Passport rule change
It is necessary to cope with crimes overseas
Those deported from a foreign country for violating the law are likely to find it harder to get a passport. According to a government plan to revise the passport regulations, the lawbreakers abroad may not see their passport reissued for up to three years if the move is approved.
The plan reflects a growing number of Korean nationals traveling or residing overseas have engaged in crimes. It is natural for criminals or violators to face deportation as well as a ban or restrictions on their reentry to the host country.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has sought to change the passport rules as foreign governments lodge complaints about overseas Koreans’ illegal or offensive activities in their countries. It is now trying to lay the legal groundwork to limit the issuance of a passport to those offenders.
The ministry has stepped up its efforts for the change amid Korean Christian missionaries’ aggressive activities to spread the gospel throughout the world, even to Muslim countries. The Taliban’s abduction of 23 Korean Christian voluntary workers in Afghanistan in 2007 raised concerns about the safety of Koreans abroad, while calling into question local religious organizations’ dispatch of missionaries.
No missionaries have been subject to passport restrictions since the nation introduced the passport law in 1981. And there are 1,046 Koreans who have so far been denied their request for passport mainly because of criminal records abroad, not for religious matters.
On Tuesday, a ministry official stressed the planned amendment is not motivated by religious reasons. He made it clear that the government has no intention of using the to-be-tightened rules to discourage any religious groups from sending their missionaries overseas. He pointed out that the government’s main concern is to secure the safety of Korean missionaries.
The clarification was apparently designed to avoid any conflict with local churches or any other religious denominations over the passport issue. However, some religious figures and human rights activists are still raising doubts that the changed regulations might be misused to hamper missionary programs.
Aside from raising the issue, Korean churches need to overhaul their competition-oriented missionary policy in order not to arouse any antipathy against their operations abroad, especially in Muslim nations. And they must broaden their understanding of the proposed passport rules that could help the administration better cope with grave crimes committed by Koreans overseas.
The government is required to take steps to reflect different voices on the rule change. Most of all, it should make concerted efforts to ensure that the revision will not infringe on the freedom of travel or freedom of religion, while cracking down on criminals.