Democratic People's Republic of Korea/Republic of Korea: Processing times for North Koreans to obtain South Korean citizenship and passports; whether there are any restrictions on international travel for North Koreans who have defected to South Korea [ZZZ103991.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

1. Obtaining South Korean Citizenship

Sources indicate that, upon their arrival in the Republic of Korea (South Korea), defectors from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) are subject to a security screening process (International Crisis Group 14 July 2011, 22; Republic of Korea 14 Feb. 2012; The Hankyoreh 15 Nov. 2010). Following the security screening process, defectors take part in a three-month resettlement and reintegration training program at the Hanawon government facility (International Crisis Group 14 July 2011, 13, 22; HanVoice 22 Feb. 2012). The Executive Director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), a Washington-based NGO that promotes North Korean human rights (Cttee. for HRNK n.d.), explained in correspondence with the Research Directorate that defectors submit their application for South Korean citizenship while they are undergoing training at the Hanawon centre (ibid. 10 Feb. 2012). They are granted citizenship after they have completed the resettlement training (Republic of Korea 14 Feb. 2012; Cttee. for HRNK 10 Feb. 2012). In a telephone interview with the Research Directorate, an official at the embassy of South Korea in Ottawa said that North Korean defectors arriving in South Korea generally obtain South Korean citizenship five to nine months after their arrival (Republic of Korea 14 Feb. 2012). (See also Response to Information Request ZZZ103989 of 1 Mar. 2012.)

2. Obtaining South Korean Citizenship Identification Documents

Sources indicate that, upon obtaining South Korean citizenship, defectors are issued the regular South Korean citizen identity (ID) card [also referred to in English as the resident ID card or national ID card] (Canada 14 Feb. 2012; Republic of Korea 14 Feb. 2012). The Executive Director of the Committee for HRNK stated that, once defectors complete their training, they are resettled throughout the country by the South Korean government and are subsequently issued their ID cards by neighbourhood offices (Cttee. for HRNK 10 Feb. 2012).

According to the South Korean embassy official, a defector can apply for a passport as soon as they obtain citizenship and their citizen ID card (Republic of Korea 14 Feb. 2012). The official added that a previous policy required defectors to wait two years after obtaining citizenship to be eligible to apply for a passport, but that this policy had not been in effect for "perhaps three or five years" (ibid.).

3. Travel Restrictions for North Korean Defectors

Sources indicate that naturalized defectors are considered to be Korean and that there is no legal distinction between them and other South Koreans (Canada 14 Feb. 2012; HanVoice 22 Feb. 2012). In a telephone interview with the Research Directorate, the Executive Director of HanVoice, a Canadian advocacy organization for North Korean Human Rights (ibid. n.d.), stated that defectors' citizenship and migration rights are the same as those of other South Koreans (ibid. 22 Feb. 2012). The Executive Director of the Committee for HRNK stated that, based on consultations with South Korean government officials and human rights NGOs in Seoul, as well as his own experience, there are no explicit restrictions on international travel for North Korean defectors who have obtained South Korean citizenship (10 Feb. 2012). The Executive Director noted that "lots" of defectors travel back and forth between South Korea and China, and that they are also free to travel to Western countries (Cttee. for HRNK 10 Feb. 2012).

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a Seoul-based senior analyst for the International Crisis Group said that there is no law precluding international travel for defectors; however, he noted that the South Korean authorities can make it "inconvenient" for defectors to travel (14 Feb. 2012). The analyst cited one example of the authorities "try[ing] very hard to dissuade" a defector from travelling to Japan before he left (International Crisis Group 14 Feb. 2012).

In a 2011 book on Korean unification, Jacques L. Fuqua Jr., a former US Army foreign area officer in Japan and South Korea, writes that South Korean officials consider it illegal for defectors who have obtained South Korean citizenship to leave Korea and resettle in a third country, and that they have considered prosecuting such emigrants. Fuqua explains that this is because defectors receive money from the government to assist them in transitioning to life in South Korea and that the authorities disapprove of defectors who accept the resettlement funds but do not remain in the country (2011). Corroborating evidence for these statements could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Canada. 14 Feburary 2012. Embassy of Canada to Korea, Seoul. Correspondence from an official to the Research Directorate.

Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK). 10 February 2012. Correspondence from the Executive Director to the Research Directorate.

_____. N.d. "Human Rights for People of North Korea." <> [Accessed 23 Feb. 2012]

Fuqua, Jacques L., Jr. 2011. Korean Unification: Inevitable Challenges. Washington, DC: Potomac Books. <> [Accessed 23 Feb. 2012]

The Hankyoreh [Seoul]. 15 November 2010. Lee Je-hoon. "N. Korean Defectors Report Difficulties under Lee Government." <> [Accessed 17 Feb. 2012]

HanVoice. 22 February 2012. Telephone interview with the Executive Director.

_____. N.d. "About." <> [Accessed 22 Feb. 2012]

International Crisis Group. 14 February 2012. Correspondence from a senior analyst to the Research Directorate.

_____. 14 July 2011. Strangers at Home: North Koreans in the South. Asia Report No. 208. <> [Accessed 17 Feb. 2012]

Republic of Korea. 14 February 2012. Embassy of the Republic of Korea to Canada, Ottawa. Telephone interview with an official.

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: A representative of the National Committee on North Korea could not provide information within the time constraints of this Response. The Korean Institute for Peace and Unification Studies was unable to provide information for this Response. Attempts to contact a professor at Indiana State University and a representative of the Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights were unsuccessful.

Internet sites, including: Amnesty International; Asian Perspective; BBC; The Brookings Institution; CanKor; The Chosun Ilbo; Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights; Daily NK; Freedom House; The Hankyoreh; Human Rights Watch; International Organization for Migration; Korea Ministry of Unification; The Korea Times;; Life Funds for North Korean Refugees; National Committee on North Korea; National Public Radio; The New York Times; NK News; North Korean Refugees Foundation; Privacy International; Seoul National University; United Kingdom Border Agency; United Nations Human Rights Council; United States Department of State; Yonhap News Agency.