The FBI has released the latest monthly report on the number of records in NICS, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Alongside hundreds of thousands of records of convicted criminals and the mentally ill, NICS now contains 21,308 records of people who have formally renounced U.S. citizenship, up from 20,830 last month.
As discussed in our earlier post about NICS, this number includes only emigrants who lost U.S. citizenship under INA § 349(a)(5) or (6) by swearing an oath of renunciation — meaning they had lived abroad for many years and were now naturalising in a country whose laws require applicants for naturalisation to renounce all other citizenships prior to being granted a certificate of naturalisation (such as Denmark or Hong Kong), or they were choosing to give up U.S. citizenship after a long period of being dual citizens — which they might choose to do immediately after moving out of the U.S., or decades after their emigration.
NICS does not include records of people who relinquished U.S. citizenship, which normally occurs when emigrants naturalise or enter government service in a country which does permit dual citizenship, but nevertheless choose to have this treated as an “expatriating act” by the U.S. State Department. Based on 1994–1995 State Department data and the Isaac Brock Society’s own collected reports of readers giving up U.S. citizenship, the ratio of renunciants to relinquishers seems to be between five-to-four and six-to-four. That would suggest that roughly eight or nine hundred people gave up U.S. citizenship in one way or another last month.
This estimate for last month alone is twenty times as high as the mere 45 names in the Federal Register name-and-shame list for all of the fourth quarter of 2012. The Federal Register list seems to have begun omitting names of certain people giving up U.S. citizenship starting in 2006, though the basis for non-inclusion in the Federal Register is not well understood and remains a topic of debate. In the U.S. media, the sharp drop in the number of names in the Federal Register in 2006 is sometimes tied to Bush-era tax cuts, in particular the Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005. In reality, Chuck Grassley (R-IA), whose distaste for Americans abroad is well-known, snuck a massive tax hike on U.S. citizens abroad into that very Act, making it unlikely that the number of American emigrants giving up citizenship would have decreased.
With roughly six million U.S. citizens living abroad, eight or nine hundred renunciations in a month would correspond to 160 annual renunciations per 100,000 diaspora population. This may not seem like a large number but it is in fact quite high when compared to almost all European countries, such as Sweden where a grand total of five people renounced citizenship in 2010. Even Taiwan and Japan have lower renunciation rates — a particularly surprising fact, given that Japan does not permit dual citizenship and Taiwan requires male citizens to perform military service (though the term of service has recently been reduced to four months, this only applies to young men born after 1994; men born from 1977 to 1993 remain liable for the earlier two-year term of conscription).
The fact that European countries have such low renunciation rates points to the obvious fact that high taxes at home are not the driver of renunciations by emigrants — rather, the primary concerns would seem to be the passport country’s treatment of its diaspora (including onerous tax and paperwork requirements for ordinary overseas financial activities, which U.S. media carelessly lump under the rubric of “tax rates” in an effort to portray emigrants as “rich people fleeing the country with ill-gotten gains”), and possibly emigrants’ desire to disassociate themselves from home countries for which many of their neighbours may have a rather low regard.
Note that the FBI has now begun deleting earlier monthly reports from their website; however, most of them remain available through Google cache or the Internet Archive. I will update the earlier chart of past NICS statistics with working links as time permits.