Anthem key in citizenship suit

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Anthem key in citizenship suit

The Seoul Administrative Court announced yesterday that it had sided with the Ministry of Justice in a recent naturalization case, ruling that it had the right to deny the citizenship application of a Chinese candidate who could not sing the Korean national anthem.

The verdict was in line with the ministry’s position that failing to familiarize oneself with the song constituted a lack of basic character for Korean citizenship.

“The Justice Ministry has the authority to decide whether to grant one’s request for citizenship even when an applicant has fulfilled the general requirements to become a Korean citizen,” the court stated. “In this case, the interviewers used their discretion within the boundaries of fairness and validity during an eligibility screening [to determine that the plaintiff’s application be rejected].”

The plaintiff, a Chinese national only identified as Choi, married a Korean man in 2004 and has lived in Korea since on an F-2 visa, which is granted to foreigners married to Korean nationals or to those who have lived in the country for five years or more.

Choi submitted her citizenship application in November 2010, and a written test was waived due to her marital status. Trouble for the 52-year-old started during a 2013 interview when she was asked to sing the Korean national anthem.

During the interview process, which is presided over by two Justice Ministry officials, an applicant is assessed on his or her language ability and democratic principles, as well as whether he or she has the basic character required to be a Korean citizen.

In March 2013, the two interviewers determined that Choi did not qualify for naturalization because she could not sing the national anthem. She was given a second chance in October the same year, but again failed to pass for the same reason, leading to the rejection of her citizenship request.

Choi filed a lawsuit with the administrative court demanding it throw out the ministry’s decision on the basis that she had not committed any crimes in the nine years, she had resided in the country and had adapted to Korean culture with no trouble in her marriage. The court, however, found the ministry’s rejection legally binding.

The fifth article in the Korean Nationality Act stipulates that for a foreigner to be eligible for general naturalization, he or she must show good conduct, a residential address in the country for more than five years, be a legal adult and “have basic knowledge befitting a Korean national, such as the understanding of the Korean language, customs and culture.”

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