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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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IMMIGRATION

How Europe’s population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

The populations of countries across Europe are changing, with some increasing whilst others are falling. Populations are also ageing meaning the EU is having to react to changing demographics.

How Europe's population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

After decades of growth, the population of the European Union decreased over the past two years mostly due to the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest data from the EU statistical office Eurostat show that the EU population was 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, 172,000 fewer than the previous year. On 1 January 2020, the EU had a population of 447.3 million.

This trend is because, in 2020 and 2021 the two years marked by the crippling pandemic, there have been more deaths than births and the negative natural change has been more significant than the positive net migration.

But there are major differences across countries. For example, in numerical terms, Italy is the country where the population has decreased the most, while France has recorded the largest increase.

What is happening and how is the EU reacting?

In which countries is the population growing?

In 2021, there were almost 4.1 million births and 5.3 million deaths in the EU, so the natural change was negative by 1.2 million (more broadly, there were 113,000 more deaths in 2021 than in 2020 and 531,000 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019, while the number of births remained almost the same).

Net migration, the number of people arriving in the EU minus those leaving, was 1.1 million, not enough to compensate.

A population growth, however, was recorded in 17 countries. Nine (Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands and Sweden) had both a natural increase and positive net migration.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Five things to know about Germany’s foreign population

In eight EU countries (the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, Austria, Portugal and Finland), the population increased because of positive net migration, while the natural change was negative.

The largest increase in absolute terms was in France (+185,900). The highest natural increase was in Ireland (5.0 per 1,000 persons), while the biggest growth rate relative to the existing population was recorded in Luxembourg, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta (all above 8.0 per 1,000 persons).

In total, 22 EU Member States had positive net migration, with Luxembourg (13.2 per 1 000 persons), Lithuania (12.4) and Portugal (9.6) topping the list.

Births and deaths in the EU from 1961 to 2021 (Eurostat)

Where is the population declining?

On the other hand, 18 EU countries had negative rates of natural change, with deaths outnumbering births in 2021.

Ten of these recorded a population decline. In Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia population declined due to a negative natural change, while net migration was slightly positive.

In Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia, the decrease was both by negative natural change and negative net migration.

READ ALSO: Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further

The largest fall in population was reported in Italy, which lost over a quarter of a million (-253,100).

The most significant negative natural change was in Bulgaria (-13.1 per 1,000 persons), Latvia (-9.1), Lithuania (-8.7) and Romania (-8.2). On a proportional basis, Croatia and Bulgaria recorded the biggest population decline (-33.1 per 1,000 persons).

How is the EU responding to demographic change?

From 354.5 million in 1960, the EU population grew to 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, an increase of 92.3 million. If the growth was about 3 million persons per year in the 1960s, it slowed to about 0.7 million per year on average between 2005 and 2022, according to Eurostat.

The natural change was positive until 2011 and turned negative in 2012 when net migration became the key factor for population growth. However, in 2020 and 2021, this no longer compensated for natural change and led to a decline.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Over time, says Eurostat, the negative natural change is expected to continue given the ageing of the population if the fertility rate (total number of children born to each woman) remains low.

This poses questions for the future of the labour market and social security services, such as pensions and healthcare.

The European Commission estimates that by 2070, 30.3 per cent of the EU population will be 65 or over compared to 20.3 per cent in 2019, and 13.2 per cent is projected to be 80 or older compared to 5.8 per cent in 2019.

The number of people needing long-term care is expected to increase from 19.5 million in 2016 to 23.6 million in 2030 and 30.5 million in 2050.

READ ALSO: How foreigners are changing Switzerland

However, demographic change impacts different countries and often regions within the same country differently.

When she took on the Presidency of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen appointed Dubravka Šuica, a Croatian politician, as Commissioner for Democracy and Demography to deal with these changes.

Among measures in the discussion, in January 2021, the Commission launched a debate on Europe’s ageing society, suggesting steps for higher labour market participation, including more equality between women and men and longer working lives.

In April, the Commission proposed measures to make Europe more attractive for foreign workers, including simplifying rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the EU. These will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council.

In the fourth quarter of this year, the Commission also plans to present a communication on dealing with ‘brain drain’ and mitigate the challenges associated with population decline in regions with low birth rates and high net emigration.

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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