City Research Online

The South Korean Citizenship of North Korean Escapees in Law and Practice

Wolman, A. (2014). The South Korean Citizenship of North Korean Escapees in Law and Practice. KLRI Journal of Law and Legislation, 4(2), pp. 225-253.


The South Korean citizenship status of North Korean escapees has long been a source of confusion outside of Korea and contestation within Korea. The first element of confusion relates to whether all North Korean escapees are formally South Korean citizens. The second element of confusion relates to whether the formal South Korean citizenship will necessarily be recognized by the South Korean government. This article will examine both of these questions. It will argue that according to current Korean laws and jurisprudence most North Korean escapees are indeed South Korean citizens. This article will show that there are in fact only three rare categories of North Korean citizen who are not South Korean citizens: naturalized North Korean nationals of a non-Korean ethnicity; North Korean nationals who have voluntarily taken on the citizenship of a third country, and North Korean nationals who can trace their Korean lineage only through maternal descent prior to June 14, 1998. The article will then examine the practical availability of citizenship rights for North Koreans, and will demonstrate that in some circumstances, South Korean citizenship is rendered ineffective by the lack of a legal entitlement to an entrance permit or documentation of citizenship that would allow the individual to access transportation to South Korea. This article will conclude by recommending that the Act on Protection and Settlement Support should be revised to explicitly clarify that all North Koreans who are South Korean citizens are entitled to receive permission to enter South Korea, from where they can then obtain documentary proof of their South Korean citizenship.

Publication Type: Article
Publisher Keywords: Nationality, North Korea, Resettlement, Protection, Citizenship, Refugees
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
J Political Science > JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
K Law > KZ Law of Nations
Departments: The City Law School > Academic Programmes
The City Law School > International Law and Affairs Group
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