cross-posted from citizenshipsolutions
Update January 2018: This post has been updated with some new links and discussion
Part I is here.
Part II is here.
Legal Status of Citizen vs. The Engagement Required By Citizenship
Is the “legal status” of being a citizen sufficient? Is there a difference between the “legal status” of being a citizen and the “voluntary engagement” that is required by “true citizenship”? The “legal status” of being a citizen may NOT be voluntary. But, the voluntary engagement required by “citizenship” is voluntary.
The legal status of “citizen” vs. the voluntary engagement of “citizenship”
There is a difference between the “legal status” of being a citizen and the voluntary engagement with the community that is required for meaningful “citizenship”. To put it another way: Citizenship involves more than the “legal status” of being a citizen. As President Obama said in his 2013 State Of The Union Address:
“We are citizens. It’s a word that doesn’t just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we’re made. It describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations; that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others; and that well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story”
It is clearly true that many people born in the U.S. and NOT living in the U.S., have the “legal status” of being a citizen, but have not accepted the voluntary engagement that is required for meaningful “citizenship”. The story of London Mayor Boris Johnson (who was born in the U.S.) is a case in point.
Does the “legal status” of being a citizen justify imposing taxes on a person who does NOT live in the country?
The U.S. currently takes the position that the “legal status” of being a citizen is sufficient to impose taxes on a person who does not live in the U.S. Some of those with the legal status of U.S. citizen were born in the U.S. (making them 14th amendment citizens) and some were born outside the U.S. (making them citizens by an Act of Congress). There are many categories of people born in the U.S.
Five Possible Categories of Those Deemed to be U.S. Citizens Abroad and Their U.S. Connection
Those Born In The U.S. – 14th Amendment Citizenship – Who at a young age are taken by their parents to live outside the United States
The vast majority of U.S. citizens acquired U.S. citizenship because they were born in the U.S. The U.S. is aggressively taking the position that the following types of people, born in the U.S., but residents in other countries, with no economic connection to the U.S. are required to pay taxes to the U.S.:
A. Border babies: Those who were born in the U.S. and returned to Canada within months. (If their parents were Canadian citizens those border babies (who were dual citizens from birth) can renounce their U.S. citizenship without paying an Exit Tax. If their parents were U.S. citizens (meaning the children were not a dual citizens from birth) they are NOT permitted to relinquish U.S. citizenship without being subject to the Exit Tax.)
B. Children born in the U.S. who permanently left the U.S. with their parents as children (before reaching the age of majority) and who never returned to the U.S. They have never worked in the U.S. and have no connection to the U.S.
Members of Group A or Group B do not have and have never had a “voluntary connection” to the U.S. that could convert their “legal status” of citizens to the “voluntary acceptance” of the obligations of “citizenship”. Their birth in the U.S. and their moving from the U.S. were the results of decisions made by their parents. It’s hard to see how the “legal status” of being a U.S. citizen, is sufficient to require the payment of taxes to the U.S. Surely a demonstration of a “voluntary connection” to the U.S. should be required before an obligation to pay taxes is triggered.
Those born outside the U.S. – They choose neither their parents nor where they are born
C. In certain cases, the children of U.S. citizens who are born outside the U.S. are considered to be U.S. citizens. Examples include (but are not limited to), those born in Switzerland to U.S. parents. U.S. laws for the transmission of citizenship from U.S. citizen parents to children born abroad, have a long and complicated history. In fact – “American Citizens Abroad” – was founded to facilitate the acquisition of U.S. citizenship for children born abroad to U.S. citizen parents.
It is clear that that those born outside the U.S. have no connection whatsoever to the U.S. At most they have a connection to a U.S. citizen (that may or may not have a connection to the U.S.)
Those who choose to leave the United States as Young Adults Adults
D. U.S. citizens who were “Born In The USA” but who moved to other nations as young adults (not forced to move with their families), have developed their careers outside the U.S., married, had children and raised their families outside the U.S., done their financial and retirement planning outside the U.S., never had an economic connection to the U.S., and whose lives are have become citizens of their countries of residence.
Many in this group may have left the U.S. under unclear circumstances. Some may have left the U.S. with the intention of returning, some with no thoughts on whether they would return, and some with the clear intention of never returning. Regardless of their intention when leaving the U.S., many gradually become citizens (in a legal and voluntary sense) of their new countries and gradually lost any connection to the U.S. that they may have had.
Members of this group (especially in Canada and Western Europe) fully consider themselves to be primarily citizens of their new countries and no longer U.S. citizens. Example: “You know you are Canadian when you start rooting for Canada over the U.S. in hockey.”
Adults who moved from the USA with the intention of returning to the United States
E. U.S. citizens who move outside the U.S. for short periods of time with the full expectation and understanding that they are returning to the U.S. They live outside the U.S. as Americans and typically neither become citizens of their country of residence, nor disconnect from the U.S. In other words, they are truly “U.S. citizens abroad”. Their situation is very different from those described in Categories A, B, C and D. They have more than the “legal status” of being U.S. citizens. They have a voluntary connection to the U.S.
Citizenship-based taxation and a voluntary connection to the U.S.
It is clear that many of those with the “legal status” of U.S. citizen (Categories A, B, C, and D) do NOT have the “voluntary” (or any other) connection to the U.S. that could reasonably justify U.S. taxation.
The fact that those in Category (E) have a voluntary connection to the U.S. does NOT mean that good tax policy would subject them to U.S. taxation. It does mean that (if citizenship requires a connection to the United States that this is the group which might be subject to “citizenship-based taxation”).
Therefore a “Voluntary connection” to the U.S. is a necessary but NOT a sufficient condition for the taxation of Americans abroad
Is “citizenship-based taxation” justified even with respect to Americans abroad who DO have a voluntary connection (Category E) to the U.S.? It’s hard to understand the justification. No other country imposes taxes on its citizens abroad. Americans abroad already pay taxes in their country of residence. No scholar has ever explained exactly what it is about a “voluntary” connection to the U.S. that justifies taxation. Life is full of “voluntary connections” that do NOT require the payment of taxes. What is it about a “voluntary connection” (by way of citizenship) to the U.S. that means Americans abroad should be taxed at all, or (worse yet) taxed according to the same rules as U.S. residents?