By Bernard Casey
Americans in record numbers are doing what was once considered unthinkable - renouncing their US citizenship. In numerical terms, at least 1,788 Americans officially gave up their US citizenship in 2011 - more than the combined totals from 2007, 2008 and 2009 - and 2012 promises to be another record breaking year, with 461 Americans already taking this action in the first quarter of the year, according to US Treasury Department figures. Although these numbers may seem like a small percentage of the US population, the fact that there are a record number 6.3 million US citizens working abroad, and that a record number of them are renouncing their citizenship, is worthy of further consideration.
Additionally, these numbers don't account for those émigrés who come to the US on visas, but then decide of their own volition not to pursue permanent residency or citizenship, and instead to return home.
An oft-cited reason for giving up one's US passport is the US law known as Facta, or the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, passed into law in 2010 and to be implemented in 2013, which is a draconian expansion of America's already uniquely onerous tax laws for expatriates. It is worth noting that the United States is the only nation within the 34-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that taxes its citizens regardless of nation of residence, in essence requiring that Americans living abroad pay income taxes to both their nation of residence and to the IRS, albeit subject to partial exemptions based on income level. Moreover, the high cost of compliance with Facta has led many banks and hedge funds in Asia to turn away all American clients, creating insurmountable barriers to banking and investment for numerous American expatriates living and working in Asia.
Finally, if this were not sufficient reason to change one's citizenship, there is also the comparative difference in income tax rates, for example, a flat rate of 13% in Russia according to the Russian Tax Code, a flat rate of 12% in Belarus according to the Belorussian Tax Code, and a flat rate of 15% in Ukraine according to the Ukrainian Tax Code, compared with a combined federal-state rate of up to 46% now, and up to 50% starting in 2013, in such US states as California and New York, according to The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.
The United States Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 mandates that the name of every American who renounces their citizenship be published in the Federal Register, based on the premise that individuals who do so are unpatriotic tax dodgers who deserve to be publicly shamed. However, the motivations for Americans exchanging their citizenship for that of another country, particularly that of Russia, Belarus, or Ukraine, are often far more complicated and intertwined. Among the reasons cited by Americans for moving to Russia, Belarus, or Ukraine, and in many cases giving up their US citizenship, are, in addition to taxation, employment, education, religion, culture, foreign policy, marriage to a foreign national, and more.
Take for example the case of an Eastern Orthodox parish just south of San Francisco, California, which has already lost nine families - all of them returning to either Russia, Belarus, or Ukraine. Among the reasons cited by parishioners for returning home include "the American legalization of immorality via the gay movement and abortions for minors without their parents' consent, and the atrocious level of American education." As one parishioner told the parish rector: "Only the naïve believe that upon legalizing gay marriages America will put a period. It will continue, gradually imposing gays upon the educational system, upon job providers, upon private organizations such as churches, upon the military, thus destroying it, upon Hollywood and other forms of entertainment; it will not stop because it cannot stop - that is the nature of this disgusting beast. We are moving out, because we have small children, and we don't want them corrupted".
This parishioner is not exaggerating. In recent years, while Russia was re-introducing Orthodox Christian culture into its school curriculum, including history from Alexander Solzhenitsyn, California was instead introducing revisionist history into its school curriculum, including the alleged contributions of Americans with homosexual proclivities, even declaring "Harvey Milk Day" in commemoration of the middle-aged homosexual activist who had a passion for sex with teenage boys. The parish rector at the Eastern Orthodox parish in California emphasizes that his parishioners who are giving up their US citizenship are "quality citizens, the kind you want in your country, the kind you want as your neighbors. These are not people looking for an easy life, or for accumulation of material goods. I am not aware of a single criminal or felon among these people. In our parish they were the best parishioners - always willing to work, to donate, to participate. Nor are they the elderly, suffering from romantic nostalgia."
George, an American citizen from New York who moved to Russia over a year ago, states, "I left America with the intention of never returning; not because I am not American, but because I believe America no longer exists. Instead it has been replaced with a Godless oligarchy bent on exploiting its citizens to satisfy the inexhaustible whims of an elite few. Were this alone not enough, I have found myself every year more disgusted by how America accuses other nations of the sins it is most guilty of. America insists it spreads democracy, criticizing nations with dozens of parties of being un-democratic, while the American two party system prevents democracy completely. America employs totalitarian tactics against protesters, having now authorized using microwave beam weapons to prevent protest; a right guaranteed by the American Constitution. Many Americans have already left and there soon will come a day when too few remain to call the land on which America was founded America."
Further to George's comments on US foreign policy, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has, in the past, condemned NATO's war of aggression against Serbian Orthodox Christians, stating that "several countries, being sure they have the right to determine world's fate, united to impose their will on a nation", and has warned that the fate of Christians in the Middle East and Africa has been worsened by foreign intervention in the affairs of sovereign nations in these regions. In addition, President Vladimir Putin has reiterated Russian's intent of fulfilling its historical role of protecting the world's Christian communities from violence, and on Victory Day this week emphasized that "strict adherence to international norms, respect for national sovereignty and self-selection of each nation - is one of the absolute guarantees that the tragedy of the last war will never happen again."
Regarding American foreign policy particularly towards Russia, American expatriates in Moscow are increasingly demanding an end to the US's funneling of $200 million through the State Department's National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to opposition leaders in Russia seeking to foment civil unrest or even revolution, and an end to NATO plans to surround Russia with offensive ballistic missiles to complement the US and NATO bases already surrounding Russia - both in direct violation of US President Ronald Reagan's promise to USSR Premier Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not expand eastward. The US Government would be wise to heed Patriarch Kirill's warning, "The Russian Orthodox Church is against violent revolutions, be it in Syria, Lebanon, or anywhere else. In any country, any disputes between the government and the opposition must be solved only by talks, the Russian Church believes - otherwise, there is a risk of the sorry scenario of the Russian Bolshevik revolution of 1917 being repeated."
Not all American expatriates living in Russia are quite ready to give up their US passport. Elina, a native of Russia who became a naturalized American citizen, moved back to Russia a few years ago with her American husband, Ken, and their children. Elina says that "in spite of draconian US tax laws, neither Ken, nor I, nor our children, plan to renounce our US citizenship. We all remain dedicated to the course of bringing our people together and uniting the efforts of the Russian and US people against the corporate fascism that is expanding in the world. Besides, we plan to visit the USA since Ken has his family there whom we dearly love and care about. I never renounced my Russian citizenship while getting my US citizenship, and my country did not take my citizenship away in spite of my second citizenship. We all love American people who are not at fault for the international aggression that is implemented by the Iron Triangle of the military complex, banks, and the US government."
George and Ken are actually two of many thousands of elite foreign specialists who have come from the US and the EU to work in Russia, including 10,000 in Moscow alone since 2001, according to the Head of Moscow's Department of Migration Service, Fyodor Karpovets. That number is likely to increase, based on Russia's liberalized immigration laws, Russia's WTO accession, and increased Government and foreign direct investment in Russia's innovation and modernization initiatives.
Some American expatriates in Russia were reluctant to go on the record, presumably because of fear of reprisals from US authorities. It is worth noting that both the US and Russian Governments allow dual citizenship, although the US State Department has tried to end this practice many times over the past 50 years, each time eventually being overruled by the Supreme Court. The only times in which the US State Department has prevailed in stripping a dual citizen of US citizenship have been in cases where a US citizen living abroad made public statements of an intent to renounce his US citizenship, only to later attempt to re-enter the US.
Moving abroad and renouncing one's US citizenship is a dramatic step that is not for everyone. However, those who have made such a move to Russia, Belarus, or Ukraine consider it one of the best decisions they have ever made.