Integrity Legal

17th August 2010

United States Citizenship is the highest lawful status that one can reach in the USA, from an Immigration perspective. Many people from around the world seek visas, travel documents, and permanent residence in the United States. Of the relative few who obtain lawful status in the United States, even fewer ultimately naturalize to US Citizenship. American Citizenship accords the Citizen with voting rights, work authorization, and virtually unfettered travel rights within the United States of America. That said, there are some situations where an American Citizen seeks to renounce their United States Citizenship. In a recent article from the New York Times it was noted that citizenship renunciation seems to be on the rise. To quote the article directly:

Amid mounting frustration over taxation and banking problems, small but growing numbers of overseas Americans are taking the weighty step of renouncing their citizenship.

“What we have seen is a substantial change in mentality among the overseas community in the past two years,” said Jackie Bugnion, director of American Citizens Abroad, an advocacy group based in Geneva. “Before, no one would dare mention to other Americans that they were even thinking of renouncing their U.S. nationality. Now, it is an openly discussed issue.”

The Federal Register, the government publication that records such decisions, shows that 502 expatriates gave up their U.S. citizenship or permanent residency status in the last quarter of 2009. That is a tiny portion of the 5.2 million Americans estimated by the State Department to be living abroad.

There are a significant number of American expatriates living throughout the world and it should be noted that not all of these individuals wish to renounce their US Citizenship. However the New York Times went on to point out:

Still, 502 was the largest quarterly figure in years, more than twice the total for all of 2008, and it looms larger, given how agonizing the decision can be. There were 235 renunciations in 2008 and 743 last year. Waiting periods to meet with consular officers to formalize renunciations have grown.

Anecdotally, frustrations over tax and banking questions, not political considerations, appear to be the main drivers of the surge. Expat advocates say that as it becomes more difficult for Americans to live and work abroad, it will become harder for American companies to compete.

Increasingly, international banks and financial institutions are finding it difficult to deal with some American financial regulations. That said, most American expatriates (or expats) seem to be more frustrated by American tax policy rather than American financial restrictions. The New York Times went on to note:

American expats have long complained that the United States is the only industrialized country to tax citizens on income earned abroad, even when they are taxed in their country of residence, though they are allowed to exclude their first $91,400 in foreign-earned income.

One Swiss-based business executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of sensitive family issues, said she weighed the decision for 10 years. She had lived abroad for years but had pleasant memories of service in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Yet the notion of double taxation — and of future tax obligations for her children, who will receive few U.S. services — finally pushed her to renounce, she said.

“I loved my time in the Marines, and the U.S. is still a great country,” she said. “But having lived here 20 years and having to pay and file while seeing other countries’ nationals not having to do that, I just think it’s grossly unfair.”

“It’s taxation without representation,” she added.

Stringent new banking regulations — aimed both at curbing tax evasion and, under the Patriot Act, preventing money from flowing to terrorist groups — have inadvertently made it harder for some expats to keep bank accounts in the United States and in some cases abroad.

Some U.S.-based banks have closed expats’ accounts because of difficulty in certifying that the holders still maintain U.S. addresses, as required by a Patriot Act provision.

Even though tax considerations, for both individuals in the present and for those in the future, may be enough for some to renounce their United States Citizenship it would seem that many Americans feel as if renunciation of United States Citizenship is a very drastic measure that should not be taken lightly. Those thinking about giving up their US Citizenship are well advised to seek competent counsel from a US Immigration attorney in order to ascertain all of the relevant ramifications of such a significant decision. Those thinking of renouncing their United States Lawful Permanent Residence (LPR) might also find it useful to seek the advice of a competent attorney who can explain the legal issues that arise as a result of giving up American LPR status.

For related information please see: I-407 or naturalization.


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