Monday, September 13, 2010

Interview: Mr. Lee Kwi-nam, Minister of Justice

The Ministry of Justice serves the citizens by guarding and enforcing the Constitution and laws of the Republic. In addition to rendering legal advice to the President, Prime Minister, and other ministries, MOJ supervises the prosecution. It is also in charge of correctional and rehabilitative administration and immigration. In what should be of more interest to foreign investors, it is responsible for Policies with respect to an Investment-Friendly Legal Environment. I interviewed him to learn more about the policies and plans on this front.

>>The vision of the Ministry of Justice is to bring about a happy nation with an advanced rule of law. To realize this vision, we are pushing ahead with the following priorities. First, in order to create a transparent society, we are promoting establishment of law and order that is commensurate with Korea's standing in the international community and (2) enhancement of the nation's credibility through prevention of corruption. Second, in order to create a safe society, we are promoting (3) protection of citizens from violent crime and (4) prevention of repeated crimes through support for criminal rehabilitation. Finally, in order to achieve more open administration of judicial affairs, we are promoting (5) implementation of open and harmonious policies for aliens and (6) construction of advanced infrastructure for judicial affairs administration.
>>Last February, in order to simplify the invitation process for long-term visitors, such as for employment of skilled foreign talents, the Ministry of Justice opened the visa-application process to online application for certificate for confirmation of visa issuance through HuNet Korea (, an internet-based visa application system. Furthermore, we shortened the time it takes to issue a visa by exempting the submission of corporate-related documents such as business license, employment contract, and personal reference.
In May 2010, we also streamlined the invitation process for short-term visitors, such as for foreign corporate buyers. This procedural simplification allows issuance of short-term business visa (C-2) for a foreigner with short-term business purpose based on no other requirement than a company-issued invitation and grants up to 90 days for the visit.
The Ministry of Justice will further strengthen its continuous efforts to improve the immigration system so that 36,000 skilled foreign talents, such as professors or researchers, as well as 9,000 foreign investors currently residing in Korea can live and do businesses more conveniently.
>>We must admit that Korea had been conservative in its recognition of refugee status, underscored by the statistics that only two refugees were recognized as such in ten years from the ratification of the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees in 1992; moreover, Korea has had many shortcomings with regard to refugee status recognition process or support policies. Nevertheless, the number of refugee seekers has increased substantially in recent years, proportionally to the recent surge in Korea's national reputation in the global society, and this increase has necessitated a closer attention and a better care at the government-level.
The Ministry of Justice has recently implemented what we consider groundbreaking policies: we halved the evaluation period for refugee status from a year to six months; allowed the refugee seekers on long-term standbys to find employment, starting May 4th, 2010; and took action to enable refugee seekers to receive medical treatment and to be hospitalized at government-designated hospitals and up to 5 million won in medical bill support through collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Welfare since June 1st, 2010.
Particularly, as a result of a more proactive refugee embracement policy implemented to live up to Korea's international status enhanced by the imminent G-20 Seoul Summit, Korea has recognized a total of 205 refugees and has granted 130 cases of temporary resident status on humanitarian grounds as of August, 2010. The number of refugees recognized during the last three years accounts for approximately 75% of the total recognized refugees.
The Ministry of Justice will work to guarantee the procedural rights of refugee seekers to a speedy and fair evaluation. Furthermore, the Ministry will provide measures to support improvement of social treatment of recognized refugees and refugee seekers.
>>Korean law on nationality to date has received criticism for its failure to anticipate the international trend that increasingly permits dual citizenship by holding on to a single-nationality principle, exemplified by its practice of requesting proof for renunciation of foreign citizenship from foreigners that obtained Korean nationality and citizens born with multiple citizenships. It has also been pointed out that such Korean institution has created barriers for skilled talents and Koreans abroad with foreign nationality to obtain Korean nationality and even has induced adverse effects on population.
In order to reform the sixty-year old institution rigidly rooted in single-nationality principle, the Ministry of Justice submitted to the National Assembly the Amended Nationality Act, with allowance of multiple citizenships for citizens born with multiple citizenships as its major content, based on thorough discussions of the topic and public opinion gathered through public hearings.
This revised Nationality Act was passed in the National Assembly on April 21st this year and was proclaimed on the fourth of following May. It will be put in place in its entirety on the first of January 2011 while certain provisions are put into immediate effect at the proclamation.
Under this law, in case citizens born with multiple citizenships, migrants through international marriage, overseas Korean adoptees, elder overseas Koreans returning permanently, or foreign talents obtain or select Korean nationality, they are permitted to hold de facto multiple citizenships as they are required to take an oath of foreign citizenship nonuser instead of having to provide proof of foreign citizenship renunciation.
We aim to enhance national competitiveness through securing human resources, support social integration of newly naturalized citizens such as international marriage migrants, and better regard overseas Korean adoptees and elder overseas Koreans, through this reform while we also expect to see positive effects such as suppression of population net outflow.
>>In July 2010, the Ministry of Justice published and circulated the first volume of a quarterly English legal magazine titled Recent Trends of Law & Regulation in Korea: Focusing on Business and Investment.
This is the first English legal magazine that the government has published. The magazine carries articles on reasons and details of enactment and amendment of Acts related to company and investment, and case laws of the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court on such Acts. It also provides detailed information on intellectual property rights protection efforts and key policies for foreigners, such as immigration regulations, that the Ministry of Justice has spearheaded.
The Ministry of Justice plans to select various topics and legislations that may be helpful for foreign businesses and provide corresponding information both online and offline on a quarterly basis. So we encourage any interested party to take advantage of this content.
>>Maintenance of law and institution is the cornerstone for economic development and consequently serves as a foundation for a nation's effort to join the ranks of the advanced countries. Hence, the Ministry of Justice aims to continue its effort to maintain the law and order befitting the economic strength and national status of Korea through the hosting of the G-20 Seoul Summit, etc.
At such an important turning point, with the Korea-EU FTA expected to take effect sometime soon, we are ready to develop and implement policies that can contribute to the creation of a legal environment friendly to foreign investors.