Passport Revocation: The new weapon in the US war on Americans abroad

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cross-posted from Citizenship Solutions

by John Richardson

Circa 2015:

The logical progression continues …

I just got off the phone with someone who has just received a letter from the IRS stating that:

1. He had a “seriously delinquent” tax debt; and

2. That notice of the “seriously delinquent” tax debt was being forwarded to the State Department.

(In 2016 I did a presentation on this topic just a few months after the law came into force. You may view the presentation here.)

It is clear that the letters from the IRS have started to go out. The purpose of this post is to explain in simple terms what this means for Americans abroad.

To put it simply:

1. If you have received the notice and you do NOT have a current U.S. passport then:

The State Department cannot issue you a passport.

2. If you have received the notice and you DO have a current U.S. passport then:

The State Department may revoke your passport but is not required to revoke your passport.

For most Americans abroad (who certainly have a valid U.S. passport unless they are dual citizens) receipt of the letter does NOT mean that they will lose their existing U.S. passport.

Like all aspects of living as a U.S. citizen abroad, this issue will be governed by both the IRS and by the State Department.

It began with Sec. 3201 of the FAST Act (which naturally is a revenue offset provision and one of the final gifts from the Obama administration) …

Like most of life as a U.S. citizen, it all starts with the IRS …

Internal Revenue Code Sec. 7345 provides the mechanism to certify the “seriously delinquent tax debt” and then forward notice of the debt to the State Department. The relevant language is:

If the Secretary receives certification by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue that an individual has a seriously delinquent tax debt, the Secretary shall transmit such certification to the Secretary of State for action with respect to denial, revocation, or limitation of a passport pursuant to section 32101 of the FAST Act.

You can read how the IRS interprets this provision here:

https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/revocation-or-denial-of-passport-in-case-of-certain-unpaid-taxes

Once the State Department receives the “certification” it will respond with “denial, revocation, or limitation” …

According to the State Department:

Passports and Seriously Delinquent Tax Debt If you have been certified to the Department of State by the Secretary of the Treasury as having a seriously delinquent tax debt, you cannot be issued a U.S. passport and your current U.S. passport may be revoked.

If you are overseas you may be eligible for a limited passport good for direct return to the United States.

We would suggest that if you have seriously delinquent tax debt, you contact the IRS to resolve your debt before applying for a passport. If you do not resolve your tax issues before applying for a passport, your application will be delayed or denied.

If you have seriously delinquent tax debt and have already applied for a new U.S. passport, we cannot issue a new passport to you until you have resolved your tax issues with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

For more information on seriously delinquent tax debt, see Revocation or Denial of Passport in Case of Certain Unpaid Taxes on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website.

So, where in the legislation and regulations does all this come from?

Denial: Denial is mandatory when one applies for renewal or for a new passport.

https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/22/51.60

§ 51.60 Denial and restriction of passports.
(a) The Department may not issue a passport, except a passport for direct return to the United States, in any case in which the Department determines or is informed by competent authority that:

(3) The applicant is certified by the Secretary of the Treasury as having a seriously delinquent tax debt as described in 26 U.S.C. 7345.

Revocation: Revocation is permitted but is not mandatory

https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/22/51.62

§ 51.62 Revocation or limitation of passports.
(a) The Department may revoke or limit a passport when

(1) The bearer of the passport may be denied a passport under 22 CFR 51.60 or 51.61; or 51.28; or any other provision contained in this part; or,

It is not clear when the State Department would revoke an existing passport. I am not sure what incentive the State Department has to revoke an existing passport (just because of a tax debt).

My thoughts on this …

1. The $50,000 “tax debt” includes interest and penalties. It’s easy for an American abroad to exceed this simply through “form transgressions”.

2. The people most threatened by this are those who do not have a second passport. Get yourself a second passport.

The days of living as a U.S. citizen outside the United States are clearly numbered.

Interested in learning about Substitute Tax Returns for non-filers? If this is not enough excitement, see …

John Richardson

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