Banned Korean-American singer Yoo Seung-jun, 43, also known as Steve Yoo, is facing an uphill battle from netizens who oppose his bid to return to South Korea.
Yoo scored victory in Korea’s Supreme Court last July 11 when it ruled that the 2015 decision of the country’s consulate general in Los Angeles not to issue an F-4 visa to the singer is unlawful as it did not use its discretionary powers in assessing his visa application.
The singer has been banned by the Korean government from entering South Korea for 17 years for evading his military service by acquiring American citizenship.
In its decision, the court remanded the case back to the Seoul High Court, which upheld in February 2017 a decision by the Seoul Administrative Court in September 2016 that affirmed Yoo’s entry ban.
The Supreme Court decision has opened an opportunity for him to finally get an F-4 overseas Korean visa, issued to people with Korean heritage.
But Koreans are largely opposed to his return, saying he betrayed the country by dodging his military service in 2002.
On the Office of the President’s website, an online petition filed on July 11 opposing Yoo’s return has garnered more than 178,000 signatures as of writing. If it reaches 200,000, the Korean government is mandated to answer it. Three similar petitions filed since the Supreme Court decision was released have garnered more than 20,000 signatures each.
“Please impose an entry ban on Steve Yoo again. The decision is against fairness and makes people angry,” the title of the petition read, according to the Korea Times.
The petition stated that “Do you think the decision is right, to exchange the patriotism of thousands of people fulfilling military duty for one well-off celebrity’s value? People who perform their duty as Koreans are Korean nationals.”
“But the country allowed the entry of Yoo, who deceived the state, because he kept pestering them and because time has passed. Does the lousy country even recognize soldiers, who fulfill their duty and devote their lives to the country, as its people? It is a huge violation of the law to deceive Korea, deceive Korean people and deceive the nation’s Constitution,” it added.
On the other hand, a petition supporting Yoo’s return has been filed on July 15, saying it has been 17 years since he was banned in Korea and added that things have changed now.
Evading military service, especially for entertainers, has always been a contentious issue in South Korea.
Korean Supreme Court’s decision
“The (South Korean) consulate (in LA) denied a visa (for Yoo) without exerting its discretionary power, simply because there was a (government) decision on an entry ban 13 years and seven months earlier. It was unlawful for the consulate not to exert its discretionary power. The legality of an entry ban cannot be ensured even if the foreign mission chief followed the justice minister’s decision,” the Supreme Court said in its ruling that favored Yoo’s case, Yonhap News reported.
Yoo’s lawyer said this will be an opportunity for the singer to return to his homeland.
“The Supreme Court ruling gave Yoo and his family an opportunity to fulfill their long-cherished dream. For over 17 years, Yoo was forced to stay abroad. Thus he has desperately wished to return home together with his children,” the lawyer said.
Yoo was one of Korea’s top singers in the late 1990s and early 2000s. But in January 2002, he acquired American citizenship and renounced his Korean nationality just as he was scheduled to enlist in the Korean military.
This sparked widespread anger against the singer in South Korea as he was accused of getting US citizenship so he could dodge military service. For this, the Korean government banned him from entering the country.
The Supreme Court’s ruling was based on a lawsuit filed by Yoo against the LA consulate general in October 2015 after he was denied a visa. Yoo applied for an F-4 visa with the consulate in August 2015 but his application was denied the following month.
It said that the consulate general did not follow the right administrative procedure when it informed Yoo’s father over the phone on Sept. 2, 2015 that his son’s application was denied instead of sending him a written decision.
The court said the consulate general should have considered other circumstances in assessing Yoo’s visa application.
It cited the rule that when foreigners have committed crimes in Korea, they are banned from entering the country for only up to five years.
Under Korea’s Act on the Immigration and Legal Status of Overseas Koreans, the Ministry of Justice may refuse entry to a Korean who acquired foreign citizenship to evade military service. The same act states that this does not apply to overseas Koreans who have attained the age of 38. In Yoo’s case, he was already 38 years old when he applied for a visa in 2015.
Yoo acquired American citizenship in January 2002. On Feb. 2, 2002, using his American passport under the name Steve Seung Jun Yoo, he tried to enter South Korea through Incheon International Airport but was deported back to the US.
He was temporarily allowed to enter Korea on June 26, 2003 to attend the funeral of his fiancee’s father. He left Korea the following day.
In May 2015, Yoo appeared on an internet broadcast on Afreeca TV where he bowed 90 degrees and knelt to show his sincerity and talked about what happened in the past. He said that if he could go back to 2002, he would enlist in the Korean military.
Yoo is currently busy with his career in China. In 2015, he appeared in the Jackie Chan movie “Dragon Blade.”
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