A recent article in a Korean American newspaper, referring to newly-published statistics from South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, has revealed that the number of Koreans cutting off their ties with the U.S. reached an 11-year high last year: 2,158 Koreans gave up U.S. green cards or citizenship in 2011. Very clearly, this is larger than the Federal Register number for the same year — and of course, the Federal Register includes people of all nationalities, not just Koreans.
Keep in mind that the Federal Register is only supposed to cover citizens and “long term residents”, those who have had their green cards for more than eight out of the past fifteen years, so some of those 2,158 were not supposed to show up in the “name-and-shame list” anyway. That said, this article is another piece of evidence to add to the ones we already have that the Federal Register grossly understates the number of people ceasing to be U.S. Persons. I’ve translated the article and various background materials below.
|한국 역이민 행렬 가속화||South Korea’s reverse migration trend picks up speed|
|한국일보, 2012-07-26||The Korea Times, 26 July 2012|
|김노열 기자||By Kim No-yeol|
|작년 역이민 총 2,158명…11년 만에 최고치; 2011 외교백서, 고령·취업·이민 부적응 등 이유||Total of 2,158 reverse migrants last year … highest in 11 years; 2011 Diplomacy Whitebook gives reasons like old age, career, inability to adjust, etc.|
|미국에 이민 왔다가 한국으로 되돌아간 역이민자수가 11년 만에 최고치를 기록한 것으로 나타났다. 한국 외교통상부가 25일 공개한 ‘2012 외교백서’에 따르면 2011년 한 해 동안 미국 시민권이나 영주권을 포기하고 한국으로 영구 귀국한 역이민자는 총 2,128명으로 전년 대비 7.6% 늘었다.||The number of reverse migrants who emigrated to America but then returned to Korea has set an 11-year record high, it has been revealed. According to the 2012 Diplomacy Whitebook published on 25 July by South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in the one-year period of 2011, the number of reverse migrants who gave up U.S. citizenship or green cards and permanently returned to South Korea was 2,158, up by 7.6% from the previous year.|
As we all know, journalists everywhere are prone to misinterpretations of government reports, so I did some due diligence on these numbers — and found out, to my surprise, that the reporter’s description is accurate. The first relevant source is the Diplomacy Whitebook‘s appendix, at page 301. The 2,158 figure for “reverse migrants” comes from Table 3, which lists “people declaring permanent return” (영주귀국 신고자); it also lists “people giving up on moving overseas” (해외이주 포기자), which is not included in that 2,158 and isn’t relevant for our purposes. The columns are: Year, U.S., Canada, Central/South America, Australia, New Zealand, Other, and Total. You can see that out of all emigrants declaring their return to South Korea that year, those from the U.S. made up a bit more than half of the total of 4,164 reverse migrants who officially reported their return to the South Korean government.
South Korea’s actual Overseas Migration Act, which governs the procedure for declaring permanent return, states:
|제12조(영주귀국의 신고)||Section 12 (Declaration of permanent return)|
|해외에 이주하여 영주권 또는 이에 준하는 장기체류 자격을 취득한 사람이 국내에서 생업에 종사할 목적 등으로 영주귀국(永住歸國)하려면 외교통상부령으로 정하는 영주귀국을 증명할 수 있는 서류를 갖추어 외교통상부장관에게 신고하여야 한다.||Persons who moved overseas and obtained permanent residency or qualification of long-term stay which is equivalent to it and who then return permanently to engage in any profession or for other reasons shall make a declaration to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, providing documents proving permanent return as defined in an order by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.|
So what exactly are those “documents proving permanent return”? The answer is found in the Overseas Migration Act Implementation Regulations, which explain (emphasis mine):
|제13조(영주귀국)||Section 13 (Permanent return)|
|① 법 제12조에서 “외교통상부령으로 정하는 영주귀국을 증명할 수 있는 서류”란 영주권 또는 영주권에 준하는 장기체류 자격의 취소를 확인할 수 있는 서류와 거주여권을 말한다.||(1) In Section 12 of the Act, “documents proving permanent return as defined in an order by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade” means documents which can confirm the cancellation of permanent residency or of long-term stay equivalent to permanent residency, along with a passport.|
|② 외교통상부장관은 영주귀국 신고를 받았을 때에는 영주귀국 확인서를 발급하여야 한다.||(2) When the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade receives a declaration of permanent return, he shall issue a Certificate of Confirmation of Permanent Return.|
So that confirms it: each of those 2,158 provided proof to the South Korean government of the cancellation of their right to stay in the United States. Also note that the regulations don’t specify anything ridiculous like a fine of 300% of your assets for failing to file this paperwork. So this number of self-reports is highly likely to be an underestimate of the actual number of Koreans who gave up U.S. green cards — kind of like how early FBAR figures are far smaller than the actual size of the U.S. population abroad.
The Regulations quoted above do not yet seem to have been amended to take into account South Korea’s recent moves to permit dual citizenship, so it’s not clear whether that 2,158 includes former citizens, or just former green card holders. People restoring South Korean citizenship would show up in nationality statistics as well, however. According to those figures, 3,740 Koreans had their nationality restored in 2008. This was back when regaining South Korean nationality meant giving up any other citizenship you had obtained. If that number is divided up anything like the “permanent return” figures, probably about half of those 3,740 are former Americans — utterly dwarfing the Federal Register statistic of 235 people losing citizenship that year.
Keep in mind that the U.S. has more than 35 million foreign-born residents. People born in South Korea barely form 3% of that total. Even if people of some other nationalities have only one-tenth the reverse migration rate of Koreans, you can do the math yourself and compare that to the U.S. government’s published numbers. Again, at this point we may still have some lively discussion about who exactly doesn’t get included in the Federal Register, but it gets harder and harder to claim with a straight face that it includes everyone losing U.S. citizenship or long-term green cards.
|특히 이 같은 수치는 지난 2000년 모두 2,612명을 기록한 이후 가장 많은 것이며 2000년대 최저치를 기록한 2005년과 비교해서는 무려 61% 증가한 것이다. 한인들의 역이민 행렬은 1997년 IMF 외환위기 후 2000년 정점을 찍은 뒤 감소세를 보이다가 ▶2006년 1,403명 ▶2007년 1,576명 ▶2008년 1,654명 ▶2009년 2,058명 등 갈수록 큰 폭의 증가세를 보이고 있다.||It’s the largest number since 2000 when the record of 2,612 was set, and when compared with 2005 — the lowest point in the past decade — the number has increased by 61%. Reverse migration of South Koreans after the 1997 IMF currency crisis reached its peak in 2000, but declined after that. However, with 1,403 in 2006, 1,576 in 2007, 1,654 in 2008, and 2,058 in 2009, it appears to be a rising trend again.|
|무엇보다 2008년에는 역이민자수가 한국에서 이민수속을 밟아 미국으로 떠나온 한인 이민자수(1,034명)를 1962년 해외이주법 제정 이후 46년만에 처음 역전하기도 했다. 이는 2011년에도 이어져 한국에서 이민수속을 밟고 이민 온 한인이 618명에 그치면서 역이민자에 비해 1,510명이나 적었다.||More than that, for the first time in the 46 years since the passage of the 1962 Overseas Migration Act, in 2008 the number of reverse migrants exceeded the number of Koreans who went through procedures in South Korea to emigrate to the U.S. (1,034 persons). The number of Koreans who came as immigrants [to the US] was only 618, or 1,510 fewer than the number of reverse migrants.|
Here, unlike above, the journalist has made an obvious error. Again, you can refer to the whitebook’s appendix at page 301. Table 1 lists the number of “people making declarations of moving overseas” (해외이주 신고자), whence the 618 mentioned above. Table 2 lists “local move” (현지이주), whatever that means; the figure for U.S. given there is 13,386, which sounds like roughly the right magnitude for the number of people who moved out of South Korea without telling the South Korean government. In otherwords, the 618 is based on the number of self-reports of migration.
Since the South Korean government does not appear to be threatening to steal 300% of anyone’s assets for failing to fill out this not-very-useful self report, apparently no one bothers with it. (In the free world, this is the proper attitude towards paperwork for a country in which you no longer live). For comparison, the Department of Homeland Security reported that 22,824 South Koreans were granted green cards in 2011, and that 12,664 naturalised as U.S. citizens. The problem seems to be that the reporter misinterpreted the table.
|역이민 사유를 보면 고령이 21%로 가장 많고, 한국내 취업 19%, 이민생활 부적응 10%, 신병치료 7%, 한국내 취학 3% 등이 뒤를 이었다. 전문가들은 이민 1세대들이 노후를 고국에서 보내기 위해 ‘유턴’하는 경우가 많아진데다 미 경기침체의 장기화와 맞물려 한국에서 살아가려는 한인들이 점차 늘고 있는 것으로 분석하고 있다.||Looking at the reasons for reverse migration, “old age” was the most common at 21%, “employment in South Korea” at 19%, “inability to adapt to immigrant life” at 10%, “treatment for a new illness” at 7%, and “studying in South Korea” at 3%. According to analysis by experts, there are many cases of first-generation migrants who make a “u-turn” in order to spend their old age in their home country, and furthermore the gradual growth in the number of Korean-Americans going to live in Korea may be linked to the U.S.’ protracted economic recession.|
As mentioned above, many former green card holders do not show up in the Federal Register either. Those who were in the U.S. for fewer than eight of the last fifteen years aren’t considered “long term residents” under 877(a) or 877A and so don’t even have to file Form 8854. The Federal Register list only began including the note that “[f]or purposes of this listing, long-term residents, as defined in section 877(e)(2), are treated as if they were citizens of the United States who lost citizenship” in the Q1 2012 list. However it seems reasonable to guess that the list has included long-term residents with green cards all along, since the wording of the actual law authorising the list has not changed, and of course the IRS would never make major changes without Congress explicitly amending a tax law first, right?
So how many of these 2,158 were “long-term residents”? The reason of “inability to adapt to immigrant life” only accounted for about two hundred of the cases of return; it’s probably safe to bet that most of them didn’t stay in the U.S. for eight years. People responding with the most common reason, “old age”, appear to comprise senior citizens who spent long years raising their children in the U.S., but hope to go back to their hometowns in South Korea for retirement, so they’re all likely to fall into the “long-term resident” category. With the other reasons, it’s hard to say how many of them are long-term vs. short-term green card holders, let alone citizens.
For those of you who are interested in reading more about the phenomenon of reverse migration among Koreans in the U.S., New American Media has an English-language report on this phenomenon focused specifically on the elderly. As the report points out, there’s no pressure from the South Korean side for reverse migrants to give up U.S. citizenship and restore the South Korean one, as they can easily qualify for an ex-citizen’s F4 visa. It’s only the U.S. which will make their lives difficult if they exercise their human right to settle down outside of their passport-issuing country.