Confirming reports passed on by commenters at the Isaac Brock Society, DiploPundit points to a State Department interim rule just placed on public inspection for printing in tomorrow’s Federal Register, which raises the fee for renunciation of U.S. citizenship (but apparently not relinquishment) to US$2,350, more than twenty times the average level in other high-income countries. As they state:
[D]emand for the service has increased dramatically, consuming far more consular officer time and resources, as reflected in the 2012 Overseas Time Survey and increased workload data. Because the Department believes there is no public benefit or other reason for setting this fee below cost, the Department is increasing this fee to reflect the full cost of providing the service. Therefore the increased fee reflects both the increased cost of the provision of service as well as the determination to now charge the full cost.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality”, while the Expatriation Act of 1868 says that renunciation of citizenship is “a natural and inherent right of all people” and that “any declaration, instruction, opinion, order, or decision of any officers of this government which restricts, impairs, or questions the right of expatriation, is hereby declared inconsistent with the fundamental principles of this government”.
As of press time, the State Department has not yet commented on whether it sees “public benefit” in other human rights such as freedom of election or freedom of marriage, or whether anyone seriously believes that charging people a month’s salary to get a ballot paper or a marriage certificate would not restrict or impair those rights.
Because this fee hike apparently does not apply to relinquishments, ex-Americans who naturalise in most other countries will still be able to obtain a Certificate of Loss of Nationality from the U.S. government for no more than the cost of taking a day off work and driving or flying halfway across the country to the nearest consulate which isn’t backed up for months with renunciation appointments. (“Most other countries” means those which allow dual citizenship, like Canada and France, or those which forbid dual citizenship but allow new citizens to submit proof of loss of their former citizenship after the naturalisation ceremony, like Japan.)
However, Americans seeking to naturalise in countries which require new citizens to give up their former citizenship before the naturalisation ceremony, like Taiwan, or those who have been foreign citizens for decades or all their lives and never exercised any benefits of U.S. citizenship but now need to acquire a formal CLN (for example because their bank will discriminate against them if they don’t have one), will feel the full impact of the new fee hike, and also have to wait for months or even longer than a year for the State Department to give them a CLN before they can get on with their lives.
The State Department has always claimed that processing renunciations has a high cost, but four years ago when they first introduced the renunciation fee, they at least pretended to take a very different attitude to the cost:
The CoSS demonstrated that documenting a U.S. citizen’s renunciation of citizenship is extremely costly, requiring American consular officers overseas to spend substantial amounts of time to accept, process, and adjudicate cases. A new fee of $450 will be established to help defray a portion of the total cost to the U.S. Government of documenting the renunciation of citizenship. While the Department decided to set the fee at $450, this fee represents less than 25 percent of the cost to the U.S. Government. The Department has determined that it must recoup at least a portion of its costs of providing this very costly service but set the fee lower than the cost of service in order to lessen the impact on those who need this service and not discourage the utilization of the service, a development the Department feels would be detrimental to national interests. See 31 U.S.C. 9701(b)(2).
They also note the per-hour cost they use to calculate the new fee:
The Department previously charged a consular time fee of $231 per hour, per employee. This fee is charged when indicated on the Schedule of Fees or when services are performed away from the office or outside regular business hours. The CoSM estimated that the hourly consular time charge is now lower. Accordingly, the Department is lowering this fee to $135 per hour.
This implies that they take about seventeen employee-hours to process each renunciation (assuming that none of the fee goes to other expenses such as travel or printing). Oddly enough, in their 2012 Paperwork Reduction Act filings on Form DS-4079 (which is filled out by both renunciants and relinquishers), the State Department indicated that the cost for processing the form was just $33 per hour. I don’t understand how these two estimates relate to each other.
To explain the new fee hike, the State Department point to procedures (such as the pointless and repetitive double in-person appointment system) which are required neither by the Immigration and Nationality Act nor the Foreign Affairs Manual, nor used by any other countries:
For example, consular officers must confirm that the potential renunciant fully understands the consequences of renunciation, including losing the right to reside in the United States without documentation as an alien. Other steps include verifying that the renunciant is a U.S. citizen, conducting a minimum of two intensive interviews with the potential renunciant, and reviewing at least three consular systems before administering the oath of renunciation. The final approval of the loss of nationality must be done by law within the Directorate of Overseas Citizens Services in Washington, D.C., after which the case is returned to the consular officer overseas for final delivery of the Certificate of Loss of Nationality to the renunciant. These steps further add to the time and labor that must be involved in the process.
As demonstrated by the experience of other countries, the State Department could greatly lower their costs by simplifying their procedures, but apparently such a common-sense step has not occurred to them.
But look on the bright side! 31 USC § 9701 says that “[e]ach charge shall be … based on … (A) the costs to the Government; (B) the value of the service or thing to the recipient; (C) public policy or interest served; and (D) other relevant facts.” Given how valuable a CLN has become these days, imagine how high a fee they could charge for it if they set the price based on its value.
Timeline for fee hike and comments period
The State Department ends with an excuse for why they can’t be bothered to tell us about the fee hike more than two weeks in advance, while keeping renunciants waiting for dozens of times that long to get the CLNs in the first place:
The Department intends to implement this interim final rule, and initiate collection of the fees set forth herein, effective 15 days after publication of this rule in the Federal Register …. The Department is publishing this rule as an interim final rule, with a 60-day provision for post promulgation comments and with an effective date less than 30 days from the date of publication, based on the “good cause” exceptions set forth at 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(3)(B) and 553(d)(3). Delaying implementation of this rule would be contrary to the public interest because the fees in this rule fund consular services that are critical to national security, including screening visa applicants.
You have until 4 October to submit a written comment on this rule. I will update this post with a link to the docket page on Regulations.gov once the fee hike is officially published.