On changing citizenship laws

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On changing citizenship laws

The Ministry of Justice yesterday announced it would submit a proposal to revise the law on nationality, expanding the permissible range for dual citizenship. The core of the proposal is to loosen the noose on the single citizenship policy.

Those who were born overseas to parents who have been working or studying there would be allowed to retain both citizenships as long as they pledge not to exercise rights as a foreign national while in Korea. Presently, people who failed to choose one of their two nationalities by the age of 22 automatically relinquish their Korean citizenship.

Furthermore, “talented” foreign nationals would be allowed to acquire Korean citizenship regardless of the terms of their stay here. By making the pledge not to exercise their foreign citizenship, they won’t have to renounce their Korean citizenship. We welcome this move as a measure to correct problems with automatic citizenship renunciation and to attract quality human resources from around the globe.

Because of our deep-rooted preference to determine citizenship not by place of birth but by ancestry, and our negative stereotype of dual nationality as a special domain of the select few, we’ve maintained a strict single citizenship principle.

But the world is already a competitive place without borders, and there are 7 million Koreans overseas. It’s time we approached the dual nationality issue with our heads, not with our hearts.

Although they all have conscription, countries like Taiwan, Israel and Germany permit dual citizenship, even if the person in question hasn’t served in the military. The United States, Canada, Britain, France and Japan also allow for dual citizenship. Korea is already late to the party.

The revision proposal will also apply to foreigners who marry Koreans or Chinese migrants. That’s a progressive step forward that embraces multiculturalism. Easing the obligation on renunciation of citizenship for adoptees or those over the age of 65 who have spent at least 20 years overseas is significant in that it opens the “global Korean” era.

But it’s a shame that dual citizenship holders wouldn’t be allowed to enter international schools as foreigners. We think this should be allowed on a limited basis so that children’s education won’t hinder our efforts to acquire top human resources. The government also must be prepared for a situation when the issue of diplomatic asylum arises for a dual citizen in a third country.

Expecting mothers could once again start flocking overseas to give birth, and dual citizens could end up getting unfair benefits regarding tax, national pensions or health care. The government must make sure to minimize any such negative side effects.

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