'I accidentally became a US citizen and cannot get rid of the passport'

The US is a popular migration destination among UAE residents, and acquiring a US passport is considered the dream of many. However, there is another group of people who would rather see their US citizenship renounced, but find this difficult to realise.

Virginia La Torre Jeker J D regularly receives phone calls from frustrated parents, whose child involuntarily acquired US citizenship. They want to know how soon it can be renounced.

It would all not lead to the unrest witnessed of the citizenship was a mere benefit. However, as a US citizen one must be tax-compliant. If the citizenship was not consciously acquired, this understandably leads to frustration.

Virginia is a Dubai-based American tax specialist blogging about US tax issues. Her next blog is dedicated to the procedure of expatriation for those who find it difficult to do so. Minors are one such group.

Involuntary citizenship

The possibility of acquiring US citizenship is one that is not at all unlikely, Virginia explains. "When somebody is born in the US, (s)he automatically receives US citizenship. This is called the law of the soil, a rule of common law also followed by the US."

Similarly, when a child is born overseas but one of the parents is a US citizen who has lived in the US for a certain period, the child receives US citizenship involuntarily, and maybe even unaware.

"Take the example of a Lebanese family. A Lebanese couple, while studying in the US, gave birth to a son. This son is now a US citizen at birth. At a young age he returns to Lebanon with his parents. He goes back to the US for college and stays there another few years to work. He then returns to Lebanon, marries a Lebanese lady and has a child. This child is now a US citizen at birth based on the US immigration rules of having a parent who was born a US citizen and lived a certain number of years in the US prior to the birth of the child overseas.”   

Renouncing US citizenship

Since the US has increased its efforts to track down tax violators anywhere in the world, it has not been uncommon that US citizens try to renounce their citizenship in an attempt to escape tax compliance. This is a procedure full of hurdles and with tough consequences.

For minors it is even more complicated. Apart from the same hurdles and consequences as everybody is facing, the minor must come with very convincing reasoning to get the approval to renounce, explains Virginia.

"The US Consular offices and Embassies recognize that minors who seek to renounce citizenship often do so at the urging of or under pressure from a parent(s). This pressure can sometimes be so overwhelming that it will destroy the free will of the minor such that the act of expatriation cannot be committed “voluntarily”.

"Under guidelines issued by the Department of State, the younger the minor is at the time of renunciation, the more influence the parent is assumed to have. Consular officers are given strict guidelines to follow when a minor seeks to renounce his US citizenship.

"Even when there is no evidence of parental inducements or pressure, the relevant Consular personnel must make a judgment whether the individual minor manifested the requisite maturity to appreciate the irrevocable nature of expatriation so that his action can be treated as one that was taken “voluntarily”.

"In addition, it must be determined if the minor had the necessary intent to renounce his US citizenship. This will be found lacking if he did fully understand what he was doing. Under the guidelines issued by the Department of State, children under the age of 16 are presumed not to have the requisite maturity and knowing intent to undertake a renunciation of US citizenship.

Reasonable or not?

Frustrated parents of minors or minors themselves end up consulting Virginia. But not always is she able to advice that renouncing citizenship is the best thing to do.

"We do not want to put word in anyone's mouth. Expatriation is a very big thing and people need to think about it well," she says.

"There is a difference between somebody who has lived in Saudi for all his life, and somebody who is planning to move overseas. We ask minors how comfortable they are living overseas, and where their comfort zone is.

"Another important topic we raise is whether the minor has an ambition to work for an American company in the future, which might be easier if the US citizenship is remained.

"'My parents think it would be a good idea' is simply not a good enough reason to renounce citizenship," she adds.

The problem starts

The irony of it all is that in cases such as the Lebanese family, nobody might even be aware of the acquired citizenship and one would assume that in such case, it might not cause a problem to anybody.

However, the risks are high, argues Virginia. "Nobody might know that this person is actually tax-compliant. But imagine the following situation: the son gets old and becomes a rich and famous personality. In an interview, he reveals that his father studied in the US for an X amount of years. Somebody might just pick up on it, and report the case."

The trouble of such scenario can be huge. "Every US citizen must be tax compliant from birth," said Virginia. "Any shared asset, saving account, or income that comes to that person is eligible for taxation. Proper tax-planning must be in place, or the person will face huge consequences."

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