North Koreans have a constitutionally-guaranteed right to citizenship in the Republic of Korea, and high co-ethnic communitarian affinity with South Koreans. As such, they are often described as having “automatic citizenship” in the ROK. This article demonstrates that portrayals of automatic citizenship are problematic. North Koreans have often struggled to acquire state recognition when making claims to citizenship from abroad, and acquisition of ROK citizenship remains an incremental and contingent process, one that requires a high degree of agency from North Koreans seeking resettlement. To illustrate its arguments, the article draws on analysis of approximately 120 North Korean memoirs published in Korean and English, as well as a range of other documentary and interview evidence. This evidence suggests that although citizenship is typically thought of as membership within a political community, it is also an identity practiced, claimed, and recognized externally. Moreover, these extraterritorial negotiations over citizenship recognition can be strongly influenced by state geopolitical and security considerations.
Dr. Sheena Greitens is Associate Professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Tyler.
This event is co-sponsored by the East Asian Studies Center.