Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Reinstatement of Korean Citizenship for Adoptees Born in Korea

A Korean adoptee organization, GOA’L (Global Overseas Adoptees Link), hosted a seminar on July 31 to introduce adoptees interested in acquiring dual citizenship to the details of the process.

They weighed both advantages and disadvantages of reinstating their lost Korean citizenship, which will be possible beginning Jan. 1, next year.

Participants at a conference on dual citizenship

On April 22, the National Assembly passed a revision to the Nationality Law that allows dual citizenship in a bid to buoy Korea’s declining population and retain talented citizens who are being lost due to a brain drain.

The inclusion of adoptees in the revised Nationality Law is thanks in large part to GOA’L’s Dual Citizenship Campaign, which began lobbying as early as fall of 2007 to grant adoptees the right to dual citizenship. Cha Kyu-geun from the Ministry of Justice, Kim Jung-hwan, a National Assembly member who also sits on the GOA’L Board of Directors, and Dr. Lee Chul-woo, a professor at Yonsei University, were also instrumental to the process, working together with GOA’L to be included in the revisions.

Dae-won Wenger, 43, an adoptee from Switzerland and former secretary general of GOA’L, said that one of the main reasons he will register for dual citizenship is to obtain more rights. Specifically, the right to run for public office, which says he is a possibility in the future. Wenger, who has been in Korea for seven years and is fluent in his native French, as well as Korean and English, was a driving force behind the Dual Citizenship Campaign.

“It’s a fundamental step in the improvement of adoptee rights. We didn’t have a choice. Having the right to choose now, I believe it’s a correction of the mistakes of the past. I think it’s an issue of human rights, to strip a person of their nationality without asking.”

He also believes that adoptees’ inclusion in Korea’s Nationality Law revisions will have positive effects on other countries as well. “This step will certainly have a global impact on international adoptees from other countries.”

While Wenger has already decided to claim dual citizenship, most adoptees said they wanted to wait to see how things develop first before applying to reinstate their Korean citizenship, in order to get a clearer idea of what exactly dual citizenship would entail.

Adoptees from Denmark, Luxembourg, and Norway are currently not eligible for dual citizenship due to citizenship laws in their respective countries. 

Among the benefits of dual citizenship is the right to vote, run for public office, and also easier access to credit or financial services in Korea.

Among the disadvantages is the loss of eligibility for scholarships aimed at foreign students, restricted access to foreign schools in Korea for those with families, and restricted access to embassies of their other nationality in Korea. Finally, for a number of cases of male adoptees under the age of 36 who still appear on their birth family’s hojuk, or family registry, some military service may be required. While they will not be forced to serve the normal two year term, they may be required to serve in “civil defense exercises” that Korean males typically continue once a year for seven years even after the completion of their military service.

Historically, dual citizenship hasn’t been possible in Korea either. Technically, children who obtain foreign citizenship before they are 20 carry dual citizenship until the age of 22, when they must then renounce one of their two nationalities. If they do not specifically claim their Korean citizenship before this age, it is automatically forfeited. In other cases, if Korean citizens gain another nationality, either through marriage or merit, their Korean citizenship is simultaneously forfeited.

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