SEOUL — A new Army Audit Agency report says officers responsible for deciding whether civilian contractors qualified for status of forces agreement visas in South Korea were sometimes not properly trained to make those decisions.
Many contractors who thought they were working in the country legally have lost their jobs in recent months when officials began looking into SOFA discrepancies.
The report also said that decision-makers wrongly assumed that contractors qualified for SOFA status if they were U.S. citizens.
"USFK (U.S. Forces Korea) didn’t meet its SOFA-defined responsibility to prevent abuse of privileges the agreement granted to USFK and its personnel," said the report, released in June.
As of Friday, 86 contractors have been denied renewal of their SOFA visas as part of an ongoing review of all contractors who work for USFK, officials said.
Contractors are supposed to be "ordinarily resident," or living in the U.S. when they are hired to work for USFK, and move to South Korea solely for their job.
Most of those contractors have lost their jobs after losing their SOFA status, which allows them to work without paying South Korean taxes and to have access to base facilities.
The AAA audited the Korea Battle Simulation Center at the request of USFK and its Acquisition Management branch over concerns about the type and administration of the center’s contract.
During the audit, AAA found that at least 36 contractors who worked at the center, which runs about 26 training exercises a year, had wrongly been granted SOFA status.
Of those, two employees were "ordinarily resident" in South Korea when they were hired, making them ineligible for a SOFA visa. Thirty-four had not provided documents proving they lived in the U.S. when they were hired.
USFK did not respond by deadline to questions about the audit.
The audit recommended that the acquisition branch provide more training about residence issues for contractors and that it draft an update to the USFK regulation that outlines who is eligible for SOFA status.
The current branch staff studied SOFA regulations for two months before they began their summer review, and is doing quarterly training with military organizations on SOFA issues, according to USFK.
The branch expects to send an updated regulation to USFK for approval by the end of September, the report said. That update would require officers to complete training on SOFA issues before their appointment.