16% of overseas adoptees lack citizenship

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16% of overseas adoptees lack citizenship

Of the more than 160,000 Korean adoptees abroad, 25,996, or nearly 16 percent, were unable as of August to obtain citizenship of the country they reside in, according to a report by the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

Nearly 72 percent, or 18,603, resided in the United States, making up nearly 17 percent of the 111,148 Korean adoptees there, according to the ministry report submitted on Tuesday to Rep. Ki Dong-min, a lawmaker of the ruling Democratic Party and member of the National Assembly’s Health and Welfare Committee.

There were 165,305 Korean adoptees recorded as of August 2012, before the Act on Special Cases Concerning Adoption was revised to stipulate that a child must be registered before it is put up for adoption.

Those who are unable to obtain citizenship of their adoptive country are undocumented immigrants and subsequently face constant fear of deportation, as they may not speak Korean and may have difficultly assimilating here.

Phillip Clay, who was adopted at 8 into an American family in Philadelphia in 1983, was deported to Korea in 2012 since he never acquired U.S. citizenship. Last May, Clay took his own life by jumping from an apartment building in Seoul. His cremated remains were returned to the United States in July.

Korean children who are adopted to the United States are eligible for IR-3 or IR-4 adoption visas. The difference between the two visas is procedural.

If the adoptive parents meet the child in person and complete the adoption procedure, an IR-3 visa is issued. The child then automatically receives citizenship upon entering the United States if under the age of 18. Most international adoptions to the United States follow this process.

Since the revision of the adoption law in 2013, all Korean children adopted to the United States have been issued IR-3s.

But before the revision of Korea’s Act on Special Cases Concerning Adoption, children adopted to the United States were issued IR-4 visas, whereby adoption agencies completed the registration, after which the child’s adoptive parents went through a court process in the United States.

Unless the adoptive parents took those steps, the adoption process would be incomplete and the child would not receive U.S. citizenship.

“For the past three, four years, we have become aware of the deportation of adoptees and are working on a policy for this,” said Kim Seung-il, head of a task force on adoption policy at the Welfare Ministry. “But this would require U.S. law to change, so there is a limit to what Korea can do to resolve this issue. We will continue to request the enactment of the Adoptee Citizenship Act.”

The U.S. bill, introduced in 2015, would close past loopholes and give automatic U.S. citizenship to international adoptees. But it was not passed by the former U.S. Congress and supporters are hoping to reintroduce it.

The Child Citizen Act, which took effect in 2001, grants U.S. citizenship automatically to foreign-born children under age 18, including those adopted by Americans. But it was not retroactively applied to adoptees who had already become legal adults.

“In the past,” Rep. Ki said, “we were focused only on stripping away Korean citizenship and did not pay attention to the issue of acquiring that country’s citizenship.”

Ki added, “Our government is not taking active measures to Korean adoptees who are becoming lost children that face deportation. The Health and Welfare, Foreign Affairs and Justice ministries, and other government agencies, have to adopt a speedy and effective measure on this.”

BY PECK SOO-JIN, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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