Korean-American Is First To Benefit From A “Startup Visa” In Korea

The Korean government has just announced the long-awaited news that the first "Start-up Visa" in Korea has been issued to a Korean-American entrepreneur, Jason Lee CEO of J.J. Lee Company.  It is unknown why he was not able to apply for an F-4 visa, which is available for non-Koreans with Korean heritage, but it marks another stride forward in Korea's massive push towards establishing its position as one of the world's most vibrant startup hubs, and a destination of choice for entrepreneurs the world over. It also demonstrates that Park Geun-Hye's government is dedicated to driving innovation in the Korean economy, by attracting overseas talent.

Attend beLAUNCH to learn about Korean startups and entrepreneurship

Attend beLAUNCH to learn about Korean startups and entrepreneurship

Prior to obtaining Korea's first Startup Visa Jason Lee was required to leave the country regularly to top up his tourist visa as he built his startup in Korea. Despite owning his own company, he didn't qualify for an investment visa, which also carries a stipulation of at least $100k in the bank, nor did he qualify for the standard business visa (as he wasn't employed). It is also worthy of note here that the application process for business investment visas previously took up to five years, but can now be completed in just a few months.

While the news of the first visa being handed out is great, many will be upset about the stringent stipulations. I have been contacted by many foreigners in the past months who would love to get involved in the vibrant Korean startup scene but struggle to get the paper-work arranged. Sadly, these hopefuls will not be served by the new visa, which requires a big investment into Korea, as outlined below:

1.  The applicant must own Intellectual Property patents registered in Korea (I believe that pending patents applied for in Korea also qualify)
2.  The applicant must already own a Korean company, meaning that you are not able to establish a company based on the issuance of the startup visa. In other words, you must already be deeply invested in Korea in order to qualify
3.  The applicant must possess a University degree
Another option is to get a D-10 Visa (no capital required) which will allow entrepreneurs to register a new company, and their patent in Korea, and than apply for D-8-4 (Startup Visa). According to one of our sources this is the recommended method that is suggested by the Ministry of Justice.
It is unclear how this visa is more beneficial than the D-8 Investment visa as getting details on the visa is extremely difficult, though one possible advantage is that you do not need the $100k up front, as is required for the investment visa.
As the visa is still very new it is not certain that even the Korean Immigration is sure of how this visa will assist in encouraging foreign start-ups to invest in Korea, and even if foreign startups would be enticed enough to register their IP here.  It is also assumed that most start-ups with intellectual property registered in Korea would have the $100k required for a D-8  visa and a foreign-capital invested company.
Other articles that may be of interest on this topic:

To explore the startup scene in Korea we recommend attending beLAUNCH 2014, which will be held this year May 14-15. Tickets for the Seoul event can be purchased through this link: http://belaunch.com/. To check out previous startup events hosted by beSUCCESS, please check out these short videos: beLAUNCH 2013 and beGLOBAL in Silicon Valley.

Sean Hayes is an IP lawyer and Managing Partner at IPG Legal in Korea. He is also the first overseas lawyer to serve on the Korean bar and has been practicing law in Korea for well over ten years. For his contact information please email nathan@besuccess.com

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