The Franco-American Flophouse: Flophouse American Diaspora Reading List

Victoria Ferauge’s latest impressive compilation:

Sometimes we feel we straddle two cultures; at other times, that we fall between two stools.”

Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991

Time for an update of the Flophouse American Diaspora Reading List – the best books and articles I’ve read recently about American citizens and communities abroad.  New books are in green.  As always, please feel free to add to the list.

This list has three sections:  Upcoming titles – Books that have not been published yet but that I plan on reading; General books/articles – the larger view.  Some talk about specific issues (like citizenship), others are studies, portraits or serious research about Americans abroad;  Expat autobiographies – Accounts of Americans in different countries.  These are not books that tell a potential American migrant how to live abroad.   These are personal accounts that talk about what happens to American identity when it gets transplanted somewhere else for a year or two, or for a lifetime.

Source: The Franco-American Flophouse: Flophouse American Diaspora Reading List

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Record Numbers Renounce Their U.S. Citizenship – Forbes

Virtually none of the reporting I have seen situates this increase in the context of the total number of American expatriates. Estimates vary between 2 and 7 million, meaning that the 4,300 expatriations are tiny in relation to the expatriate population, between 0.2 and 0.06 percent.

Notwithstanding this, Victoria Ferauge, whose blog The Franco-American Flophouse I highly recommend for her insightful posts on citizenship issues, notes that the small numbers do not mean that it is unimportant.

For American expatriates affected by FATCA, it is.

More broadly,given the wide attention placed on citizenship renunciation in American media, it appears to strike a chord with many Americans who wonder why any American would voluntarily renounce their citizenship.

The numbers are less important perhaps than the symbolism, and the implications of a more instrumental view of citizenship than American citizenship having an intrinsic value by itself:

Once again, the number of Americans renouncing U.S. citizenship has gone up, up 560% from its Bush administration high. In 2015, there were approximately 4,300 expatriations according to the published names of individuals who renounced. The name and shame list is published quarterly, with the most recent three-month total being 1,058. That brings the total to 4,279 for 2015.

These numbers seem tiny compared to the influx of immigrants. Yet expatriations have historically been much lower. Moreover, the published list is also incomplete, with many not counted. Surprisingly, no one seems to know exactly how big the real number is, even though the IRS and FBI both track Americans who renounce citizenship. There is no single explanation, though with global tax reporting and FATCA, the list of the individuals who renounce keeps increasing,

(Photo credit: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg)

2014 was also a record year with 3,415 published expatriates. The reasons that Americans renouncing citizenship is at an all-time high can be over family, tax and legal complications. Dual citizenship isn’t always possible, as this infographic from MoveHub shows. Some countries make citizens pay a fee to hand in their passport. Some countries have no fee, but America’s $2,350 fee is more than twenty times the average level in other high-income countries.

Source: Record Numbers Renounce Their U.S. Citizenship – Forbes

The Franco-American Flophouse: Flophouse Citizenship and International Migration Reading List

The usual impressive list from Victoria Ferauge.

Source: The Franco-American Flophouse: Flophouse Citizenship and International Migration Reading List

The Franco-American Flophouse: US State Department Confirms the New Consular Fee for Expatriation

Victoria Ferauge on the explanation of the fee structure for renouncing US citizenship:

The US State Department has finally responded to those of us who took exception to the rather extraordinary rise in the fee to renounce US citizenship.  It now costs $2,350 USD for an American citizen to exercise his or right under international law to expatriate.

Does this fee constitute a barrier to exercising that right?  The State Department doesn’t think so.  I disagree and it’s not just the fee that’s the problem, it’s the entire process which is cumbersome, time-consuming and, yes, costly for everyone – renunciants and State Department alike.

A US citizen wishing to renounce or relinquish citizenship must travel to the nearest US consulate which may be in a city far from where he or she actually lives.  There can be more than one interview required which means multiple trips.   Some of the paperwork is complex enough it would be wise to consult a lawyer before filling them out and filing the tax and bank account declarations.   All of these things taken together can make paying that high consular fee another burden laid on top of the others that already exist.  The onus should be on the State Department to prove that these burdens placed before someone seeking to exercise the human right to expatriate are legitimate and necessary.

In the State Department response they offer their justifications for the fee raise and answer those of us who sent comments.  For this they have my thanks.  I and others have answered other agencies’ requests for comments on matters concerning Americans abroad, and never received the dignity of a reply.  I may not like the answers but I appreciate that they took the time.

State argues that there is no burden, no restrictions on the right to expatriate and there is nothing punitive about the fee raise.   It is, they say, a matter of money.

Rather, the fee is a cost-based user fee for consular services. Conforming to guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), federal agencies make every effort to ensure that each service provided to specific recipients is self-sustaining, charging fees that are sufficient to recover the full cost to the government.”

A perfectly reasonable argument if we were talking about something like, say, camping in a national park.  Not so reasonable when it concerns a fundamental human right guaranteed by national or international law.  It certainly costs money for US civilians and military to vote from abroad, but could we really argue that the FVAP and the local consulates should start charging overseas voters for providing services like the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot?

That analogy is not perfect but the underlying principle is the same.  There are things that government does for which it has both a monopoly and a duty to provide services to its citizens in the exercise of their rights.  Voting is not just another service , and neither is expatriation.

My take on this is that there should be no fee for renunciations, relinquishments or requests for CLNs.  The first two concern a fundamental human right for which I contend cost should never be an issue.  As for the last, the CLN, this is a necessary document, the only one that exists to prove that one is no longer a US citizen and is often required by states that do not allow dual citizenship.

If that’s not possible then I’d propose an option to waive the fee if the renunciant can demonstrate that it would be a financial hardship to pay it.  That would be a very reasonable compromise and one that would be more consistent with what State claims is their goal:  protecting a US citizen’s right to expatriate.

Source: The Franco-American Flophouse: US State Department Confirms the New Consular Fee for Expatriation

Flophouse American Diaspora Reading List

Victoria Ferauge’s updated American diaspora and expatriate reading list:

“Sometimes we feel we straddle two cultures; at other times, that we fall between two stools.”

Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991

Time for an update of the Flophouse American Diaspora Reading List – the best books and articles I’ve read recently about American people and communities abroad.  New books are in green.  As always, please feel free to add to the list.

This list has three sections:  Upcoming titles – Books that have not been published yet but that I plan on reading; General books/articles – the larger view.  Some talk about specific issues (like citizenship), others are studies, portraits or serious research about Americans abroad;  Expat autobiographies – Accounts of Americans in different countries.  These are not books that tell a potential American migrant how to live abroad.   These are personal accounts that talk about what happens to American identity when it gets transplanted somewhere else for a year or two, or for a lifetime.

The Franco-American Flophouse: Flophouse American Diaspora Reading List.

Another Front in the Fight Against FATCA: The Alliance for the Defence of Canadian Sovereignty

Victoria Ferauge, who writes extensively about FATCA and its impact on US expatriates, provides an update on the lawsuit against the Government of Canada’s implementation of FATCA by the Alliance for the Defense of Canadian Sovereignty (ADCS):

The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act is, in its own weird way, a kind of census.  Among other things, it tells the American government where those it considers to be taxable under US law live and work and raise families.

Having tried and failed miserably at conducting an accurate census of Americans abroad, the American government looked for other ways to find those “US Persons” (a term that includes US residents and Green Card holders, as well as US citizens).  Their method was delegation – an admission of failure in a sense – because FATCA requires foreign financial institutions (FFIs) to do what the US government couldn’t manage to accomplish on its own:  to seek out all US persons in the world: their names, addresses, and account balances.

Those of you who have already been FATCAed, know all too well what that means.  Those of you who have not yet signed a W-9 or had your accounts closed, please don’t feel left out, your time will come.

Americans abroad organizations like AARO, ACA, Democrats abroad and Republicans Overseas are fighting FATCA and you can read about their efforts here.

But I would be remiss if I did not mention other efforts which are equally important.  The one I have been following (and cheering on) is the other lawsuit filed in Canada by the Alliance for the Defense of Canadian Sovereignty (ADCS).

This is a grassroots initiative that pushes back against FATCA in Canada. ADCS argues that the Canadian legislation that implements the FATCA intergovernmental agreement with the United States “violates the Canadian Constitution, Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the principles of Canadian sovereignty and democracy, and the fundamental rights of all Canadians.”

By signing an agreement to turn over the private information of Canadian citizens to a foreign government (the United States) the Canadian government is violating, they say, the rights of those whom the US is unilaterally claiming as taxable US Persons, but who consider themselves to be Canadians first and foremost.  They reject utterly the idea that another country can simply demand that Canada provide the private information of individuals who have some connection to the United States, however nebulous it may be.

The plaintiffs in the case are two Canadian women “who have never held a U.S. passport or developed any meaningful relationship with the U.S.” but who are, nonetheless, considered to be US citizens by virtue of being born in the US.”  They never consented to that citizenship and see no reason why it should be foisted on them now just because the US says so.

There are citizens in just about every country in the world right now who are in exactly the same position as the two plaintiffs:  people who thought they were “just French” living in France or “just Thai ” living in Thailand.  Many are finding out that they are indeed US Persons when they receive a note from their local banks informing them that they appear to be US citizens under US law.

I could not think of a worse way (or a worse source) for someone to learn that he or she might be a US citizen.  I find this not just shameful on the part of the US, but an extreme and worrisome delegation of sovereign power.  Foreign financial institutions should not be in any way arbiters of US citizenship or status, or be tasked with implementing a US extraterritorial national census of any sort for any purpose whatsoever.

Among the different fronts against FATCA, this is a very worthy effort because it asks a nation-state like Canada to take a stand:  Are these people claimed by the US really Canadian citizens with all the right enumerated in the Charter? Or has the Canadian government downgraded them to semi-citizenship status based on the claims of a foreign power?

Funded entirely by small donors, ADCS has miraculously raised enough money so far to hire very competent legal counsel, and on August 14, 2014 they filed their suit in Canadian Federal Court.  I back them 100% and have contributed even though I am not an “Accidental American” or even a dual.

The Franco-American Flophouse: Another Front in the Fight Against FATCA: The Alliance for the Defence of Canadian Sovereignty.

FATCA Paris Meeting: Lee and Bopp: A Chance to Turn the Tide

Victoria Ferauge’s reporting on a FATCA meeting with American expatriates in Paris this week:

Bright and early Monday morning, Senator Mike Lee and superlawyer James Bopp, Jr. addressed a full house of frustrated and forlorn US citizens over at Reid Hall in Paris.  Some came in suits, some in jeans. There was a very young woman with blue streaks in her hair and men whose touches of gray were a testimonial to a lot of living.  There were lawyers, stay at home mothers, IT workers and artists.  A diverse group that was far more representative of the true face of Americans abroad than the usual caricatures of champagne-sipping yacht-owners living it up in Gay Paree.  It was coffee and croissants and a frank discussion that at times was fraught with emotion.

Senator Lee spoke first and he began with some anecdotes from the time when he was first elected to the Senate.  He’s a young man with a quiet and modest demeanour.  He recounted how in the very beginning he had moments where because of his youth and appearance he was taken for something other than a member of that august body, the US Senate, and how he finally had to quietly but firmly assert himself as the elected-by-the-people junior Senator from Utah.  He invited us to laugh with him and we did. But the funny stories took a very serious turn when he shared the lesson he drew from that experience: “We must assert what is rightfully ours,” he said, “if it is to have any meaning.”

US citizens wherever they live, he said, have constitutional rights that cannot be taken away by anyone.

The Franco-American Flophouse: Lee and Bopp: A Chance to Turn the Tide.

I was terrified we’d lose all our money: banks tell US customers they won’t work with Americans

Good profile on the American dual national expatriates being caught up by FATCA:

Angry Canadians are rare. But Patricia Moon qualifies. Until 2012, Moon was actually an American – albeit one who had lived in Canada for 32 years. She settled in so well that in 2008, she added Canadian citizenship to her US one.

But Moon cut ties with America three years ago, after new banking laws aimed at tax evaders required expats like her to file more thorough US tax returns. She was five years behind on the news. “I was terrified we’d lose all our money,” she says.

After back-filing years of tax returns, Moon renounced her US citizenship in 2012. It was a defiant act she describes as being one of the first canaries to leave the coalmine as US banking laws make life more difficult for American expatriates. She wasn’t pleased she had to do it.

“It was like cutting off my right arm,” to not be American any more, says Moon, who only became a Canadian citizen in 2008. “Now, I’m simply angry.”

….On a Skype call with a reporter, Victoria Ferauge sits in her sunlit Paris house, smoking the occasional cigarette, and following the day’s French Parliament session with particular interest. Ferauge, a Seattle-born American married to a Frenchman, has been following and blogging about US tax laws for the last three years.

On this Thursday afternoon, France’s parliament is voting to approve an inter-governmental agreement with the US on Fatca compliance.

“A vast majority of Americans suddenly woke up to what’s going on,” Verauge says. She relates stories of fellow expatriates who have had to take their names off joint accounts – some holding small family inheritances – because banks would not accept US customers.

“My bank will not answer questions,” she says about her enquiries regarding their Fatca compliance.

Verauge is preparing to move to Osaka, but she has doubts how the law will play out in Japan. She is infuriated to be put in the position of suddenly finding herself in a foreign country and not having a dollar she can spend.

“I will give up my citizenship if it came to that.”

I was terrified we’d lose all our money: banks tell US customers they won’t work with Americans | Money | theguardian.com.

The Franco-American Flophouse: Tribes and Truth

Great addition by Victoria Ferauge to the four points of Rosling (see How Not to Be Ignorant of the World):

I would add one that I call for want of a better term Tribes Never Tell the Truth.

We are social creatures and every human group family, tribe, clan, class, country, nation, state we belong to has a story about itself and about the people and places beyond its boundaries and borders. Arjun Appadurai put it quite well when he pointed out that “No modern nation, however benign its political system and however eloquent its public voices may be about the virtues of tolerance, multiculturalism, and inclusion, is free of the idea that its national sovereignty is built on some sort of ethnic genius.”

These stories contain facts mixed with myths to form powerful narratives and we cannot help but evaluate the input we get from the world against the storyline of whatever group we identify with. Even the most independent of thinkers can find himself struggling mightily to incorporate information that challenges what he thinks he already knows about the world.   Those who are quick to recognize this about religion or nationalism should acknowledge that there are quasi-religious narratives lurking under the surface of their “rationality”.

As Mircea Eliade said:”Mythical behaviour can be recognized in the obsession with success that is so characteristic of modern society and that expresses an obscure wish to transcend the limits of the human condition;  in the exodus to Suburbia, in which we can detect the nostalgia for primordial perfection;  in the paraphenalia and emotional intensity that characterize what has been called the cult of the sacred automobile.”

These stories are another impediment to seeing the world clearly because challenging them and finding them wanting gets us kicked out of a club we desperately wish to belong to.  Most groups even ones comprised of “free thinkers” do not tolerate even small deviations from the common story.  Is it not true that perceived apostates are treated even more harshly then those who are clearly in the camp of the enemy?  Every group has its own Inquisition, ready to ferret out those who “belong without believing.”

So I would add this heuristic to the list – one that was beautifully expressed by the late Christopher Hitchens –  “How do I know that I know this, except that I’ve always been taught this and never heard anything else? How sure am I of my own views? Dont take refuge in the false security of consensus, and the feeling that whatever you think you’re bound to be OK, because you’re in the safely moral majority.”

The Franco-American Flophouse: Tribes and Truth.

FATCA/CBT: See You in Court

The Canadian angle:

Today, the Alliance for the Defence of Canadian Sovereignty ADCS-ADSC retained Jim Butera, a Washington D.C. attorney with Jones Walker LLP. Mr. Butera will explore legal options to reverse practices of the United States government preventing Canadian citizens who are “Accidental Americans” from freeing themselves of U.S. citizenship and obligations.

Accidental Americans include those born in the U.S. but who left the United States at a young age to live permanently in another country. Although they have no meaningful ties to the U.S., they are claimed as “U.S. citizens” and subject to lifetime taxation on their non-U.S. income. Accidental Americans not compliant with the Internal Revenue Service IRS are considered by the U.S. to be “tax cheats” not paying their “fair share”.

The Franco-American Flophouse: FATCA/CBT: See You in Court.