- July 7, 2021
- Posted by: Stephane Tajick
- Category: Competitive Research Analysis
Like most countries, South Korea has its own investor visa program.
It’s been in effect for over two decades. However, application numbers haven’t been high since the 2000s.
In fact, South Korea’s application numbers have dipped to a point where many migration practitioners ignore its stats almost entirely.
What Are Korean Stats Like?
Korea has issued an average of 600 visas per year for investors, and throughout the past 5 years.
This should be a fair number of visas. Most countries fail to accept yearly investors by those counts, so this should put Korea on the world radar, right?
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The problems with South Korea’s program have less to do with numbers, and more with flexibility.
Why Experts Ignore the Program
First, South Korea’s investment minimums are quite high. They also lack competitive advantages to similarly priced programs in North America and Europe.
Citizenship problems are also a factor. North American and European programs offer an eventual path to citizenship.
This isn’t the case with the South Korean program. A clear path towards citizenship isn’t outlined, making it a deterrent to long-term investing.
Finally, mobility is an advantage Korean residency lacks. A residence permit in Europe and America comes with visa-free Schengen travel for ½ out of a full year.
This isn’t the case with South Korea. A residency permit allows work and travel in South Korea exclusively.
Regardless, the South Korean program should be considered. It does come with a set of advantages that make it fit for multiple investors. They are:
- Passport power. In non-pandemic situations, South Korea boasts one of the world’s best passports, consistently ranking in the top three.
- It’s easy for investors to assimilate culturally, linguistically, and geographically into its business environment, since it’s close to some of the world’s biggest migration sourcing markets.
- South Korea is modern, safe, and wealthy. It’s one of the most tech advanced societies in the world.
So it is a convenient program. In fact, its advantages are suitable for Vietnamese and Chinese source markets, especially with how close it is (to both) geographically.
Exploring the South Korean Visa in-Depth
South Korea enforces a capital requirement ranging from $90,000 to $630,000.
The final value depends on the location the investor chooses for their finances. It also depends on the investment nature (passive or active).
Visas are provided for two to five years. Two years are awarded for active investors, and five for public business and real estate investors.
After five years, a permanent residency permit may be awarded.
Three Options – One Citizenship Path
South Korean offers three schemes for investors. They are:
First Option: Foreign Investor/Corporate Visa (D-8)
Given to applicants who can invest $90,000 USD minimum.
The applicant doesn’t have to fully own the investment. They may be a high skilled and indispensable worker responsible for administration, management, technology, or production of the corporation.
In that case, the company must be a Korean foreign investment company.
That applicant is required to own 10% of total company stocks. That should include voting rights, and they must show a contract that appoints executives who share stocks.
In that situation, the visa is issued for two years.
Alternatively, the applicant can own a venture business in Korea. It must belong to the advanced technology field. Here, visas are issued for two years.
A third sub-option is an investment that’s run by a Korean citizen. In that case, the applicant must be an investor and an indispensable worker in that organization.
They follow the same guidelines for the first sub-option (in-terms of owning shares). Here, the visa is provided for two years.
Second Option: Real Estate Scheme
Investors must provide $450,000 USD minimum. If used for residency property, the investor can qualify for permanent residency. But do note that the region matters in-terms of required amount.
While permanent residency is guaranteed, the investor is first given an F-2 temporary visa, followed by an F-5 visas if they keep the investment active.
Third Option: Public Business
This allows investors to acquire a temporary F-2 visa.
It comes with two options. Each options requires $450,000 USD minimum. However, retirees can invest less, with a $270,000 USD minimum.
The first sub-option is for principal guaranteed investments. Here, the investment is directed to a public fund. The Korea Finance Corporation manages it, lending the funds to small businesses at low interest.
The second sub-option is for risk-based investments. The minimum for that is higher than normal, and it’s placed in development projects of underdeveloped regions, as notified through the Justice Ministry.
After a temporary visa is maintained for five years, a permanent F-5 visa can be granted.
What About Citizenship?
South Korea is one of the few exceptions in the region. While most Asian countries dislike handing out citizenships, South Korea has easier requirements.
If you maintain residency in South Korea, it’s possible to gain naturalization. In fact, there are three paths for citizenship offered by the country.
The most commonly followed is general naturalization. That path is strenuous, since it requires constant physical presence in South Korea for five years consecutively.
It also requires Korean culture knowledge, and the capacity for basic Korean speech. Basically, the paths for citizenship are quite similar to those of the US, UK, and Canada.
What’s Demand for Citizenship Like?
The stats for applicants by nationality are interesting.
Chinese and Japanese applicants represent the majority, at 22% and 21% respectively. Pakistan comes next at 8%, followed by France at 6%, and Germany also at 6%.
So far, over 19,000 individuals have been naturalized in South Korea.
But like every other program around the world, Korea’s citizenship scheme saw a drop in 2020, mostly resulting from the pandemic.
Regardless, that drop has been in-effect since the early 2000s. In fact, the year 2000 has been the program’s peak.
Since then, the number of applicants has been slowly dwindling each year, reaching its low in 2020. For comparison, the year 2000 registered 1891 visa approvals. The year 2019 registered only 589.
The decline in investor issuance has a lot to do with price hikes in the program since inception.
For example, before 2010, the minimum required for the D-8 permit was $45,000 USD. Right now, the amount has gone up by 2-10 times.
This also applies to passive investment routes, which have pushed many investors away from the program.
Thus, in the past, getting South Korean investment visas was easy. Back then, as little as $22,000 was required to start a business and get Korean residency.