The Korea Herald


Court opens way for disgraced K-pop icon Steve Yoo's return to Korea

By Son Ji-hyoung

Published : July 13, 2023 - 16:03

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Steve Yoo (Herald DB) Steve Yoo (Herald DB)

Disgraced Korean American singer Steve Yoo clinched a victory in a ruling that approved his visa application to reside in Korea as an overseas Korean on Thursday, potentially reopening a path for Yoo back to Korea for the first time since his banishment in 2002.

The Seoul High Court ruled in favor of Yoo in his case against the South Korean Consulate General in Los Angeles, which turned down his request for an F-4 visa issuance.

It was the first ruling that opened the way for Yoo, also known by his Korean name, Yoo Seung-jun, to return to his country of origin -- now as an overseas Korean with US nationality. But given the entry ban imposed on Yoo by the government for draft dodging, Yoo's return to Korea is unlikely to be realized immediately.

The court judge said that there is no just cause for the consular office to indefinitely refuse to issue him the F-4 visa unless Yoo committed any other legal violations than using a "deceitful" way to dodge his military duty.

The judge added that Yoo's F-4 visa application should be deemed valid since he applied for it in 2015 when he was 39 years old, and the rule at the time was that an overseas Korean male could apply for an F-4 visa as long as he was aged over 38. The rule changed in 2017, but the court ruling judged that retroactive rules cannot be applied.

F-4 visa holders -- categorized as overseas Koreans, or those who are descendants of a Korean national with foreign nationality -- are given rights for multiple entry into Korea over a five-year period, the right to reside in Korea for three years, and few restrictions on employment other than simple labor. However, they do not have the right to vote in national elections.

Yoo's legal representative Ryu Jeong-sun, an attorney at law firm Innolegal, told reporters after the ruling that Yoo "sought to seek redemption by returning to Korea as he thought he had suffered serious consequences of his past decisions." He added that the ruling, once confirmed, will invalidate the legal basis for the government’s entry ban imposed on Yoo.

Ryu Jeong-sun, an attorney at law firm Innolegal, speaks to reporters after Thursday's ruling at Seoul High Court. (Yonhap) Ryu Jeong-sun, an attorney at law firm Innolegal, speaks to reporters after Thursday's ruling at Seoul High Court. (Yonhap)

A spokesperson at South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Thursday that it would consult with other ministries, including the Justice Ministry which is in charge of immigration, over legal actions following Thursday's appellate court ruling.

Yoo was born in Seoul in 1976, and grew up in California after his family immigrated there when he was 13 years old. Yoo made his debut in South Korea in 1997, and enjoyed popularity as a singer and dancer before his fall from grace in 2002, when he renounced his Korean nationality to become a US citizen. The move was made with the apparent intention to dodge compulsory military service in Korea.

Yoo's decision immediately stirred a nationwide public outcry, given that all able-bodied South Korean men between the ages of 18 to 40 are required to fulfill mandatory military service in the country as the country is technically still at war with North Korea. His naturalization came just before he was scheduled to begin alternative service.

The Justice Ministry imposed an entry ban on Yoo in the same year that he obtained US citizenship, and his hit songs such as "Na Na Na" and "Passion" were mostly removed from the airwaves.

Yoo filed a suit against the consulate general in LA in 2015 after his attempt to obtain an F-4 visa as an overseas Korean was denied.

Korea's Supreme Court in 2019 recognized in a ruling finalized in 2020 that the consulate office's procedure for refusing the visa had been flawed.

However, a second round of the legal battle was initiated in 2020 after the consulate office continued to refuse to issue the visa despite the ruling.

An administrative court ruling in April 2022 gave the consulate general the upper hand, saying the previous top court ruling had not necessarily made the case to issue the visa to Yoo legitimately.