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January 6, 2011 - Phil Hodgen

Is expatriation from the USA getting more popular?

Interesting rumor about changes in expatriation procedures at the U.S. Embassy and Consulates.  Don’t know if it is true.  But here are some possible conclusions:

  • The rumor is bogus;
  • The rumor is true but the change in policy for expatriations is due to temporary circumstances in workload and will revert to normal at some later time;
  • U.S. Embassy and Consulate staff in Canada (and only Canada) are exceedingly lazy (improbable in the extreme, heh!); or
  • The Department of State has made a policy change for bureaucratic reasons unfathomable to mere mortals; or
  • U.S. citizens and green card holders are leaving the United States in droves and the workload is bogging down the systems in Canada.

Rumor

The rumor is that the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Canada are refusing to take appointments from people who wish to cancel their green card visas or relinquish their U.S. citizenship, unless the people have a U.S./Canada connection.

Example 1

A dual U.S./Canadian citizen wishes to relinquish his U.S. citizenship.  The U.S. Consulates in Canada will set an appointment to handle this matter.

Example 2

A Canadian citizen who holds a U.S. green card visa (i.e., permanent resident visa for the United States) wishes to cancel her green card visa.  The U.S. Consulates in Canada will set an appointment to handle this matter.

However, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Canada will not set an appointment for a U.S. citizen or resident who does not have a connection to Canada.

Example 3

A dual citizen of the United States and France wishes to relinquish his U.S. citizenship.  The U.S. Consulates in Canada will NOT set an appointment to handle this matter.

Example 4

A French citizen who holds a U.S. green card visa (i.e., permanent resident visa for the United States) wishes to cancel her green card visa.  The U.S. Consulates in Canada will NOT set an appointment to handle this matter.

Where the rumor comes from

The rumor comes from a single point of anecdotal evidence.

One of our clients is attempting to terminate his U.S. citizenship.  His other citizenship is NOT Canada.  He was turned away from making an appointment at two U.S. Consulates in Canada.  He reports that they are not just picking on him.  It was a general policy.

Why it is important for would-be expatriates

Until now, a U.S. citizen attempting to give up his or her citizenship (or a green card holder looking to terminate permanent resident status) could walk into any U.S. Embassy or Consulate, worldwide, and do the paperwork.

If the rumor from Canada is true, then what does it mean?  Simple:

  • It means that cutting your ties with the United States is now a slightly more difficult process than before.

For those of you who are thinking of relinquishing that blue passport or green visa, it means a bit of extra work.  Possibly some travel.  Build this consideration into your plans.

Occam’s Razor and some guesses

It is possible to do the paperwork by mail.  This would appear to be true for the Canadian Embassy and Consulate, though we have not tested this theory.

If the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Canada handle expatriations by mail but not in person, then the Occam’s Razor conclusion points to a workload problem in Canada rather than a mandate from the Department of State.

A workload problem either comes from too much demand (i.e., many eager would-be expatriates banging on the doors of the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Canada) or from understaffing.

Apply Occam’s Razor again.  Either conclusion is reasonable.  Budgeting problems at the Federal level might lead to understaffing at the Consulates.  Or there may be a sufficiently higher demand for services in the form of people who want to give up citizenship or green cards.

My bet, based on personal experience, is that there has been a definite and noticeable uptick in the number of people seeking to terminate their green card visa status, or give up their U.S. citizenship.  My bet is based on conversations I have had with would-be clients of our firm, as well as the workload of active expatriation cases we have in house.

It does not take too many extra applications to swamp the system.  Traffic flow on a highway will slow to a crawl with a relatively small increase in the number of cars on the road.  I think the same is true here with expatriation applications.  A combination of understaffing and increased expatriation activity adequately explains what we’ve heard from Canada.

I would NOT guess that this is a mandate from Washington D.C. to Embassies and Consulates worldwide.  I think we would see evidence of pain from other countries in processing expatriation applications before a Command from Above goes out to the Embassies and Consulates.  (The U.S. Embassy in Switzerland is pretty well swamped, I hear!)

Pro Tip:  don’t do your expatriation by mail

We generally recommend that people do NOT expatriate by doing their paperwork through the mail unless it is absolutely necessary.  And we definitely advise against it if you are attempting to expatriate late in the year and wish to have an expatriation date before December 31.  Mailing your paperwork to the Embassy or Consulate adds unpredictability into the project.

  • Things get lost in the mail.
  • If your envelope arrives in the mail at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate, it may not get processed promptly.
  • Or your paperwork might arrive correctly and get set into the queue for processing but it will take weeks for the Embassy or Consulate staff to process your paperwork.
  • Or the Embassy/Consulate might receive your paperwork properly, process it promptly, and mail it back to you but the return mailing gets lost.
  • Or you might have messed up the paperwork and your application will get bounced back to you so you can fix it.
  • Or something else.

All of these things can cause you to fail in your quest to become a former citizen or permanent resident of the United States.

(Note:  recent experience with the U.S. Embassy in Sydney shows them to be fast and efficient with mailed-in applications. So there you are.  The exception proves the rule.)

(UPDATE)

I was on a conference call a few minutes ago with Steve Trow and Paula Jones.  The three of us are doing a webcast for AILA on January 20, 2010 — all about expatriation!  (Whee!  Let’s p-a-r-t-a-y!)

Steve mentioned that he has seen this situation in Canada and elsewhere.  He said the Toronto Consulate gets to the point where they only want to take people who have a connection to the Province of Ontario.  He says Consulates and Embassies elsewhere will sometimes restrict who they will take and who they won’t take for expatriation appointments.  The official position of the Department of State is that any U.S. citizen can go to any Embassy/Consulate anywhere.  Reality is different.  It’s not a conspiracy.  Relax.

Expatriation