Citizenship of diplomats’ children is a hot topic

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Citizenship of diplomats’ children is a hot topic

The offspring of top Korean envoys abroad may no longer be permitted to have foreign citizenship, a move which comes in response to public concerns following an increase in the number children born to diplomats who hold multiple passports.

According to data from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 143 children born to diplomats currently hold dual citizenship. Of those, 89.5 percent were dual citizens of Korea and the United States.

Of the 128 children with Korean and American citizenship, 73 were male and 55 female. Others had joint citizenship in Canada, Japan, Russia, Brazil, Mexico or Poland.

This is a slight increase from previous figures. Based on a Foreign Ministry report, data provided last October from the office of Representative Shim Jae-kwon indicated that there were 130 children born to diplomats who held dual citizenship. Of these, 118, or 90.8 percent, held dual American and Korean citizenship.

Korea has nearly 2,000 diplomats. According to a Blue House spokesman on Monday, four ambassadors posted in Europe and the United States have pledged that their children will solely maintain their Korean citizenship.

The citizenship of these children became a hot topic last year as a result of public sensitivities toward mandatory military service for men and diplomats’ roles as protectors of national interests abroad.

Shim, a lawmaker in the main opposition Democratic Party, raised the issue last October, stating that some diplomats may have intentionally applied to work at consulates in the United States or studied there with the intent of obtaining American citizenship for their children.

He called the issue a “moral hazard” and questioned how those diplomats could protect national interests when they seemed to hold a bias toward the United States.

“Because an ambassador abroad must show more patriotism than in any other position, they face stricter standards,” a Blue House official said in regard to the issue.

The public has long been critical of the offspring of government officials who choose foreign citizenship over their Korean nationality to avoid compulsory military service or to obtain favorable status for college admissions. Such moves are also deemed unpatriotic.

The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that all persons born there are automatically American citizens.

The Ministry of Justice revised the National Act in 2010, enabling permanent dual citizenship for Koreans starting from 2011.

Before the amendment to the law, a resident was forced to choose one nationality, or face the automatic deprivation of one’s Korean citizenship after the age of 21.

Dual citizens here must pledge to the Ministry of Justice that they will not exercise their foreign citizenship rights in Korea.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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