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CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — Some long-serving South Korean employees who fear they may lose their jobs on U.S. military bases here are planning to move to the U.S. under a program that grants green cards to foreigners with 15 years of U.S. government service.

Thousands of South Korean workers are warily watching the consolidation of U.S. facilities and the phased reduction of 12,500 U.S. forces from the peninsula by 2008.

Earlier this year, during a protest by South Koreans who work on the U.S. bases, one protester said he had heard many of his peers were applying to go to the United States.

Yu Byung-wun, a 45-year-old sales clerk from Camp Casey, has worked on the base for nearly 20 years.

“I am seriously thinking about immigrating to America,” he said. “… My wife and I have talked about the possibility of living in the United States, though we haven’t discussed yet what we [will do] there.”

Michael D. Kirby, the U.S. Consul General in Seoul, said this month that some workers are eligible for a special immigrant visa category for U.S. government employees.

In the past two years 96 people obtained green cards under the program. Since October 2004, another 96 people living in Seoul were granted visas, Kirby said via e-mail.

South Korean USFK employees were reluctant to talk on the record about what they might do if they lost their jobs in the base realignment. However, several said they planned to take advantage of the green card program to move to the United States.

One South Korean employee in Area I, who asked not to be named, said he planned to move to the United States and start a small shop. Pay and conditions with South Korean companies are not as good as those on U.S. bases, the man said.

“There are not many jobs available for people like us in South Korea. Young South Koreans do not support the U.S. presence here and they do not want to give us (former U.S. base workers) jobs,” he said.

The special immigrant visa category recognizes the service of non-U.S. citizen employees by providing them with an opportunity to become legal and permanent U.S. residents, Kirby said.

“We found that many overseas employees of the U.S. government had great affection for and attachment to the U.S. and it was decided to recognize these bonds by making it possible for some of our most dedicated employees to move to the U.S.,” Kirby said.

A green card can be issued to employees or former U.S. government employees abroad who have performed faithful service for a minimum of 15 years, and whose principal officer — in South Korea, the U.S. Ambassador — recommends and obtains approval. The employee’s spouse and minor children can immigrate with the employee, Kirby said.

U.S. government employees must resign or retire before a green card can be issued. Their application must include official records recording their length of service, evidence of exceptional service and an overall picture of their job performance illustrated by such things as evaluation reports and awards, he said.

Hwang Hae-rym contributed to this report.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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