The top court ruled Thursday that an entry ban on a Korean American singer who obtained US citizenship in an apparent attempt to evade military conscription in Korea is illegal, paving the way for him to come to Korea 17 years after he was banned from the country.
The Supreme Court found that it is illegal to refuse an entry visa to Steve Yoo, 43, once a successful singer here better known as Yoo Seung-jun.
In 2002, the Ministry of Justice banned Yoo from entering Korea after he chose US citizenship over Korean nationality, which was viewed as an attempt to dodge the country’s mandatory military service. His decision drew public ire, especially because he had previously promised publicly to fulfil his military duty.
In Korea, all able-bodied men with Korean citizenship must serve in the military for about two years. Under the current law, a man holding dual citizenship must choose one nationality by the end of March of the year he turns 18.
Yoo filed a lawsuit against a Korean consulate in the US in October 2015 after it refused to issue him a F-4 visa, which is issued to foreign citizens of Korean heritage, including those who previously renounced Korean citizenship.
In September 2016, the court ruled against Yoo, saying his return and resumption of his activities in the entertainment scene here would “undermine morale of soldiers who are devoting themselves to serving the country and provoke young people into evading conscription.” In February 2017, the appeals court upheld the lower court’s decision.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the Seoul High Court, ordering it to retry the case. It said that the ministry’s “administrative” decision is not legally binding and it does not necessarily mean the Korean consulate in Los Angeles must follow the decision. It failed to exercise its own rights to make a decision on Yoo’s entry, the court added.
The court also noted that even those who gave up Korean nationality to evade military duty should not be restricted from receiving a visa to stay in the country when they reach 41, citing the current Immigration Control Act.