South Korea’s Ministry of Justice has recently issued guidelines to airport immigration agencies concerning the entry and departure of overseas Koreans. Overseas Koreans, including Korean Americans, can now use the “Korean passport” line for in-person immigration when visiting South Korea.
On November 27, the Overseas Korean Agency and the Ministry of Justice announced their intention to strengthen efforts to publicize and guide overseas Koreans at airports. This initiative is designed to alleviate confusion at airports stemming from insufficient public awareness about the streamlined immigration process for Korean Americans and other overseas Koreans, a system that has been in place for more than a decade.
“Recently, the headquarters has issued a notice to airports to allow overseas Koreans to be screened at counters for the Korean Passport holders,” said an official of South Korea’s Justice Ministry. On the same day, an official from the Overseas Korean Agency informed the Korea Daily, “We are in talks with the Ministry of Justice regarding Korean Americans and overseas Koreans.”
According to South Korea’s Ministry of Justice, the practice of treating overseas Koreans as Korean nationals at immigration has been in effect since 2009. In June 2013, the headquarters of the Korea Immigration Service ordered a meeting of the heads of immigration agencies and overseas consulates to improve the policy, allowing overseas Koreans to use the same immigration checkpoints as Korean nationals.
However, in October 2018, following the expansion of automatic immigration inspections, overseas Koreans registered as foreigners (F-4 Visa holders) were no longer allowed to use the ‘Korean Passport/Overseas Korean’ lines at immigration checkpoints.
As a result, many overseas Koreans, including Korean Americans, faced long wait times at foreign passport checkpoints. The lack of on-site publicity and confusing information from the authorities often caused inconvenience.
A Korean American who recently arrived at Incheon Airport commented, “More than 10 Korean Americans waited for over an hour in the foreigners’ line because the signboard indicated only overseas Koreans or foreigners with a residence permit could use the Korean Passport inspection counter.”
They added, “I wish the Korean Immigration Service would improve on-site publicity.” Another Korean American, who visits South Korea annually, mentioned, “I have never seen any information on how overseas Koreans are treated, so I always waited in the foreigners’ line.”
An official from the Ministry of Justice explained, “We still flexibly change the signboards at the immigration checkpoint to suit the situation, including categories like ‘nationals, foreigners, overseas Koreans, flight attendants, and diplomats.'”
The term ‘overseas Koreans’ includes foreign citizenship holders who were once Korean nationals but renounced their Korean citizenship to acquire foreign citizenship, as well as their direct descendants.
BY HYOUNGJAE KIM, JUNHAN PARK [email@example.com]