South Korea Boosts Immigration Investment Requirements Amid Concerns of Chinese Political Inference

South Korea Boosts Immigration Investment Requirements Amid Concerns of Chinese Political Inference
The picture shows the street view of South Korea's largest Chinatown in Daerim-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul. (The Epoch Times)
Lisa Bian
Sean Tseng

South Korea has recently raised its investment immigration threshold in response to an observed skewing of the proportion of Chinese immigrants gaining residency. The decision follows concerns related to voting rights granted to Chinese permanent residents in South Korean local elections, rights that aren’t reciprocated for Koreans in China.

The imbalance has led to accusations of unfairness and concerns that South Korea’s voting system may be susceptible to manipulation by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The situation has been further inflamed by a Chinese ambassador’s speech that was perceived as interfering in South Korean internal affairs and straining the relationship between the two countries.

In a bid to restore balance, the South Korean Ministry of Justice announced a substantial increase in the required investment amount for immigrants on June 29. The minimum required investment to secure the country’s F-2 residence visa and F-5 permanent residence visa will be tripled to 1.5 billion won ($1.1 million) and doubled to 3 billion won ($2.2 million), respectively, from current levels.
The government also will end the foreign retirees’ immigrant investor visa program, which currently allows a retiree investor over the age of 55 to earn Korean residency status—the F-2 visa—with a 300 million won ($230,000) investment and the F-5 visa after maintaining the initial investment for five years, The Korea Economic Daily reported.
In May, the Ministry of Justice extended the country’s real estate investment immigration system by three years and doubled the minimum investment required of foreign investors to 1 billion won ($750,000).

Adverse Effects

The system has sparked debates since its implementation in 2010 because of adverse effects, such as land encroachment, overheated real estate prices, and environmental damage associated with indiscriminate property purchasing by Chinese investors.

However, the government hopes to mitigate these effects by doubling the real estate investment requirement for immigration.

“For a certain time, investment alone was enough to be granted voting rights in local elections,” a Ministry of Justice official told Seoul Economic Daily, further acknowledging the issue, in which investors had promptly withdrawn funds after securing permanent residency.
He added that the standard investment amount had remained unchanged for more than a decade, resulting in widespread concerns over voting rights. In addition, the ministry plans to further tighten the eligibility criteria for permanent residence.

Mostly Attracting Mainland Chinese

The South Korean investment immigration program has faced criticism in recent years for its relatively low thresholds compared to other countries, which many suggested have contributed to an over-representation of Chinese immigrants.
Countries such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Portugal require higher investment amounts in their respective immigration programs. For example, the U.S. program stipulates an investment of between $800,000 and $1.05 million, along with the creation of 10 jobs. Australia requires an investment of AU$2.5 million to AU$5 million ($1.66 million to $3.33 million) for its investor visa, while New Zealand mandates an investment of NZ$5 million ($3 million).
The demographic of foreign nationals gaining residence in South Korea through investment immigration is markedly skewed toward Chinese immigrants. Ruling People Power Party lawmaker Cho Su-jin revealed that between 2018 and 2022, 85.3 percent of foreigners using the South Korean investment immigration plan to obtain residency or permanent residency were Chinese.

Breaking it down further, Chinese immigrants represented 70.8 percent and a striking 94 percent of those obtaining residency through public welfare and real estate investment immigration programs, respectively.

In South Korea, foreigners who have maintained permanent residency for more than three years are eligible to vote in local elections. For the 2022 local elections, an unprecedented 126,000 foreign residents were eligible to vote, nearly 100,000 of which were Chinese nationals, making up 80 percent of the total eligible foreign voters.

Beijing Envoy’s Remarks 

Amid growing tensions between South Korea and China, Xing Haiming, China’s ambassador to South Korea, sparked further controversy after indirectly criticizing Seoul for siding with Washington instead of Beijing.

“Some people bet on the United States to win and China to lose, but this is clearly the wrong judgment. What can be said with certainty is that those who bet on China’s defeat will surely regret it later,” Mr. Xing said in a June 8 meeting with Lee Jae Myung, head of the largest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Korea.

Mr. Xing’s remarks incited significant backlash within South Korea, with lawmakers calling for his expulsion from the country. Many said the incident has led to a further deterioration in the relationship between the two nations.

The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned him the next day and warned him about his “senseless and provocative” remarks. The ministry accused him of violating diplomatic protocols and interfering in domestic affairs.

According to Yonhap News, President Yoon Suk Yeol directly criticized Mr. Xing’s behavior in a closed-door meeting on June 13.

“Judging from the attitude of Chinese Ambassador Xing Haiming, it is doubtful whether he, as a diplomat, understands mutual respect or friendship,” Mr. Yoon reportedly said. Sources in the presidential office told reporters the president’s office took Mr. Xing’s criticism very seriously.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol speaks at a press briefing at the White House garden in Washington on April 26, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol speaks at a press briefing at the White House garden in Washington on April 26, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

Seoul has increased pressure on Beijing over this incident. A senior official from the South Korean presidential office said at a press conference on June 13 that he was “waiting for the Chinese side to consider the issue thoroughly and take appropriate measures.”

However, during a press briefing on June 13 in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin avoided answering questions on the South Korean government’s request for appropriate measures; instead, he accused Seoul of hyping up the issue.
A growing number of parliamentarians from the ruling People Power Party have urged the government to designate Mr. Xing as persona non grata and expel him from South Korea.
In response to the diplomatic incident, prominent ruling party figures Kim Gi Hyeon and Kweon Seong Dong proposed revoking voting rights for Chinese nationals holding permanent residency in South Korea.

Mr. Kweon voiced concerns about the potential misuse of the current voting system by the CCP as a means to interfere in South Korea’s internal matters.

“Ambassador Xing’s remarks are a clear example of interference in domestic politics. In fact, China currently has feasible ways to interfere in South Korea’s internal affairs,” he said.

Mr. Kim urged the reassessment of South Korea-China relations based on mutualism, pointing out the lack of voting rights for South Korean nationals residing in China. This sentiment was echoed in December by South Korean Justice Minister Han Dong Hoon, who suggested a revision of the voting system, cautioning that granting voting rights to foreigners without reciprocity could distort public opinion.
Lisa Bian, B.Med.Sc., is a healthcare professional holding a Bachelor's Degree in Medical Science. With a rich background, she has accrued over three years of hands-on experience as a Traditional Chinese Medicine physician. In addition to her clinical expertise, she serves as an accomplished writer based in Korea, providing valuable contributions to The Epoch Times. Her insightful pieces cover a range of topics, including integrative medicine, Korean society, culture, and international relations.
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