FATCA: making Americans non-Americans




The US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act or FATCA has become such a contentious issue that the IRS Name and Shame list (a list of Americans renouncing their US citizenship ) is now regarded as a Hall of Fame. More than 6.32 million Americans (excluding military) live in 160-plus countries. Credit aaro.org
More than 6.32 mn Americans  live in 160-plus countries. (Credit AARO)

According to Victoria Férauge, a Paris-based writer who edits the Association of American Residents Overseas, (AARO’s) newsletter and her own widely read The Franco-American Flophouse blog, FATCA is making life abroad for American citizens so complicated that for many giving up their nationality is no longer seen as a taboo.

The American Diaspora Meets a Polarized America

by Victoria Férauge
It is one thing to read about the polarization of politics in the American homeland; it is quite another to meet it en direct.

The news that the Republicans plan to vote a resolution calling for the repeal of FATCA  has generated a veritable tsunami of articles in the American media with strangely similar headlines:

Republican Party To Vote For Repeal Of Anti-Tax Dodging Law
Republicans Want to Protect Tax Havens for Billionaires, and More
Why Are Republicans Plotting To Sabotage A Crackdown On Tax Evasion?

It is interesting to see just how far and how deep the meme “American abroad = rich tax evader” has sunk into the American mindset. Americans abroad – the au pairs, English teachers, translators, NGO workers, computer programmers, artists, writers, university professors, managers, musicians, and retirees – are rightfully a bit confused. Are these journalists and commenters really implying that the only Americans abroad are rich tax-evading champagne swillers and yacht owners? Please, homelanders, stop and think for a moment and use your common sense:
Since when do billionnaires watch other people’s children, teach English or grade undergraduate papers?

Allow me to point out the arrogance here. Homelanders seem to be saying that our diaspora (Americans abroad) is special and totally unlike any other developed country’s diaspora being composed entirely of A. criminals and B. the idle rich.

Hate to break the bubble, folks, but Americans abroad are just as diverse as Americans in the homeland. We come in all shapes, sizes, colors, creeds and (yes, Virginia) income levels. And however we came to cast ourselves on distance shores, the reality is that most of us have to work for a living. Just like you.

Homeland Americans (in part because of the fallacious drivel spouted by some American journalists and politicians, but also because they have interesting fantasies about life outside the U.S.) are under the mistaken impression that FATCA only applies to rich Americans in the U.S. who shuttle their money (and perhaps their precious selves) offshore to evade taxes. They genuinely think that it does not apply to the checking, savings and retirement accounts of their dear friend/son/daughter/cousin/old classmate who was lucky enough to have landed a job or find the love of his or life in Shanghai/Bangalore/Bordeaux/Belize/Sao Paulo.

I will put this as succinctly and as clearly as possible:
The FATCA rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.
The law is so broad, and casts such a wide net, that it impacts a few Americans living in the homeland with foreign accounts, and ALL Americans living abroad with local accounts including people who don’t even know they are Americans.

Rich, poor, middle-income, tax compliant, knowingly non-compliant, unknowingly non-compliant, black, white, Asian, student, worker, manager, teacher, professor, entrepreneur – in one way or another FATCA impacts them all if they are U.S. citizens or Green Card holders and live outside the U.S.. If they don’t have enough savings to put them over the reporting thresholds, they still face the distinct possibility that their local bank (the one located in the city/country where they actually live) will close their accounts because they are Americans and aren’t rich enough for the bank to justify keeping them as customers because of the added reporting costs. In some cases, it’s having an impact on their ability to get jobs or form business partnerships.

This violent reaction in the homeland seems to indicate that we can’t even have a civil conversation about this. You know the kind of conversation I’m talking about? The one where we listen to each other, find common ground, and work toward a solution. Does that even exist any more in America? Or has polarization and the “two-fossil” system made that impossible? (I’d really like to know so I can put it under the appropriate category in my Pros and Cons of American citizenship file.)

It’s driving many of us to despair including quite a few whose sympathies are on the Left/Progressive side of the American political spectrum.

This comment from Deckard over at The Isaac Brock Society (Welcome to the IBS Wall of Shame) I think is quite typical of the emotions that many of us (Left, Right or independent) feel watching the American political scene on any topic:

  • “Man, what an upside-down world we’re living in. I used to think I was parked somewhere on the political spectrum a bit left of centre – in Canadian terms, somewhere between the Liberals and the NDP. In American terms, however, you could take every political party in Canada and they would all be simply sucked into the giant black hole that now yawns between the Democrats and Republicans. A foul place from which not even the light of day and reason can escape. Now I wouldn’t even know what to consider myself – and I don’t think I even give a rats’ ass about it anymore. What this journey over the last two years has made me realize is that party politics, especially in America, is simply a sideshow distraction designed to keep the populace focused on the puppets instead of the puppeteers. And how the crowds willingly oblige, whether they prefer Punch as a Liberal or Judy as a Conservative or vice-versa. Both extremes are blinded by hate and ignorance and incapable of recognizing neither a common friend nor foe. It’s terrible. Some weeks, however, one side or the other makes a wild dash towards the fence and astonishes us with their breathtaking stupidity. This week it’s definitely the Progressive’s turn. In the run-up to the RNC’s announcement tomorrow about FATCA, we have been witnessing the most shameless display of ignorance, smug superiority and just downright insensitivity from what can conveniently be defined as “the Left”. While I am not, and never will be, a fan of the Republicans, I do hope that their latest effort – however cynical, calculated or political it might be – will actually help to kick-start some real awareness, discussion and education about FATCA that extends across the entire political spectrum. Jeebus knows we need it. In the meantime though, in these very early days of more mainstream FATCA coverage, we are treated to multiple spectacles of supposedly hip, well-educated, socially-aware liberals turning this impending resolution by the RNC into just another knee-jerk excuse to bash Republicans, rich tax cheats, 1%ers, white balding guys with perspiration and whoever else they happen to detest this week. Lost in the holier-than-thou pontificating is anything even remotely resembling coherent thought, basic research, logic, compassion or any of the things they were supposedly taught in their apparently ineffective university classes. And, yes, these words are coming from ME – someone who has always self-defined as a small-l liberal! Like I said, down is up and up is down – it’s simply insane what’s going on.”

In the video below Jeff Steiner talks with Ellen Lebelle, Assistant Organiser of the Association of Americans Resident Overseas. She offers some advice to those who have not yet heard of FATCA and FBAR.

At 10 minutes into the video she tells of  AARO’s campaign to change the law under which Americans are taxed by citizenship to a residency-based taxation system.  Ellen, who has lived in or near Paris for more than 40 years, says she has found a big increase in the number of ordinary Americans giving up their citizenship as a result of FATCA .

Broadcast on Jan 22, 2014
Jeff Steiner of  Jeff Steiner’s France website talks with AARO’s Ellen Lebelle.

 

Acknowledgement:

Reprinted by kind permission of Victoria Férauge, who owns the copyright, and the The Franco-American Flophouse .

victoriaferauge U.S. Wages its 2012 Diaspora Tax War

Author: Victoria Férauge
Born in Seattle, USA. Victoria Férauge has lived on 3 continents (North America, Asia and Europe) and describes herself as “country agnostic”. Mother of two she believes in “assignments, not jobs … networks, not companies” and is “passionate about technology, culture, language.” She blogs from Paris about life and fitting in as an American-born mother married into a French family and working professionally with French colleagues.

 

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