The Korean National Assembly passed a bill in mid-August that gives ethnic Koreans living overseas legal rights that are almost equal to those of Koreans when they are living and doing business in Korea. Once they receive "residence certificates," ethnic Koreans, regardless of nationality, can stay in Korea for two years without renewing their visas. While in Korea, ethnic Koreans will have the same rights as Koreans in real estate and financial transactions, and they can obtain social security benefits. There are an estimated 2.5 million ethnic Koreans in China, Japan and ex-USSR countries.
Japan, China and other countries with large ethnic Korean populations expressed concerns about the impacts of the bill on their Korean residents. In response, the Ministry of Justice said that ethnic Koreans temporarily in Korea may not be able to vote in Korean elections. Korea also said that eligibility for the new ethnic Korean status may be limited to those who once held citizenship to the Republic of Korea, which was established in 1948, thus excluding those who left Korea before 1948. Many Koreans moved to China and the former Soviet Union to avoid Japanese colonial rule and thus are not considered ethnic Koreans eligible for the new benefits.
The South Korean Justice Ministry said there were 368,212 foreigners in Korea in September 1999, including 126,043 illegal foreignersâ€”the peak number of illegal foreigners was 148,048 at the end of 1997.
"Justice Ministry Reveals Illegal Alien Numbers," Yonhap News Agency September 12, 1999. "Unfair legislation," Korea Herald, August 20, 1999.