Recently I ran across a story from July 2012 about two Republic of Korea Army officer candidate school graduates who gave up U.S. green cards to receive their commissions; the hometown paper ran a brief human interest story about them, which I translated below. In contrast to the Homeland image of immigrants-turned-emigrants as either “ungrateful tax cheats” or “failures who self-deport”, they’re just ordinary young men who made their own choices about where they wanted to live as adults, choices which happened to differ from those of their parents.
Both men were in their mid-twenties and almost certainly qualified as “former long-term permanent residents” for U.S. emigration control purposes, but neither had their names published in the Federal Register as required by law. We’ve previously discussed several cases of South Koreans who gave up U.S. green cards to serve in the army, but this is the first case I’ve come across after the Federal Register list began claiming (in Q1 2012) that it includes green card holders.
Of course, we already know that nearly two thousand South Koreans gave up U.S. citizenship or green cards last year and that the vast majority did not appear in the Federal Register, but it’s good to have some concrete names to demonstrate this phenomenon. As far as I can tell, the problem may be that USCIS still doesn’t provide the IRS with enough information to distinguish “long-term former permanent residents” (nearly a decade-and-a-half after GAO first complained about the issue).
미국 영주권 포기 후 장교 임관 화제
Gave up U.S. permanent residence, commissioned as officers
|충남일보 윤재옥 기자, 2012-07-01||Chungnam Ilbo reporter Yoon Jae-ok, 1 July 2012|
|영주권을 포기하고 장교로 임관한 주인공이 있어 화제가 되고 있다. 화제의 주인공은 오승균 소위(26ㆍ학사)와 이희경 소위(25ㆍ학사).||Two men who gave up permanent residence and were commissioned as officers have become a hot topic of discussion. The heroes of the story are Second Lieutenants Oh Seung-kyun (26) and Lee Hui-kyung (25).|
|오승균 소위는 지난 해 미국에 있는 오클라호마 주립대를 졸업했다. 오 후보생이 지원하게 동기는 아버지의 권유가 컸다. 오 후보생의 아버지는 장교로 복무하고 싶었지만 당시 허리디스크가 심해 군 면제를 받았는데, 아버지는 하나밖에 없는 아들이 대한민국 장교가 되기를 진심으로 바랬고, 이에 망설임 없이 지원했다.||Lt. Oh graduated from the U.S.’ Oklahoma State University last year. Oh’s biggest motivation for volunteering was the advice of his father. His father had also wanted to serve as an officer, but back then he had a severely herniated disk in his back and so was exempted from military service. He’s very proud that his only son chose to become an officer of the Republic of Korea Army and showed no hesitation in volunteering.|
|이희경 소위는 지난해 미국에 있는 조지아 대학을 졸업했고, 이 후보생의 지원 동기는 자신이 앞으로 대한민국에서 살아가는데 군 복무는 꼭 해야한다는 생각과 이왕 군 생활을 하려면 장교로 임관을 하라는 형의 조언으로 학사장교를 지원하게 됐다.||Lt. Lee graduated from the U.S.’ University of Georgia, and his motivation for volunteering was that he planned to live in the Republic of Korea in the future and knew that he would have to do military service anyway, and so on the advice of his older brother, who had previously experienced army life and served as an officer, he volunteered for the university graduate officer program.|
|한편 오승균 소위는 임관식에서 “아버지는 늘 대한민국을 자랑스러워 하셨고, 그런 아버님을 보면서 자연스럽게 조국을 사랑하게 됐다.”면서 “지금까지 배운 지식과 경험을 바탕으로 야전의 요구에 부응하는 장교, 육군에 필요한 인재가 되도록 노력하겠다.”고 각오를 밝혔다. 또한 이희경 소위는 “앞으로 소대장으로서 역할을 위해 최선을 다할 것이며, 군 생활을 하는 동안 리더십을 배우고 인연을 넓혀 나가는 소중한 계기로 삼을 것”이라고 임관 소감을 밝혔다.||At the commissioning ceremony, Lt. Oh expressed his determination, stating that “My father always felt pride in the Republic of Korea, and looking at him I naturally came to love my ancestral country” and that “All the knowledge & experience I’ve gained up until now will be the foundation for me to meet the requirements of being an officer, and I’ll work hard to become the kind of outstanding person that the army needs.” Lt. Lee also revealed his emotions about becoming an officer, stating that “I’ll give it my all so that I can live up to my role in the future as a platoon leader, and while I’m living life in the army I’ll learn leadership skills and take the opportunity to broaden my network.”|
It’s rather difficult for a Korean man who hasn’t yet completed his military service to be granted exit permission for emigration at age 17 or older. So Oh and Lee almost certainly were not the primary applicants for green cards (for example, as siblings of U.S. citizens). Rather, it’s likely that a parent was the primary green card applicant, and that Oh and Lee were granted their green cards as dependents — definitely when they were under 21 (due to the requirements of U.S. immigration law), and likely when they were under sixteen. So both of them should have held those green cards for at least eight out of the last fifteen years, the standard for them to be subject to U.S. exit tax filing under 26 USC § 877(e)(2).
Officer candidates in the South Korean army are only required to give up their foreign citizenship or permanent residence before being commissioned; coincidentally, two ex-U.S. citizens who were commissioned at the same time as Oh and Lee did appear in the Federal Register in the Q2 2012 list. I’m not sure of the exact English spelling of Lee & Oh’s names; the surname I transliterated here as “Lee” might also be spelled “Yi” or “Rhee”, but “Oh” is pretty much always spelled “Oh”. (A few poor folks insist on spelling it “correctly” with the single letter “O”, but most of them give up due to all the trouble it causes them.) Regardless, no one in the list by any of those surnames had a given name close to either Oh’s or Lee’s.
The Federal Register list began claiming last year 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.” The IRS has all along interpreted the law to require publication of the names of green card holders, but it seems they had trouble getting accurate information about them. We know that in 2000, the Government Accountability Office complained that:
INS provides annually to IRS a computer disc identifying individuals who gave up their residency permits (green cards). However, IRS does not use the data to track expatriates because the data do not distinguish former long-term residents from other former green card holders and generally do not include tax identification numbers.
Yet the most recent version of I-407 that I can find online, from March 2006, still did not ask people abandoning their green cards for any information that would be useful to the IRS, such as a Social Security Number or the date of issue of the original immigrant visa.
We know that U.S. citizens sometimes appear in the Federal Register list without having filed Form 8854, but perhaps green card holders only appear if they do file Form 8854; apparently, thirteen years later, the information that USCIS provides to the IRS is still useless, and besides Form 8854 there’s still no other way by which ex-green card holders can become persons “with respect to whom the Secretary receives information under the preceding sentence” and whose names are thus required to be published under 26 USC § 6039G(d). Of course, given that the IRS seems to think that half of the nearly twenty thousand annual green card abandoners meet the “long term criteria”, their Form 8854 filing rate must be rather low, otherwise the last Federal Register list would have had far more than 1,130 names in it.
If Lee & Oh even filed Form 8854, it was a waste of time both for them and for the IRS, like it was for perhaps ten thousand other long-term green card holders who give up their U.S. immigration status every year. Their parents contributed to the US economy and paid taxes there, and in return their kids learned English and got a university education: the same deal on offer in any number of Anglophone countries. So it’s quite interesting that the imposition of exit tax paperwork on green card holders passed almost entirely unnoticed in the two-minute hate against ex-U.S. citizens like Kenneth Dart & Myron Wentz which gave us Form 8854 in the first place.
And finally, it’s interesting to note the level of coverage. A decade ago, news about South Koreans giving up green cards to serve in the army provoked long articles in national newspapers; these days, even regional dailies can barely be bothered to devote a few paragraphs to such a routine occurrence, unless the people in question are celebrities.