Nationality Is No Barrier for Talented People

  • By Chosun Ilbo columnist Bang Hyeon-cheol

    February 19, 2014 12:56

    Stanley Fischer, the nominee for vice chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve and former governor of the Bank of Israel, was born in the British colony of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, in 1943. He moved to the U.S. when he was 17 and gained American citizenship when he was 30 and already a professor at MIT. He went on to become vice chairman of Citibank and governor of the Bank of Israel. Fischer gained Israeli citizenship under a program called Aliyah or the immigration of diaspora Jews to Israel.

    Professional skills often open doors to foreign citizenship. Fischer returned to the U.S. and has now been chosen as the second most powerful figure in the Fed, with tremendous influence over the global economy. Microsoft recently appointed Satya Nadella as its new CEO. Born in India, he studied for a master's degree in computer science in the U.S. and worked for Microsoft for 22 years. The first step in achieving his American dream was to obtain a special U.S. visa for professionals in certain fields. Each year, around 135,000 people obtain this visa and find work in the U.S., which eventually leads to a green card or residency permit.

    Many pregnant Korean women go to the trouble of traveling to the U.S. to give birth there in order to obtain prized American citizenship for the child. But a growing number of Americans are opting to relinquish their U.S. passports. Last year, 2,999 Americans gave their U.S. citizenship, more than triple the number in 2012. The main reason behind the surge was a decision by the U.S. government to tax income earned overseas, and many wealthy Americans are choosing to switch nationalities to countries that charge lower taxes. Pop star Tina Turner has Swiss citizenship, while Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin became a Singapore national. Citizenship is no longer fate but choice.

    This trend is clearly evident in sports. Athletes search for countries that can offer them the environment and support to perform at their best. Short track skating gold medalist Viktor Ahn, born Ahn Hyun-soo in Korea, apparently considered U.S. citizenship before choosing Russia. And Choi Min-kyung, who won the gold medal in short track skating at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, switched to French citizenship to compete in the 2006 Winter Games in Turin. Olympic archers Kim Ha-neul and Um Hye-ryun gained Australian and Japanese citizenship respectively to compete in the 2012 Olympics in London.

    There is a lot of talk these days about what drove Ahn to seek Russian citizenship, and the Korea Skating Union has been bombarded with criticism for losing such an asset. But fans here seem to have nothing but praise for Ahn, and nobody seems to begrudge his defection. For talented individuals, nationality is no longer a limit. In business, the search for better conditions is called voting with your feet. Nobody can stop that. Ahn has left Korea with the task of creating a fair environment that enables people to compete and do their best without restraints.

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