Citizenship obtaining process porous
By Na Jeong-ju
It’s seemingly easy for certain foreigners to obtain Korean citizenship. They need only two Korean “guarantors” who can help them cheat the ward office.
Here is an example.
A 64-year-old Korean-Chinese, surnamed Lee, entered the country on a tourist visa in 1997. He wanted to make money by renewing his visa, but his request was rejected. His visa expired but he decided to stay illegally.
In 2001, Lee happened to find a legal loophole in Korea’s registration system for residents. Under the law, a person is able to report the birth or death of a certain person to ward office if he or she has only two guarantors who can testify.
So he borrowed identification cards from two acquaintances and falsely reported that he was born in Korea in 1948. The ward office believed the documents. It registered him as a Korean and issued an ID card to prove that he was a citizen.
That’s how he obtained Korean citizenship. Until the fraud was detected last year and he was evicted from the country, he was able to live as a Korean. Whenever he received treatment at hospitals, his bill was covered by medical insurance. He even received a monthly state subsidy given to poor households.
The so-called guarantor registration system, which exists only in Korea among OECD countries, is being misused by an increasing number of foreigners who want to become Koreans, according to the Justice Ministry.
“Insurance swindlers have often misused the system to extort somebody else’s insurance money. These days, we’ve detected more fraud cases involving foreigners, especially from China and Southeast Asian nations,” a ministry official said. “We are trying to revise the system because foreign criminals can take advantage of it.”
The system was established during Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945) to ensure a quick registration of new-born babies or the deaths of people. The system doesn’t require certificates of birth and death issued by doctors.
The Korean Journal of Legal Medicine, a group of forensic experts, has called for the government to abolish the system, saying it is vulnerable to insurance crimes.
In February, police caught a group of South Koreans who helped illegally-staying Vietnamese women register their babies as Koreans. They fabricated birth certificates and acted as guarantors for the women to deceive public servants.
Another Korean-Chinese man was able to live as a Korean for the past 19 years until he was caught early this month.
He had already married in China, but wed a Korean woman after obtaining Korean citizenship through the guarantor system. He then married another Chinese woman in China, deceiving her into thinking he was a Korean national.
Three children were born between him and the wives and they were all registered as Korean citizens, according to the ministry.