North Koreans have a constitutionally guaranteed right to citizenship in the Republic of Korea and high coethnic communitarian affinity; as such, they are often described as having automatic citizenship in South Korea. This article demonstrates that portrayals of automatic citizenship are problematic. North Koreans have often struggled to acquire state recognition when making claims to citizenship from abroad, and acquisition of ROK citizenship remains an incremental and contingent process, one that requires a high degree of agency from North Koreans seeking resettlement. This article draws on analysis of approximately 120 North Korean memoirs published in Korean and English, as well as other documentary and interview evidence. It finds that although citizenship is typically thought of as membership within a political community, it is also an identity practiced, claimed, and negotiated externally. Moreover, extraterritorial negotiations over citizenship recognition can be strongly influenced by state geopolitical and security considerations.

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