중앙데일리

Sweeping citizenship changes sought

Revisions would allow Koreans and some foreigners multi-nationalities  PLAY AUDIO

Nov 13,2009
The Justice Ministry said yesterday it will propose today a revision of nationality laws so that Koreans with multiple nationalities would no longer have to give up their Korean citizenship before turning 22 years old.

The revision is expected to open the door for foreigners to obtain Korean citizenship without dropping their original citizenship.

“We have developed various measures that will allow multiple citizenship for exceptional foreigners deemed necessary for Korea’s national interest, those who were born with multiple nationalities and some others who are in need of special consideration,” said a Justice Ministry spokesman. “At the same time, we intend to minimize negative effects from the reforms, such as military service evasion.”

Under present law, foreigners must surrender their original citizenship within six months after Korean Immigration issues them Korean citizenship. If they don’t, they are automatically dropped as Koreans. The ministry estimates that there are some 50,000 Koreans with multiple nationalities.

Beneficiaries of the change will include foreigners who have immigrated to Korea after marrying Korean spouses, expatriates who are considered to have potential to contribute to the Korean economy through academic, artistic and industrial expertise, ethnic Koreans aged 65 or older who want to recover their Korean nationality, Korean adoptees and Chinese who were born and have lived here for more than 20 years. But the new measures are conditional. Foreigners must sign a pledge not to exercise their rights and privileges as foreigners here. That means they should use passports issued by the Korean government and follow Korean tax regulations.

The ministry wants foreigners with special talents that are deemed beneficial to the Korean economy to obtain Korean citizenship without having to meet minimum requirements for naturalization. Today, only those who have stayed in Korea for five years or more are eligible to apply for Korean citizenship.

To prevent holders of multiple nationalities from benefiting from privileges only afforded foreigners, the Justice Ministry will forbid those with residence in Korea to give up Korean citizenship. Should war break out, multiple nationality civilians would not be able to drop their Korean citizenship.

As long as they have had their residence officially registered here, people with multiple nationalities will also be given voting rights. But whether to allow those staying overseas for a lengthy periods to vote hasn’t been decided, according Seok Dong-hyeon, commissioner of the Korea Immigration Service under the Justice Ministry. Since multiple nationality holders are recognized as Korean, they aren’t able to attend schools for foreigners only. But Seok said the service will soon revise those regulations.

The government’s attempt to reform citizenship laws comes six months after it initially floated the idea of allowing multiple nationalities only to foreigners with outstanding achievements and Koreans adopted in foreign countries as children. Faced with criticism that the scope of people was narrow, the Justice Ministry chose to discourage Koreans with multiple nationalities from choosing foreign nationality over Korean nationality. The change comes as the country’s population shrinks due to a low birthrate.

Multiple citizenship has been a sensitive issue among Koreans since some have taken advantage of present regulations to dodge the draft. Currently, Koreans who were born overseas, thus having obtained multiple nationalities, need to choose either Korean or foreign citizenship before they turn 22. All Korean men are subject to conscription when they reach 18 years of age. Anyone with multiple nationalities can be exempted from the maximum 26-month military obligation if they give up Korean nationality within three months after turning 18. Because of this, those wanting to evade military service mandated for all male Korean adults tended to choose foreign citizenship, and many parents give birth to sons in foreign countries - the United States and Canada, in most cases - with that goal in mind.

But if they fail to meet the six-month deadline, they lose the chance to drop Korean nationality until they finish their military service. Even after serving in the army, they are supposed to give up foreign nationality if they want to maintain their Korean nationality. But following the legal change, they will also be able to hold more than two nationalities as long as they officially pledge to give up rights and privileges as foreigners.


By Seo Ji-eun [spring@joongang.co.kr]




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