Americans living abroad who wish to renounce their citizenship have found themselves stuck in limbo as most US consular missions around the world have suspended their expatriation services for those seeking to officially sever their ties to the United States.
Delays have led to a growing backlog of renunciation requests, the Guardian newspaper reported on Friday. By some estimates, as many as 300,000 Americans seeking to give up their citizenship have faced barriers in getting the process going since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic as US embassies are "currently unable to accept appointments for loss of nationality applications."
The US State Department requires a face-to-face interview before American citizens can renounce their citizenship. But it has put the sessions on hold during the pandemic.
In recent years, many Americans looking to start a new life abroad have come to regard the United States as an abusive nation. The chaotic end of the Donald Trump era, combined with the inequities that were further exposed by COVID-19, has made them despair of being an American.
“I can acknowledge my past association with that person while at the same time wanting to keep future association to a minimum,” one such individual, identifying himself only as Michael, told the Guardian.
“Coronavirus made me realize that in the US, if you’re not a member of the moneyed elite you’re left to fend for yourself with virtually no help from the federal government,” he said. “The farcical presidential campaign made me realize that I don’t want to be a member of a society in which my vote is made irrelevant by gerrymandering or the electoral college.”
Having moved to Finland 10 years ago, Michael decided he no longer wished to have ties to a country whose values he did not recognize anymore. But he discovered that along with thousands of other US citizens living abroad, he was caught in “a Kafkaesque trap.”
The Guardian also interviewed Joshua Grant, who was born and raised in the US state of Alabama, until in moved to Germany when he was 21. Grant, now 30, has married a German citizen and feels ready to acquire German citizenship, but under German law, he must first give up his US passport, something he cannot do at the moment.
Grant said he submitted his documents to the US embassy in July 2020 and sent follow-up emails, but has yet to receive a response.
“It’s very taxing. My whole life in Germany is on hold,” he told the British paper. “It’s funny: people in Germany tend to see the US as a liberal country where the rule of law was established, but I can’t even find anyone in the US government to talk to.”
Some Americans may have financial considerations in wanting to give up their citizenship because the US government has made the burden of being an American more onerous for those living abroad.
A 2010 law known as the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) requires banks and other financial institutions overseas to report any clients they suspect of holding US citizenship to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the federal agency responsible for collecting taxes.
This forces Americans living abroad to declare their global income to the IRS, with possible tax implications.
Meanwhile, nine US citizens abroad who have found themselves unable to renounce their citizenship have launched a lawsuit against the US State Department in a federal court in Washington. The suit has been filed by the French-based group Association of Accidental Americans on behalf of the plaintiffs.
“The US appears intent on preventing its citizens from exercising their natural and fundamental right to voluntarily renounce their citizenship,” it says.