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AMERICANS IN EUROPE

How Americans in Europe are struggling to renounce US citizenship

Americans living in Europe have their reasons for wanting to give up US citizenship but due to the pandemic many are effectively blocked from doing so and it's impacting their lives, writes Elizabeth Anne Brown.

How Americans in Europe are struggling to renounce US citizenship
Photo by Annika Gordon on Unsplash

In March 2020, the US State Department ordered embassies across the world to limit the services they offer to citizens abroad.

Embassies have gradually reopened in step with their host countries, but one service remains off the menu at the major embassies in Europe — the process of renouncing American citizenship. 

For nearly two years, Americans have been unable to begin the process of renouncing their US citizenship. But why, when the US allows dual citizenship with many countries, would anyone want to hand in their passport in the first place? 

Reasons for renouncing 

Some, like Joshua Grant, are disenchanted with American politics and want the right to participate in the political process of their new home country. Originally from Selma, Alabama, Grant has lived in Germany for over a decade and has been attempting to renounce his citizenship since he and his partner married in 2020. (While the US allows dual citizenship with Germany, Germany generally requires naturalized non-EU citizens to cut ties with their country of origin. Although the laws are set to change.) 

Others — like United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson  are so-called “accidental Americans”, US citizens who have spent little to no time in the United States and only got their American passport through an accident of birth. (Johnson was born in New York while his father was studying at Columbia University). 

The reason Johnson eventually renounced his citizenship, and far and away the most common reason for it is tax-related, since all US citizens – even if they have never earned money in the US and have barely spent any time there – are expected to file an annual tax declaration with the IRS.  

And recent legislation has made things even more complicated for US citizens abroad. The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) of 2010 has made it mandatory for foreign banks to report accounts held by US citizens to the IRS – or face penalties themselves. 

Are you an American living in Europe trying to renounce your US citizenship? We’d like to hear from you and to hear how it’s affected your life. Please email us at [email protected]

European banks were expected to comply with FATCA by 2020. As financial institutions have become stricter about reporting accounts to the IRS in the leadup to the 2020 deadline, some American citizens abroad have faced a higher tax burden.

Other US citizens have found European banks reluctant to allow US citizens to open accounts, or even bar them altogether. Coupled with new taxes introduced under ex President Donald Trump and his successor Joe Biden, it’s made the prospect of returning their US passport attractive to many. 

How many Americans renounce citizenship yearly? 

The pent-up demand for appointments to renounce citizenship is difficult to calculate, experts say, considering we don’t even have firm numbers on how many Americans undertake the process each year. 

The IRS publishes a quarterly list of names of people who have successfully expatriated, but they’ve acknowledged the list is problematic – it often includes people who returned their green cards rather than renounced citizenship, and some names aren’t published until months or years after the event. Some lawyers interpret the statue to mean only expats over a certain income threshold need to be included in the list, while others argue it should include every case. The IRS hasn’t made clear what criteria they consider for inclusion. 

The FBI also tracks expatriations in the National Instant Criminal Background Check Index, and the FBI and IRS’s tallies vary wildly. For example, in 2020, the IRS reported 6,705 expatriations while the FBI only added 3,764 names to their list. 

Several outlets—including the Guardian and Axios—have cited an estimate by a in international tax lawyer based in Poland that as many as 30,000 expatriation applications would have been filed since March 2020 if embassies had been open for business as usual. Given that successful expatriations have ranged between 1,000 and 6,000 a year since the early 2000s, this would represent an unprecedented increase. 

District Court lawsuit 

Joshua Grant says that his delayed expatriation has been more a frustration than a practical issue — he’s lived in Germany for more than a decade and has already established permanent residency.

“It’s not so much that I’m impaired, it’s more psychological,” Grant says. “I just want to move on with my life”

“More than a year into this process, I really thought I was going to be able to vote in the last German election.” 

But for some, the shutdown of applications has had serious financial consequences. 

Some “accidental” US citizens living in Europe have had bank accounts closed and mortgages denied as banks come into compliance with FATCA, the Washington Post reported in mid-2020. If they could only renounce their unwanted US citizenship, they say, things could return to normal. 

In late 2020, group called the Association of Accidental Americans filed a lawsuit against the State Department in a US District Court in Washington, DC, alleging mishandling of the expatriation process. According to leader Fabien Lehagre, the suspension of services for renouncing citizenship even as embassies resume non-immigrant visa services to foreign nationals is unconstitutional. 

“Giving up nationality, or voluntary expatriation, is a natural right which all men have,” Lehagre writes on the AAA website. “The US administration is not above the laws and Constitution of the United States. It cannot deprive us of the fundamental right of renunciation.” 

Lawyer for the AAA Marc Zell told The Local: “The lawsuit has made an impact.

“This comports with information we have received from other sources. We are open to resolving this dispute consensually.  What is important is that US citizens, accidental Americans and others, are able to exercise their fundamental right to expatriate as soon as possible. Our lawsuit is one way to make this happen.”

When will renunciation appointments be available? 

A spokesperson for the State Department didn’t directly respond to questions from The Local as to why appointments to renounce citizenship remain off-menu when other services that require in person appointments have been reintroduced.

“The health and safety of both our workforce and customers remains paramount,” the spokesperson said. “US embassies and consulates are working to resume routine services on a location-by-location basis depending on a wide variety of factors, including public health data, host country and local mandates, and local conditions.”

Asked why none of the major US embassies offer expatriation appointments even as the risk of Covid has subsided in several European countries, the spokesperson said that the Department wouldn’t comment since “this is the subject of ongoing litigation,” seemingly referring to the Association of Accidental Americans lawsuit. 

Are you an American living in Europe trying to renounce your US citizenship? We’d like to hear from you and to hear how it’s affected your life. Please email us at [email protected]

Member comments

  1. Renounce your US citizenship? You’d have to be bonkers.

    I’ve almost landed US citizenship twice in my life. Both times I was close – but no cigar as they say.
    A Swedish passport is good too, as it opens up the EU. But there is nothing like a US passport.

  2. Anyone who gives up their US citizenship is bonkers. Nutso.
    It’s a huge advantage to have US citizenship. It opens up work and living opportunities unlike any other. All you have to do is file your tax papers every year. If you’ve been paying taxes in Europe, which are higher, you don’t owe US anything. It’s just the small matter of filing. And that is pretty easy.

    Keep it. Don’t give it up and be sorry later.

    Jack.

  3. That’s twice the local has deleted a comment about the silliness of denouncing US citizenship.
    It is a great passport. One of the best.
    Don’t denounce.

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BREXIT

How do other EU countries’ post-Brexit residence permits compare to Denmark?

After reports this week that Danish authorities plan to deport a British national who failed to apply for post-Brexit residence status on time, we look at how other EU countries have applied residency permit rules following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

How do other EU countries’ post-Brexit residence permits compare to Denmark?

Phil Russell, a UK national who lives in the western part of Zealand with his Danish partner, submitted an application for a post-Brexit residence permit four days after the December 31st, 2021 deadline.

Russell has since been informed he must leave the country by December 6th but has the right to appeal the decision. He has notified authorities that he intends to appeal and his residence and working rights in Denmark are protected while the appeal is ongoing.

READ ALSO:

Under Denmark’s application of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, British nationals who moved to Denmark under EU free movement rules before December 31st, 2020 were required to submit an application for new residence status and a new residence document by the end of 2021.

Up to September 30th, Danish authorities have received 290 late applications for post-Brexit continued residency status.

Decisions on some applications made after the deadline are still being processed, meaning it is not clear how many UK nationals have already or could yet lose their residency rights.

The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement’s Article 5 states that the EU and UK must “take all appropriate measures, whether general or particular, to ensure fulfilment of the obligations arising from this Agreement and shall refrain from any measures which could jeopardise the attainment of the objectives of this Agreement.”

One of the stated objectives of the agreement is to protect the rights of citizens to continue living and working in their respective countries after Brexit.

Below, we look at how other countries have continued residence rights for Britons who lived in those countries prior to Brexit.

Sweden

On its website, the Swedish Migration Agency says it “can accept an application for residence status that has come in after” its deadline which, like in Denmark, was December 31st 2021.

“This presupposes that there are reasonable grounds for why you did not apply in time. A review will be done of each individual case,” the agency says.

People with permanent residence permits have the right to continue to stay in Sweden as usual even after the deadline, according to the Migration Agency. Those with temporary residence permits in Sweden may need to apply for a work permit.

The Swedish rules have nevertheless caused some uncertainty for resident Britons.

According to a section on the Migration Agency website, post-Brexit residence status “applies indefinitely”. The certificate which was issued to those who applied before the deadline of December 31st 2021, however, is only valid for five years. 

This has left many of those holding the certificate concerned that laws might change to prevent them from renewing their certificate when that period ends. 

READ ALSO:

France

Like Denmark, application for a post-Brexit residence card was required in France.

In June 2021, the French government extended the deadline to apply for residency for British nationals

France extended its deadline due to high demand and new Covid-19 restrictions in 2021, and because French authorities were aware many Britons were unlikely to meet the original deadline.

All Brits who were living in France before December 30th 2020 needed to apply for a residency permit known as a carte de séjour. The official deadline to do so was Wednesday, June 30th.

However with an estimated 25,000 Brits still to apply and thousands more still waiting for their application to be processed, French authorities decided to extend the deadline to September 30th, 2021. 

Spain

Spanish authorities have been lenient and informative regarding how Brits can guarantee their Withdrawal Agreement rights, but a number of Britons in Spain did not have residency or other official documents and could not prove they were living in Spain before 2021.

According to reports, people in that situation have been told to leave at (sometimes very) short notice and apply for a non-EU residency visa if their residency application is rejected.

However, previous (pre-Brexit) EU residency documents that Britons have are still valid and it’s not compulsory to update to Spain’s new non-EU residence card. As such, only people who were not previously registered have run into issues.

Italy

Italy’s post-Brexit card isn’t mandatory but the British Embassy in Italy advises residents to apply for it to prove their status under the Withdrawal Agreement.

This means you don’t need a residency card if you have alternative proof of pre-Brexit residency.

However, while Italian authorities have often accepted other forms of proof, they have also sometimes required the card, causing some level of uncertainty.

READ ALSO: How many of Italy’s British residents have successfully applied for a post-Brexit residency card?

Germany

Residence rights after Brexit were automatically granted to British nationals who lived in Germany prior to the deadline, so they don’t need Germany’s residence card – although it is still recommended-

There have been reports of passport stamping for British residents in Germany, even if they have the residence card.

Overall, Germany has a lenient system, transferring rights automatically and without demand application for a new card or updated residence status.

READ ALSO: How Brits can prove their post-Brexit rights in Germany – before they get their residence card

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