August 04, 2023 13:42
China appears to be denying visas to North Korean defectors who are now South Korean citizens.
Using a more complicated visa process than before the pandemic, China now demands more private information, including the place of birth, from visa applicants, in an apparent attempt to screen out North Korean defectors.
One defector surnamed Lee who lives in Gunsan, North Jeolla Province, went to a travel agency some time ago to apply for a visit visa to China. Besides the application form, passport, residence registration card and vaccination certificate, the travel agency asked him to bring or attach an ID certification form, a birth certificate and a marriage certificate.
The residence of most defectors is Hanawon, the halfway house in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province that helps North Korean defectors adjust to life in South Korea, while their birth certificate shows a location in North Korea. Lee's document shows that he was born in North Hamgyong Province in North Korea.
The ID certification form requires visa applicants to fill in the date when they acquired South Korean nationality and residence registration number. Defectors can be distinguished because, unlike ordinary South Koreans, their birth date is different from the date they become South Korean citizens.
After looking at his form, a travel agency staffer refused to help him get a visa to China. "Ah, you're a defector. We've been asked by the Chinese Embassy not to help applicants like you get a visa," he was told.
China also requires applicants to fill in their education all the way back to high school.
Kim, another defector who has been trading with China for over 10 years, said, "I had to fill in an education section on the application form when I was applying for a visa to China right after lockdown was lifted in June. In the end I just gave up because there were too many required documents to attach."
China has long tried to screen out North Korean defectors. In the early 2000s, China did not issue multiple-entry visas to North Korean defectors and demanded a family register copy to find whether applicants were defectors or not.
Once that changed and an increasing number of defectors were able to travel to China with multiple-entry visas, China often rejected visa applications by identifying them based on the first three digits of their residence registration number -- 125 or 225, the numbers based on the Hanawon address.
In 2009, the Lee Myung-bak administration revised the law so that defectors can have residence registration numbers based on the place where they live instead of Hanawon, making it more difficult to identify them.
Prof. Joo Jae-woo of Kyunghee University said, "North Korea must have asked China to prevent defectors from entering China." He said China is now trying to ferret out defectors with other documents as it's impossible to spot them based on their residence registration number.
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