This Article examines international law limitations on the ascription of citizenship in the context of U.S. taxation of non-resident citizens. U.S. citizenship practice is exceptionally generous, extending citizenship to almost all persons in its territory at the moment of birth. At the same time that it is generous at the front end, U.S. citizenship is sticky at the back. Termination of citizenship on the individual’s part involves substantial fees and tax compliance. It is difficult to shed a citizenship one may never have wanted in the first place.
This stickiness would be inconsequential if few costs were associated with the status. But the United States taxes its citizens on a worldwide basis. The 2010 enactment of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act has ramped up historically lax enforcement and imposes substantial administrative burdens on even middle-earner citizens abroad.
In this frame, U.S. birthright citizenship and expatriation regimes may violate international norms, especially with respect to those "accidental Americans" who departed the United States as children. Even in the context of extremely relaxed historical constraints on state nationality practice, there were acknowledged nineteenth century limitations on the extension of citizenship to individuals with insufficient connection to a state -- citizenship over-claiming, as it were. The article also describes the historical requirement that naturalization be volitional, a norm now appropriately applied in some cases in the context of birthright citizenship.
To the extent the ascription of U.S. citizenship compromises individual rights, there are tax fixes and there are citizenship fixes. Citizenship fixes include opt-in and opt-out mechanisms for birthright citizenship. The better solution may lie in frictionless exit for those with nominal ties to the national community. Though reform is more likely to be accomplished through the tax regime, the moment highlights the over-inclusiveness of U.S. citizenship and the growing salience of international law to citizenship practices.I'm less confident than Peter that reform will ever be delivered through the tax regime, but I am very glad to see this important contribution to the growing literature focusing on the citizenship/taxation link.
States have complex and often conflicted attitudes toward migration and citizenship. These attitudes are not always directly expressed by lawmakers, but they may be reflected quite explicitly in tax regimes: for the world’s most prosperous individuals and their families, multiple states extend a warm welcome. Sometimes prospective migrants are offered fast track to physical residence which can lead to citizenship if the migrant desires it. Others are offered a mere commercial transaction, with citizenship granted to applicants with the right credentials and a willingness to pay. Migrants might seek to obtain residency or citizenship for personal, family, economic, or tax reasons, or some combination of them. For the granting country, the tax significance of obtaining new residents or citizens will vary depending on domestic policy goals. However, the consequences of residence and citizenship by investment programs could be severe for the international tax regime: the jurisdiction to tax and the allocation of taxing rights among countries are commonly based on residence and citizenship factors. This article accordingly surveys contemporary residence and citizenship by investment programs on offer around the world and analyzes their potential impact on international tax policy.
* update: I've found a couple of additional programs (e.g. France has a lower cost program, making it less of an outlier)--thank you twitterverse) and I've corrected a few currency conversion errors. This is still a work in progress as previously noted, and I expect to be revising again in the coming weeks.
I've been working on residence and citizenship by investment programs, and thanks to some stellar research assistance by Jake Heyka, have developed a set of data comprising what I believe is a fairly thorough look at the residence and citizenship by investment programs currently on offer around the world. I made the above infographic to show the lowest cost program per country for all countries that offer either residence or citizenship by investment.
The lowest cost residence by investment programs are offered by Panama and Paraguay, each coming in at about USD$5,000, while the most expensive is
One of the things I wondered about in looking over the programs is the inequality factor at play--that is, how much can richer/larger countries demand in terms of higher prices and more stringent requirements (such as actual residence) for entry, and how much must poorer/smaller countries be satisfied with smaller investments and fewer commitments by the applicant? The answer seems to be that there appears definitely a "rich get richer" quality to the distinctions among programs, but there are lots of details in the programs that require further thought.
The paper itself is still in progress but here is an explanation of what I am looking at:
International law and political theory scholars have long wrestled with the normative implications of commodifying citizenship and access to immigration with pay-to-play visa programs, but the analysis does not typically consider the role the tax system plays or could play in these schemes, nor how such schemes might impact the tax regime in terms of gross revenue or distributional effect. Yet governments increasingly view their tax systems as a means of potentially increasing the value of residence and citizenship in their countries, whether intrinsically or in relation to the treatment of those who gain such status by other means. Given the cost involved in reducing revenue from those arguably most able to pay, whether the programs actually produce the predicted outcomes is one obvious question to be asked. Even if the programs in fact achieve their goals, a second question surely arises regarding the normative justification for using the tax system to lure the wealthy away from other countries in this manner. Does the normative case differ when applied to humans as opposed to companies? Does it differ when the luring state is richer or poorer relative to the countries of origin of prospective immigrants? To sketch out a framework for analyzing these questions requires a sense of the various competing programs on offer. This essay takes the first step by comparing national programs that use their taxing power in some manner in order to attract immigration, and highlights some of the factors that raise normative questions about the appropriate design and uses of a tax system.Comments welcome.
Tagged as: migration research tax policy
I've posted on SSRN a new work in progress and two recently published works on the topic of taxation and human rights:
Human Rights at the Borders of Tax Sovereignty
Tax scholarship typically presumes the state’s power to tax and therefore rarely concerns itself with analyzing which relationships between a government and a potential taxpayer normatively justify taxation, and which do not. This paper presents the case for undertaking such an analysis as a matter of the state’s obligation to observe and protect fundamental human rights. It begins by examining existing frameworks for understanding how a taxpayer population is and ought to be defined. It then analyzes potential harms created by an improperly expansive taxpayer category, and those created by excluding from consideration those beyond the polity even if directly impacted by the tax regime. It concludes that a modified membership principle is a more acceptable framework for normative analysis of the jurisdiction to tax, even while acknowledging the overwhelming weight of existing perceptions about the bounds of the polity and the state-citizen relationship as significant barriers to acceptance.Taxpayer Rights in Canada
Canada is one of many countries where taxpayer rights are becoming an increasingly common topic of discourse among policymakers, practitioners, and the public. Especially in light of recent developments regarding the global expansion of taxpayer information exchange, the role of taxpayer privacy and confidentiality rights have emerged as significant legal issues. This chapter surveys the contemporary theoretical, legal, and political landscape of taxpayer rights in Canada. Part I outlines the theoretical and legal sources from which taxpayers may be said to have rights. Part II examines Canada’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights and considers some of the historical, legal, and political issues that give rise to their core principles. Part III focuses in on the taxpayer’s right to privacy and confidentiality in the context of evolving global trends surrounding the use and exchange of taxpayer information. The Chapter concludes with some observations about where taxpayer rights may be headed in Canada.Taxpayer Rights in the United States
Despite abundant sources of legal and quasi-legal protection against abuses of individual rights and freedoms, there are areas of contention regarding respect for taxpayer rights in the United States. This chapter lays out the framework of taxpayer rights and considers their meaning by considering a contemporary case, namely, the recent expansion of citizenship-based taxation through globally enforced financial asset reporting and information exchange. Part I outlines the theoretical and legal sources from which taxpayers may be said to have rights. Part II examines the US Taxpayer Bill of Rights and considers some of the historical, legal, and political issues that give rise to their core principles. Part III focuses in on the taxpayer’s right to be informed in the context of citizenship-based taxation in a globalized world. The Chapter concludes with some observations about where taxpayer rights may be headed in the United States.
Tagged as: fairness justice scholarship sovereignty tax policy
My own view is that a switch to deductibility would increases pressure on capital importing countries to reduce their source-based taxes (a deduction does not fully offset the foreign tax, so it would make such taxes more costly to US firms as compared to fully creditable foreign taxes), and therefore transfer revenues from poor to rich countries. Deferral already places tremendous tax competition pressure on host countries, while ending it might enable some countries (to which US capital is a major source of inbound investment) to increase their source-based taxation (as explained in this paper). Therefore I was happy to see this FP&S paper give additional support to the beleaguered tax credit while still recognizing that there is such a thing as giving too much credit.
I was also intrigued to see FP&S begin their paper by picking up Reuven Avi-Yonah's premise that taxation on the basis of residence and source is customary international law. That is not only a relatively unusual argument to find in a US-authorized tax paper, but it is a potentially controversial perspective, which I am exploring in a paper of my own (making the international law case against citizenship based taxation). So, thank you Fleming, Peroni and Shay, for the additional citation support for my arguments.
It is also worth noting that FP&S include in this paper a defense of the corporate income tax in the form of footnote 200, which spans more than a page in tiny but useful print. It summarizes the main points regarding why corporate tax is necessary as a backstop to individual income taxation, citing to the main arguments for and against, thus serving as a valuable micro treatise on the subject.
Finally, I note that FP&S only give the FTC two cheers instead of three because they feel that it conflicts with the principle of ability to pay, an argument I have not seen before and that gives me pause. Their argument is that foreign taxes are a cost to individuals attendant to investing abroad, and that crediting these taxes is too generous from the perspective of fairness, that a deduction would sufficiently account for the cost in terms of measuring ability to pay. I can understand that argument where the FTC is itself too generous, allowing cross-crediting and not restricting its application to double taxation. But I do not understand that argument applied to an FTC that restricts itself to a dollar for dollar credit of actual taxes paid, which I believe is the argument being advanced here. That's something to think about a little more.
In any event, abstract below and paper at the link above. Well worth a read.
Reform of the U.S. international income taxation system has been a hotly debated topic for many years. The principal competing alternatives are a territorial or exemption system and a worldwide system. For reasons summarized in this Article, we favor worldwide taxation if it is real worldwide taxation; that is, a nondeferred U.S. tax is imposed on all foreign income of U.S. residents at the time the income is earned. However, this approach is not acceptable unless the resulting double taxation is alleviated. The longstanding U.S. approach for handling the international double taxation problem is a foreign tax credit limited to the U.S. levy on the taxpayer’s foreign income. Indeed, the foreign tax credit is an essential element of the case for worldwide taxation. Moreover, territorial systems often apply worldwide taxation with a foreign tax credit to all income of resident individuals as well as the passive income and tax haven income of resident corporations. Thus, the foreign tax credit also is an important feature of many territorial systems. The foreign tax credit has been subjected to sharp criticisms though, and Professor Daniel Shaviro has recently proposed replacing the credit with a combination of a deduction for foreign taxes and a reduced U.S. tax rate on foreign income.
In this Article, we respond to the criticisms and argue that the foreign tax credit is a robust and effective device. Furthermore, we respectfully explain why Professor Shaviro’s proposal is not an adequate substitute. We also explore an overlooked aspect of the foreign tax credit—its role as an allocator of the international tax base between residence and source countries—and we explain the credit’s effectiveness in carrying out this role. Nevertheless, we point out that the credit merits only two cheers because it goes beyond the requirements of the ability-to-pay principle that underlies use of an income base for imposing tax (instead of a consumption base). Ultimately, the credit is the preferred approach for mitigating international double taxation of income.
I am occasionally asked for a list of the things I've written or presented about FATCA and citizenship-based taxation, and decided I may as well post it here. I have a newer article on the adoption of the IGA in Canada, will post that soon and add to this list.
- Uncle Sam Wants...Who? A Global Perspective on Citizenship Taxation (explaining the expansive US tax jurisdiction and its consequences on citizens abroad)
- Understanding the Accidental American—Tina’s Story (describing the “gotcha” of CBT and FATCA)
- Paperwork and Punishment: It’s Time to Fix FBAR (explaining FBAR, its mission creep, and its effects on USPersons living abroad)
- Taxpayer Rights, On and Off-shore (exploring tax complexity and compliance for nonresident US Persons)
- Regulating Tax Preparers: A Global Problem for the IRS (exploring the problem of regulating the tax compliance industry outside the US territory)
- Could a Same Country Exception Help Fix FATCA and FBAR? (calling for exemption of local accounts held by nonresident US Persons from FATCA reporting; third item in a compilation; scroll to p. 7 of the document).
- Two expert reports in connection with the Hillis v. Attorney General of Canada litigation.
- Submission to Finance Department on Implementation of FATCA in Canada (discussing legal issues with proposed adoption of IGA)
- What You Give And What You Get: Reciprocity under a Model 1 IGA (explaining asymmetrical account disclosure and sharing requirements)
- Tax Cooperation: Past, Present and Future (explaining why FATCA is a tax treaty override & the IGAs do not “cure” it)
- The Dubious Legal Nature of IGAs and Why it Matters (arguing that the IGAs violate the US constitution regarding the treaty power, and thereby implicate public international law as to the treaties they ostensibly interpret)
- Interpretation or Override: Introducing the Hybrid Tax Agreement (further analysis on the public international law problems created by the IGAs)
- Putting the Reign Back in Sovereign: Advice to the Second Obama Administration (analyzing FATCA’s unilateral nature and its implications for international tax policy)
- Interview with Tax Analysts (November 2015)
- Podcast with the McGill Law Journal (February 2014)
- Testimony to Finance Committee (March 2014)
- Interview with CBC News (January 2014)
- Interview with CBC Radio "All in a Day" (July 2014)
- Explaining the basic structure and issues surrounding FATCA (2012-prior to the IGA era)
Tagged as: citizenship FATCA scholarship tax policy
This week I will be in Vancouver to present a paper at the UBC Allard School of Law. The paper, "Uncle Sam Wants...Who? A Global Perspective on Citizenship Taxation," is now available in draft form on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Across the globe, banks are flagging accounts with indicia indicating their owners may be “US Persons,” making it possible for the United States to enforce its taxation of nonresident citizens extraterritorially for the first time in history. The indicia method constitutes a mining expedition for US citizens carried out by foreign banks and governments. Establishing a tax jurisdiction in this manner is unprecedented and has significant practical and normative consequences. In the case of so-called “accidental Americans,” it violates one of the most fundamental and universally- acknowledged tenets of taxpayer rights, namely, the right to be informed about what the law requires. Third party indicia-searching should be universally rejected as a means of identifying a taxpayer population. Instead, the United States itself is responsible for cataloguing, informing, and educating its global population of taxpayers. Those who don’t belong in the system should be allowed to opt out without cost.I welcome comments on this work in progress.
Tax Analysts has published my talk on taxpayer rights and citizenship-based taxation as enforced via FATCA, which I gave in November at the International Conference on Taxpayer Rights in Washington DC, organized by National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson. Tax Analysts' content is normally gated but they have made this column available on their free site.
Tagged as: citizenship compliance fairness FATCA human rights tax policy US
I recently sat down with Bob Goulder of Tax Analysts to talk about FATCA, citizenship-based taxation, renunciation, and taxpayer rights.
Tagged as: FATCA human rights justice tax policy US
This week at the University of Michigan Law School, Reuven Avi-Yonah and I are co-hosting an academic workshop on the topic of citizenship and taxation. Because it is a workshop, most of the papers are still in draft and won't be publicly available for some time. However, we will be doing a writeup of the proceedings and I'll post that when it is available, and of course I'll post when the symposium volume is published. Here are the speakers and topics:
- Reuven Avi-Yonah (Michigan) Constructive Unilateralism : US Leadership and International Taxation
- Allison Christians (McGill) Uncle Sam Wants … Who?
- Wei Cui (UBC) Residence and Source as Interconnected Concepts
- Tessa Davis (South Carolina) Of Tax Crimes and “Bad” Citizens: How the Role of Tax Law in Making a Citizen Informs Tax Law and Policy
- Jane Frecknall-Hughes (Hull) Tax and the citizen: the philosophical underpinnings
- Christine Harlen (Leeds) Making America Exceptional: Perfectionist Civic Republicanism and the Taxation of Americans Abroad in the Progressive Era, 1890-1920
- Michael Kirsch (Notre Dame) The Taxation (or Non-Taxation) of Citizens’ Foreign Income: Distilling the Competing Normative Arguments
- Sagit Leviner (Ono) Citizenship Transcendent
- Patrick Martin (Procopio) Tax Simplification: The Need for Consistent Tax Treatment of All Individuals (Citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents, and Non-Citizens regardless of immigrant status) Residing Overseas, Including the Repeal of U.S. Citizenship Based Taxation
- Ruth Mason (Virginia) Citizenship Taxation
- Linneu Mello (Bichara) How the Brazilian Tax Authorities Control Information and What FATCA Has To Do With It
- Henry Ordower (St. Louis) Is the Expatriation Tax Constitutional? Mark to Market and the Macomber Conundrum
- Adam Rosenzweig (Washington St. Louis) Once a US Person, Always a US Person
- Daniel Shaviro (NYU) Taxing Potential Community Members’ Foreign Source Income
- Peter Spiro (Temple) Citizenship Overreach and the U.S. Tax Regime
- Saul Templeton (Calgary) Bill C-51, FATCA, and the End of Taxpayer Privacy
- Edward Zelinsky (Cardozo) The Problems of Defining Residence: The U.S. Experience
- Montano Cabezas (Georgetown) Reasons for Citizenship-Based Taxation?
- Christine Kim (NYU) Considering “Citizenship Taxation” : In Defense of FATCA
- Gene Magidenko (UMich) – A Defense of Citizenship Taxation
- Gianluca Mazzoni (Brescia) The Interaction Between FATCA and Data Privacy
- Miguel Nicolas (UParis) FATCA and International Law
Tagged as: citizenship conference scholarship tax policy u.s.
Interesting new paper on PILOTs: "payments in lieu of taxes" that some municipalities request of otherwise tax-exempt orgs. At a recent talk I did at Notre Dame on the topic of taxation and human rights, I explored the dual "social contribution" budgets that highly visible/profitable multinationals often have in impoverished places--the tax budget (that ends up appearing quite small in many cases) and the Corporate Social Responsibility or "CSR" budget (the fees some companies pay to build infrastructure or schools or provide basic services as a matter of "good corporate citizenship"). I brought up Starbucks' dealings with HMRC in response to charges of tax dodging as a rarely-seen tax-like-but-not-quite-tax arising in a developed country, and wondered aloud whether we ought to consider this kind of CSR outlay as in the nature of a tax, or not. One of the audience members suggested that the Starbucks payment or a CSR budget seems analogous to PILOTs, so it's worth taking a look at them. Good idea. I'll add this paper to the reading list. Here's the abstract:
Nonprofit charitable organizations are exempt from most taxes, including local property taxes, but U.S. cities and towns increasingly request that nonprofits make payments in lieu of taxes (known as PILOTs). Strictly speaking, PILOTs are voluntary, though nonprofits may feel pressure to make them, particularly in high-tax communities. Evidence from Massachusetts indicates that PILOT rates, measured as ratios of PILOTs to the value of local tax-exempt property, are higher in towns with higher property tax rates: a one percent higher property tax rate is associated with a 0.2 percent higher PILOT rate. PILOTs appear to discourage nonprofit activity: a one percent higher PILOT rate is associated with 0.8 percent reduced real property ownership by local nonprofits, 0.2 percent reduced total assets, and 0.2 percent lower revenues of local nonprofits. These patterns are consistent with voluntary PILOTs acting in a manner similar to low-rate, compulsory real estate taxes.