U.S. Expats Can’t Renounce Their Citizenship Fast Enough

Bloomberg
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Better than renouncing. Photographer: Sean Gallup/Getty Images Europe

It’s hard being an American stateside right now. It’s hard in a different way being an American abroad.

The swearing in of new citizens often makes news in the U.S., especially if it happens in unusual circumstances such as one party’s national convention. Much less reported are the many citizenship renunciations by Americans, and the travails leading up to these life decisions. Almost all those giving up their U.S. nationality are expats. And for each renouncer going through the ordeal, there are countless others thinking about it. Why?

One recent press release in particular has caused quite a stir. It suggested that, after “a steep decline” in recent years, renunciations in the first half of this year soared to 5,816, more than twice as many as gave up their passport in all of 2019. The implication, as reported breathlessly in the American media, was that expats, already fed up with President Donald Trump, finally despaired over his mishandling of Covid-19 and quit. Other factors were cited as merely secondary.

But these renunciation numbers are notoriously flawed. They’re based on a list of names of renouncers published every quarter by the Internal Revenue Service — experts call this a form of “doxxing.” That list lags in time and jumbles data. In reality, most embassies and consulates stopped making renunciation appointments this spring, owing to the pandemic. And the dip in prior years, according to experts, was due to backlogs and underreporting.

By the best estimates (see chart), renunciations have been rising since 2010, when the Obama administration passed the notorious Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), inflicting misery on U.S. expats everywhere. In 2014, the government raised the renunciation fee from $450 to $2,350. Undeterred, expats kept at it. The American bureaucracy then indirectly slowed the pace with red tape in the first three Trump years. But we’re back on trend in 2020.

Now, it may be true that most expats aren’t crazy about Trump. Americans abroad tend to be cosmopolitan professionals, often married to foreigners or following international career paths. Watching their home country in their host nation’s news, or talking about it at local dinner parties, has stopped being fun. The images occasionally evoke a banana republic succumbing to pestilence while arming for civil war.

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Source: Andreas Kluth | Bloomberg

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