Foreigners to Get Dual Citizenship
By Park Si-soo
The Korean government plans to allow foreign nationals to have dual citizenship on a selective basis as early as later this year to attract more global talent.
The Ministry of Justice said Thursday it will submit a bill to the National Assembly by June to pave the way for talented foreigners to obtain Korean citizenship without giving up their nationality.
Under the current law, non-Koreans must stay in Korea for five years in a row to be eligible to apply for Korean citizenship. They must also relinquish their nationality.
If enacted, however, a non-Korean evaluated by the government as a ``talented person with ample potential to contribute to the nation's development'' will be allowed to become a naturalized Korean, retaining his or her nationality.
The criteria for picking ``talented foreigners'' has yet to be finalized, the ministry said, adding those showing ``outstanding performances in the fields of science, business, culture and sports, and recommended by relevant ministers'' are likely to be the beneficiaries.
``The amendment will help attract competent individuals, especially second and third generation ethnic Koreans overseas,'' a ministry official told The Korea Times.
Foreigners here welcomed the move.
``For Korea to raise its image in the world, it needs to show that it is beginning to open itself up. In this sense, this is a step in the right direction,'' said Sean Hayes, a New York attorney working in Seoul. But he added the plan could be problematic over the ``selective basis.''
``One issue I have with the proposed law is why is this only limited to a certain group of foreigners and not all foreigners? Is this simply a plan to benefit a select few that have the ability to garner the recognition of the government?'' he questioned. ``We need to begin to recognize that we need foreigners in Korea and that all foreigners have the ability to `contribute to the nation's development' not just a select few.''
The government will also introduce an advance notification system to inform ethnic Koreans or Koreans born or residing in other countries, who have obtained dual-citizenship involuntarily, of the requirement that they should choose either Korean or foreign citizenship before reaching their age of majority.
So far, ethnic Korean dual-citizenship holders failing to select one nationality by the age of 18 for males and 22 for females have found themselves losing their Korean citizenship without any advance notice.
``The notification will be individually given to those failing to make the choice on time,'' the official said. ``Those failing to make the decision within one year of notification will lose their Korean nationality without any additional warning.''
The government estimated the number of dual-citizenship holders here at 51,559 as of last December. Korean-American citizens ranked first at 29,259, followed by Korean-Japanese at 14,499 and Korean-Canadians, 1,704.