I’m a Korean American citizen. Born and raised in California for 31 years of my life.
In 2014, I moved to Seoul. After spending over a decade in Silicon Valley, I wanted to work alongside the dynamic young entrepreneurs of Korea and develop job-creating, inspiring, global companies. So I left LinkedIn to join BaeDal Minjok when it had fewer than 100 employees.
Then, five years later, on Nov. 6, 2019, Korea gave me an ultimatum: Join the Korean Army or Get Out.
I’m 100 percent an American citizen. I’ve never had Korean citizenship or a Korean passport. However, Korean laws view me as 100 percent Korean, as my father’s citizenship at the time of my birth in the US was Korean. My F4 visa would no longer be renewed.
Within four weeks I was forced to close out my entire life in Korea, book a one-way ticket out, return my alien registration card at Incheon Airport, and say goodbye to friends and family I love. Korea will not allow me to live in the country again until I’m 40.
The Immigration Office gives you absolutely no notice whatsoever. Simply an ultimatum during a routine visa renewal visit to join the Army or leave.
I moved to Korea with more than just startup dreams. I left behind my life in San Francisco to play a role in solving challenges, both economic and social, that face Korea. I wanted to be a part of the solutions for helping future generations of Koreans grow up in a prosperous and happy country.
On top of my work at Baedal Minjok, I started a charity organization called the Korea Legacy Committee. It’s a national movement that empowers young Koreans to give back to the elderly. We have raised over $200,000 in four years to feed impoverished senior citizens.
I also founded the Korea Leadership Society to inspire young Koreans to be politically active and to connect with national leaders. We had speakers such as presidential candidate Sim Sang-jeung, National Assembly Rep. Park Jin, and UK Ambassador to Korea Simon Smith. I also guest lectured at various Seoul universities on how to mobilize our youth to solve issues around women’s rights, mental health and reversing the narrative of “Hell Joseon.”
I felt I had finally found my life purpose.
However, due to this immigration law, I and many other gyopo are left with little choice other than to move out. I considered joining the military; however, Korea would not allow me to vote or serve in public office. Asking one to fully serve the country in return for partial citizenship is unjustified.
Korea is in desperate need of immigration reform.
It faces a demographic nightmare: It has the world’s lowest birth rate, 44 percent of the population will be elderly by 2060, and Koreans are set to be extinct by 2750. Now is not the time to be closing the door to members of the Korean diaspora who want to be a part of the country.
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon awarded honorary citizenship to foreign men who have never served in the military, like the stars of the TV show “Abnormal Summit.” If they can reside in Korea, why can’t members of Korea’s own diaspora?
I hope one day I can call Korea home again. That I can continue to contribute to our “minjok” and create a global movement to encourage Koreans from all around the world to come back home and work together for our country’s future success.
But until then, many more Gyopo will also be faced with the decision to leave Korea and devote their time, economic contributions and global minds to countries that accept them.
From, Mike Kim