There are many reasons to emigrate from the United States; love, career, and study are just a few among them. And for just as many different reasons, some people find that once they’re overseas, their ideal path naturally leads them to the point where they choose to give up U.S. citizenship. Below, I’ve translated some South Korean media coverage about a less-common career choice for ex-Americans: the Korean military.
The first article is from earlier this month and discusses people who are in the most recent Federal Register list, while the second is from a few years ago. Don’t hold your breath for them to be featured on NBC Nightly; they’re too busy scouring the lists of ex-citizens for rich people so they can keep screaming the tiresome narrative that people giving up U.S. citizenship consist solely of “wealthy investors leaving the United States to avoid the estate tax”.
|미국 시민권자 특권 버린 김기환ㆍ이지우ㆍ노우송 소위||2nd Lieutenants Kim Keehowan, Lee Jee-woo, and Noh Woo-song gave up the privileges of U.S. citizenship|
|뉴스통신24, 유영서 기자||NewsWide 24, Yu Yeong-seo|
|김기환ㆍ이지우ㆍ노우송 소위는 미국 시민권이 있어 군 복무를 면제받을 수 있음에도 불구하고 자원입대한 사실이 밝혀져서 주위의 귀감이 되고있다.||2nd Lieutenants Kim Keehowan, [Dennis] Lee Jee-woo, and Noh Woo-song had U.S. citizenship and could have gotten exemptions from conscription, but as it turns out, they instead decided to volunteer for the military, becoming role models for those around them.|
This first piece is a subsection of a larger article about the 128th graduating class of the Republic of Korea Air Force Officer Candidate School. The class includes three newly-commissioned officers who studied and lived in the U.S. for many years, but in the end relinquished their U.S. citizenship on the way to achieving their dreams in their parents’ homeland. Two of them are included among the 189 names in this quarter’s Federal Register list; the third is not.
The journalist is tiptoeing around an issue which is something of a sore point among his intended audience: South Korea itself has a very high renunciation rate, quite possibly the highest of any OECD country. In 2010, nearly twenty-three thousand gave up citizenship; this is higher than the total number of those who naturalised. The high renunciation rate is driven by a number of factors: South Korea did not allow dual citizenship until 2010 (and still do not grant automatic permission for it), they have a large diaspora many generations removed from residence in Korea (especially in Japan, which also does not allow dual citizenship), and of course they impose a duty of mandatory military service for all male citizens.
Many who have the choice find ways to get out of serving in the military, and still others try to get out but fail — but the number who chose to serve voluntarily as part of the “cover charge” for pursuing a career in South Korea is increasing. Of course, major U.S. newspapers only write about Korean Americans in the South Korean military when it happens involuntarily (e.g. here). To find English-language articles about voluntary cases like the ones discussed here, you have to look to campus newspapers and other non-mainstream sources (here and here, for example).
|김기환 소위는 아버지가 학위 취득을 위해 미국 캘리포니아에 체류 중일 때 그 곳에서 태어나 한국과 미국, 양국의 국적을 모두 보유한 이중국적자이다.||Lt. Kim’s father was living in California while getting his degree, and Kim himself was born there, thus giving him dual citizenship of both South Korea and the United States.|
|이후 유년시절의 대부분을 미국ㆍ영국 등 외국에서 보냈지만 스스로 한국인이라는 것에 자부심을 갖고 있던 김 소위는 망설임 없이 공군 장교로 자원입대했다.||Afterwards, he spent most of his childhood in the U.S., Britain, and other foreign countries, but due to his pride in being Korean, Lt. Kim did not hesitate to volunteer to become an Air Force officer.|
|김 소위의 이 같은 결정에는 할아버지와 아버지의 영향이 컸는데, 김 소위의 아버지 김상목(50·학사 86기) 씨와 할아버지 김진호(78·학사 37기) 씨가 모두 공군 학사장교 출신으로 김 소위에게 공군 장교 지원을 적극적으로 권유했다.||Lt. Kim’s grandfather and father influenced him in this decision. Lt. Kim’s father Mr. Kim Sang-mok (50 years old; 86th graduating class) and his grandfather Mr. Kim Jin-ho (78 years old; 37th graduating class) both went through the ROK Air Force Officer Candidate School, and both enthusiastically recommended that Lt. Kim volunteer for the programme himself.|
|김 소위는 “할아버지와 아버지에게 부끄럽지 않도록 자랑스러운 후배 공군 장교가 될 수 있도록 최선을 다하겠다”고 밝혔다.||Lt. Kim stated, “I’ll try my hardest not to disappoint my grandfather and father and to be a proud ROK Air Force officer”.|
Lt. Kim appears in this quarter’s Federal Register list.
Military service is quite a sensitive subject in South Korea. Young Korean American men who have moved to South Korea for reasons of career, love, or study and then decide to settle down in the country face a difficult choice: two years in the Republic of Korea Army — possibly enduring bullying from other soldiers the whole time for their foreignness — or a lifetime of useless IRS paperwork. If they’re not willing take up the first burden, they won’t be able to keep South Korean citizenship, and their acquaintances and co-workers may accuse them of being unmanly draft evaders. If they don’t take up the second burden, demagogues back home may accuse them of being despicable tax evaders.
In the 1990s, not many people would have chosen the South Korean passport over the U.S. one, besides public figures and their family members. When popular rapper Yoo Seungjun tried to wriggle his way out of conscription a decade ago by naturalising as a U.S. citizen, the resulting controversy — many times larger than what Eduardo Saverin or Denise Rich faced — ended his career and resulted in his being unable to return to the country for fear of being charged as a deserter.
|이지우 소위 역시 아버지가 학위 취득을 위해 미국 하와이에 체류 중일 때 태어난 이중 국적자였다.||Lt. Lee Jee-woo’s father was studying for his degree in Hawaii when he was born, so he had dual citizenship too.|
|모국인 대한민국에서 미래를 설계하고 싶다는 생각으로 연세대학교 국제학대학원에서 석사과정(외교ㆍ안보)을 시작하는 한편, 군 복무를 위해 공군 장교의 길을 선택했다.||He was thinking of his future plans in his mother country South Korea, and so started studying for a master’s degree in International Relations ([specialising in] diplomacy and security) at Yonsei University, and chose the path of becoming an Air Force officer to fulfill his military obligations.|
|이 소위는 “해외에서 배운 전문지식과 경험을 활용하여 공군과 국가에 보탬이 될 수 있도록 하겠다”고 말했다.||“I hope I’ll be able to use my the professional knowledge and experience I gained overseas to help the Air Force and the country”, said Lt. Lee.|
Lt. Lee also appears in this quarter’s Federal Register list.
In contrast to the idea that emigration leads to brain drain and permanent loss of resources to the country, from Lt. Lee’s story we can see how South Korea benefits from “brain circulation”: part of their diaspora has decided to come home, bringing valuable international experience with him. The U.S. in contrast is becoming increasingly hostile to the idea of brain circulation: unlike say Denmark it has no procedure for allowing ex-citizens to resume citizenship or even to get a work visa more easily, and legislators on both sides of the aisle see overseas citizens as nothing more than tax-evading freeloaders who are using American intellectual capital to help enemy countries.
|노우송 소위는 초등학교 졸업과 동시에 미국으로 유학을 가 시민권을 얻었는데, 한국인이 단 한명도 없는 지역에 거주하면서 ‘노우송’이라는 한글 이름만을 사용할 만큼 애국심이 투철했고, 대학졸업과 동시에 군 입대를 자원했다.||Lt. Noh Woo-song went to study abroad in the U.S. after finishing primary school, and went on to obtain U.S. citizenship. He lived in an area without any other Koreans, but in his pride for Korea continued to use only his Korean name “Noh Woo-Song”, and volunteered for the military after graduating from university.|
|노 소위는 “아들의 군복 입은 모습을 보는 것이 소원이라고 하시던 어머니께 자랑스러운 아들이 된 것 같아서 너무 행복하다”며 “다시 태어난다고 하더라도 대한민국 공군 장교의 길을 선택하겠다”고 말했다.||Lt. Noh stated, “I’ll be happy if I get my wish to see my mother filled with pride at how I look in uniform”, and that “If I had to do it all over again I’d still choose the path of becoming an Air Force officer”.|
Noh’s name has not yet appeared in the Federal Register.
The journalist who wrote this portrayal of uncomplicated patriotism reminds me of nothing so much as that NBC Nightly News host reflected in a slightly curious mirror. I highly doubt that these young men had such an easy time deciding whether or not to give up their U.S. citizenship and go into the military. It brings up issues of identity on which many people would rather not make such a definite and irrevocable decision. And of course, the nationalistic pride the journalist seeks to evoke in readers is rooted in the same part of human nature which leads legions of internet warriors to fill the comments sections of MSNBC articles with calls for Eduardo Saverin’s head.
The second article, from 2009, discusses twin brothers whose names also do not appear in the Federal Register.
|미국 시민권 포기한 쌍둥이 해군 하사||Twins who gave up U.S. citizenship become navy noncoms|
|중앙일보, 2009.09.11||JoongAng Ilbo, 11 September 2009|
|김진우·진호 형제 “직업군인의 길 걷겠다”||Brothers Kim Jin-woo, Kim Jin-ho “on their way to becoming career military men”|
|미국 시민권을 가진 일란성 쌍둥이 형제가 10일 대한민국 해군 동기생으로 임관했다. 주인공은 7월 20일 입대해 8주간의 훈련을 마치고 이날 진해 해군 교육사령부에서 해군 224기 부사관으로 임관한 김진우·진호(20) 형제다.||On 10 September, two identical twin brothers who held U.S. citizenship became Republic of Korea Navy petty officers at the same time. The two of them entered on 20 July, and after eight weeks of training at the Jinhae Naval Education and Command Centre, were appointed petty officers as part of the 224th class of non-commissioned officers. They are brothers Kim Jin-woo and Kim Jin-ho.|
|동기생 408명과 함께 하사 계급장을 단 이들 형제는 1989년 미국 오리건주에서 태어났다. 당시 아버지가 미국에서 사업을 하고 있었기 때문이다. 이들은 생후 10개월 만에 부모를 따라 귀국, 줄곧 국내에서 살아왔다.||The two brothers, who along with their 408 classmates hold the rank of petty officer first class, were born in 1989 in the U.S. state of Oregon. At the time, their father was doing business there. Only ten months after they were born, they followed their parents back home, and lived in South Korea.|
Unlike the three commissioned officers discussed in the previous article, who have deep roots in both South Korea and the U.S., these twin brothers are a more typical case of “accidental Americans” — they were born in the U.S. and so got its citizenship automatically, but they moved back to South Korea at a very young age and grew up there. This article is also more “down-to-earth” than the previous one, with fewer patriotic quotes, and more discussions of practical matters.
|이들은 미국 시민권을 가지고 있었기 때문에 군 복무를 면제받을 수도 있었다. 그러나 군입대를 위해 미국 시민권을 포기했다고 한다. 입대 전 강원대 시각멀티미디어디자인학과(진우)와 일본어학과(진호)에 각각 다녔다. 이들은 의무복무(3년) 뒤 장기복무를 선택해 직업군인의 길을 걸을 예정이다.||Because the two held U.S. citizenship, they could have been exempted from military service. However, in order to go into the military, they decided to give up their U.S. citizenship instead. Before their induction, both were studying at Kangwon University, Jin-woo in the Department of Visual Multimedia Design, and Jin-ho in the Department of Japanese Language. They chose to serve a longer term of three years of mandatory conscription as part of the path to becoming career military officers.|
|이들이 해군 부사관에 지원한 것은 이미 해군 장교로 복무중인 누나 김진희(해군 학사장교 102기, 1함대) 중위의 권유가 영향을 미쳤다고 한다. 강릉에서 자라 평소 바다와 해군에 대한 동경심도 있었다고 한다.||Their decision to become noncoms was due to the advice and influence of their elder sister who was already a commissioned naval officer, First Lieutenant Kim Jin-hee (102nd Naval Officer Candidate class, 1st Fleet). Growing up in Gangneung, they had a natural inclination towards the sea and the Navy.|
I’m going out on a limb here, but given that they grew up in Gangneung — a coastal city which is the capital of one of the poorer regions of South Korea — that their father was in the U.S. running a business rather than studying, and then rather suddenly moved back to Korea, and the fact that they’re noncoms, I don’t think the Kim brothers are from a wealthy background. U.S. Homelanders might think that these are the precise kind of “anchor babies” who would jump at the chance to come to America — but instead they gave up citizenship as part of their efforts to make a living for themselves in the country they call home.
|김진호 하사는 “흰색 제복에 매료돼 해군을 택한 누나로부터 해군에 입대하라는 권유를 많이 받았다”며 “누나와 함께 해양 수호에 매진하겠다”고 말했다.||Petty Officer Kim Jin-ho said, “From my elder sister, who chose to wear that beautiful white naval uniform, I got a lot of advice about joining the Navy” and “I will strive to defend the seas together with my sister”.|
|이들 외에도 이날 임관한 부사관 중에는 화제의 인물들이 꽤 있다. 역도 전국 춘계대회에서 2005년부터 3년 연속 우승한 이근혁(20) 하사와 2008년 부산 기능경기대회 금메달 수상자 김대철(20) 하사, 2005년 전국 격투기 대회 1위 박지수(22) 하사도 동기생이다.||Aside from them, among today’s group of non-commissioned officers you can find other well-known figures. They include Petty Officer Lee Geun-hyeok (20) who emerged as the champion for three years in a row beginning in 2005 at the National Spring Weightlifting Competition, Petty Officer Kim Dae-cheol (20) who won a gold medal at the 2008 Busan WorldSkills Competition, and Petty Officer Park Ji-su (22) who came in first place at the 2005 National Martial Arts Competition.|
|이들은 전투병과학교·기술행정학교·정보통신학교 등에서 전문교육을 받은 후 함정과 육상 각급 부대에 배치돼 근무한다.||Having received education in arms training, technical administration, information and communications, and other areas, the two will serve tours of duty both on land and at sea.|
One last technical point: I’m not too sure whether these are cases of relinquishments or renunciations. INA 349(a)(3)(B) provides that “entering, or serving in, the armed forces of a foreign state if … such persons serve as a commissioned or non-commissioned officer” is one type of “expatriating act”. However, some other countries’ laws require that officers renounce all other citizenships before they are formally commissioned. This is just like the naturalisation problem: in some countries you can relinquish U.S. citizenship after naturalising, while in others you have renounce after you get your final approval letter but before you’re actually formally naturalised.
Fascinating. Thank you for posting this, Eric. What a choice … the military or the IRS! And all they want to do is live in their home nation, surrounded by their family.
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