In 1999, the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea enacted the Act on the Immigration and Legal Status of Overseas Koreans, the so-called Overseas Koreans Act. The purposes of the law were to facilitate the exercise of certain rights by “overseas Korean citizens” (external citizens) when they were back in the country and, more importantly, to grant preferential treatment to “coethnics of foreign nationality (citizenship).” The law was challenged in the Constitutional Court because it excluded from its scope the members of the Korean diaspora who had emigrated before the establishment of the Government of the Republic of Korea in 1948, namely those in the People’s Republic of China and the former Soviet Union. In 2001, the provisions were declared not in conformity with the Constitution for discriminating against certain groups of the diaspora vis-à-vis the rest. The Constitutional Court, however, did not examine the constitutionality of discriminating between different groups of foreigners by reason of ethnicity. Since the law was amended in 2004 to include the ethnic Koreans in China and the former Soviet Union in the scope of the law, it has been subject to few challenges. Yet the controversy that the law has provoked stimulates academic discussion of Korea’s diaspora engagement policy and its legal ramifications from a comparative perspective. In his talk, Chulwoo Lee provides a brief overview of the characteristics of the Overseas Koreans Act and outlines the questions that have arisen from the controversy surrounding the law. By putting the Korean case in a comparative framework covering some of the European cases including the Hungarian Status Law, the talk offers a template for comparing the various practices of kin-state politics, and brings forth some criteria for judging the legitimacy of those practices.
Martin Ruhs, EUI
- Chulwoo Lee (Yonsei University)
Jelena Dzankic (EUI)