the National Assembly at the next session where it will (most likely) be enacted into law -- if National Assemblymen are not too busy fighting each other.

The most important change is that now, certain category of Korean citizens may hold dual citizenship. Korean citizens who were born into dual citizenship (e.g. a child born into Korean citizen within U.S. territory) previously had to choose one citizenship or the other when they turned 22. If they did not choose, they would automatically lose their Korean citizenship. Now, such people can hold both citizenships as long as they sign an affidavit stating that they will not exercise their non-Korean citizenship in Korea. (For example, dual-citizenship holders cannot escape paying Korean taxes by claiming their non-Korean citizen status.)

Dual citizenship also applies to adoptees who lost their Korean citizenship simply by virtue of gaining a different citizenship. Previously, if they restored Korean citizenship, they had to renounce their non-Korean one – which Ministry of Justice considered overly harsh. Now, the adoptees may restore their Korean citizenship without giving up their non-Korean one, under the same condition as above.

Non-Koreans who become Korean citizens by marrying a Korean citizen can also hold dual citizenship. Ethnic Koreans older than 65 years of age who are non-Korean citizens may also restore their Korean citizenship without having to renounce their non-Korean one, essentially holding dual citizenship. Also significant is that Chinese-Koreans who have lived in Korea for more than 20 years can hold dual citizenship under the same conditions as other dual citizenship holders.

The last category of people who benefit is those non-Koreans who fall under “high value foreign human resource”. Since the law only passed a month ago, the regulations are not set up as to exactly who count as “high value foreign human resource”. (The Korean made up that term, by the way. MoJ’s press release says 우수 외국 인재.) Significantly, these people no longer have the five-year domicile requirement – which is huge, since living lawfully in Korea for five years was the hardest part of gaining Korean citizenship.

There is a big exception to the dual citizenship rule, which is a case in which the parents deliberately give birth to a child outside of Korea such that the child will have dual citizenship. (U.S. and Canada are popular destinations.) Ministry of Justice estimates that 5,000 to 7,000 infants were born in this manner, which is more than 1 percent of all Korean newborns. Therefore, following more regulations, anyone found to have deliberately acquired a dual citizenship will not have an option for dual citizenship. There is some hint also that anyone who abuses the dual citizenship status would lose her Korean citizenship, although details are scarce at this point.

This is obviously a step taken with an eye toward the compulsory military service, since not serving the military duty is an extremely sensitive issue in Korea. In fact, the requirement for military service became more rigorous under the new legislation. Previously, a dual citizen male could renounce his Korean citizenship any time prior to age 22 to get out of the military duty. Now, the same person is not allowed to renounce his Korean citizenship unless he fulfilled his military duty if he is trying to renounce his Korean citizenship after his 18th birthday.

Other than that, the rest of the immigration system appears to remain the same – which means that Korea will continue to have a surprisingly liberal immigration policy. The Korean is especially a fan of the more open policy for foreign talent. His greatest complaint against the current immigration system in the U.S. is that it turns away people who graduated from top American colleges and graduate school, already have a job in America, and want to continue living in America. Even if the qualified non-American citizens somehow get to stay in America, their status is constantly in jeopardy, hurting American industries. Google, for example, needs a dedicated team of “immigration fixers” to make sure that their talented workers can work for them.

Currently there are around 80,000 non-ethnic Koreans who hold Korean citizenship, with 100,000 more waiting in the paperwork line. While no one will mistake Korea for immigration-liberal country like Canada, the Korean thinks Korea has taken a positive step in preparing itself for the inevitable future where more people will be living far away from where they had been born.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.


  1. To return to Michael's question, are North Korean refugees who arrive in South Korea considered to be South Korean citizens?

  2. To Adeel: Yes, automatically. The South Korean constitution considers all North Koreans to be South Korean citizens.

    To The Korean: I hate to correct you, but the dual citizenship law has not yet passed. The article you posted from 동아일보 is from 11/13/2009. As a Korean-American woman with dual citizenship (21 years old... jaysus the deadline is getting close) I went to the immigration bureau near the end of December to try to get the paperwork necessary for dual citizenship. I, too, had read news articles that seemed to imply such laws had passed... I was told that such a bill had been DRAFTED, but that it would not come up before the National Assembly for a vote until February 2010 in an extraordinary session.

    see here: http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2009/10/116_54583.html
    This is from 10/30/2009; the relevant quote is as follows:

    "The proposed legislation will be publicly announced in two weeks and will likely be voted on in February at an extraordinary session of the National Assembly, according to Cha."

  3. P.S. Also--when I entered and left Korea last month (Dec. 2009 and Jan. 2010, respectively) I was lectured, again, on the importance of choosing one citizenship (US or Korea) before I turn 22. When I asked about the dual citizenship law, the airport immigration officials confirmed it was on the floor but had not yet been passed. Here's hoping things go through this month...

  4. I think North Korean defectors/refugees are a special case. (As opposed to the Special Permanent Residents of Japan or the Sakhalin Koreans, who are treated identically to any South Korean national born in South Korea.)

    Starting from 1962, they do not have the same rights as a South Korean national until after they go through the proper military security investigations. http://www.zum.de/whkmla/sp/0910/yes/yes4.html#iii2

    Also, it seems that there are some categories of North Korean refugees who do not qualify for automatic citizenship and have to go through the normal naturalization procedures... http://www.dailynk.com/english/read.php?cataId=nk00100&num=5712

  5. Michelle, you are correct. Corrections are made.

  6. "Therefore, following more regulations, anyone found to have deliberately acquired a dual citizenship will not have an option for dual citizenship." This sentence sounds very funny in the context of children who were born in the US or Canada. A newborn cannot deliberately do anything, much less acquire a citizenship. Their parents were the ones who deliberately acquired that citizenship for them on their behalf.

  7. To Wanda: Well, obviously. That's the point. US-Canadian born Korean babies will be allowed to have dual citizenship. The idea is that Korean-born babies who then later grow up and obtain US citizenship on their own will automatically lose Korean citizenship. Only those born in countries with jus soli laws http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jus_soli will be allowed to have dual citizenship.

  8. Haha...the company I work for is located in America, but we actively work with Nexon Korea on many projects.

    You actually do not need to be in Korea to play these games...most of the Korean games Nexon makes have versions in America.

  9. No news about that so far?

  10. The latest news:




    I'm not sure if this is passed into law yet or not. KT says it was passed by the National Assembly, but Arirang says it was passed by the Cabinet. English Wikipedia says it is now law as of April 21st, 2010 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Korean_nationality_law) but doesn't cite a source for it...

    Anyways, if it is or will become law, then the new law takes effect on 01/2011.

  11. Hey Ask a Korean, loved your post about Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, as well as the back and forth. I have a question if you have any knowledge about Chinese born in Korea. In my case my mother was born a Korean citizen, but her citizenship was revoked when she married my father. My father arrived in Korea in 1940 at the age of 10. My father lived in Korea for 33 years, before we immigrated to the US. I never had status in Korea.

    I've seen that the nationality law has provisions for people who were born to a Korean citizen father, but the language I've seen has been discriminatory towards women and women's citizenship status in the same way the Korean government revoked my mother's citizenship for marrying a non-Korean.

  12. Can I ask a question not related to this subject? Is there an ancient tradition that people hire professional mourners at a funeral? One of my teachers in Korea told me that. I know that in some places there's something like that. Is is true? What is it called in korean?

  13. I have a question I have U.S citizenship
    Do I have rights in Korea
    ke I'm a student that wants to complete college

  14. I gave up my Korean citizenship when I became a US citizen (b/c I obtained my US citizenship after the age of 22). Does this law allow for someone in my predicament to regain my Korean citizenship?

  15. I think the law should be amended to allow even Koreans who acquired foreign citizenship through birth tourism so long as they are willing to provide military service. This really should be the litmus test here. Those ethnic Koreans willing to serve, even if they gained citizenship by naturalization should remain Korean. Those who dodge it should simply be ineligible.


Comments are not available on posts older than 60 days.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...