In the latest development in what is becoming a fast-moving international story concerning the bank accounts of tens of thousands of "accidental Americans" living outside of the U.S., it has emerged that the Dutch Banking Association has posted an animated video on the home page of its website in which it warns such clients of the need to get their U.S. Social Security numbers – if they don’t wish to lose their Dutch bank accounts.
A spokesperson for a European accidental Americans organization said that the video appeared to suggest that Europe's banks were "well on their way to becoming the willing agents of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service."
In its video, which may be seen here, and from which the above image has been taken, the Nederlandse Vereniging van Banken (NVB) explains clearly, in both English and Dutch, how Americans living in the Netherlands and who lack a Social Security number can apply for one at the U.S. Embassy.
If they don't do this, the 90-second video tells them, they stand to lose their bank accounts at the end of this year.
The NVB didn't immediately respond to a request for a comment on Saturday.
The video may also be viewed on YouTube, where it is said to have been posted on May 8.
"Geboren in de VS? En geen Social Security Number? Kom dan nu in actie!" the NVB video begins, showing the cartoon image of a dark-haired woman superimposed on a white map of the United States, beneath a U.S. flag.
For those who don't speak or understand Dutch, there are English subtitles: "Were you born in the United States? Then you are an American citizen even if you live in the Netherlands.
"You work here, do your banking here, that's right with a Dutch bank...we have important news for you!"
The video then goes on to explain how such American account holders must "immediately request" an American Social Security Number, because "if you have a bank account in the Netherlands on Dec.31st, 2019, your bank should provide your SSN to the Dutch tax authority" which, in turn, will "forward the number to the American tax authority."
Otherwise, the video warns, "the Dutch banks will no longer be allowed to accept your business."
Asked about whether "accidental Americans" – typically defined as citizens of other countries who were born in the States, but who have spent most of their lives as residents and citizens of another country – should take the NVB's advice and get American Social Security numbers, a number of experts contacted by the American Expat Financial News Journal said they should take advice first.
And not just from citizenship-renunciation specialists whose businesses depend on the fees they charge for helping expat Americans to renounce, they added.
"Such accidental Americans should explore all their possible relinquishment options first, including the possiblity of self-certification of non-U.S.-ness," said one, referring to a category of options said to exist for those who left the U.S. decades ago as babies or small children and who have never had a U.S. passport or other U.S. documentation since.
For some years, the U.S. has required anyone who was born in the country to enter the U.S. only on an American passport, which will have forced may "accidentals" to obtain this key document who otherwise might not have. (Among those who have been unexpectedly caught out by this over the years was UK prime minister Boris Johnson, who at the time was editor of The Spectator magazine, and who wrote about the experience in a Spectator column in 2006.)
Growing issue of the 'Tax
Information Numbers' deadline
As reported, media organizations in a growing number of European countries have recently begun reporting on a problem that Europe's banks and European Parliament officials have been highlighting for months, which has to do with a pending end to an existing grace period during which non-U.S. financial institutions have been allowed not to include the "Tax Information Numbers" (TINs) of American bank account holders who don't have them, when filing their annual FATCA forms.
That grace period, as the NVB video explains, ends on Dec.31.
FATCA, or Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, is an Obama-era tax evasion law that came into force in 2014, and which obliges non-U.S. financial institutions around the world to report to the U.S. on any accounts they have that are held by Americans over a certain size. Failure to do so would leave them at risk of major financial penalties, which is why many institutions refuse to accept American citizens as clients.
The current problem concerns individuals who typically were born in the U.S. but who have spent most if not all of their lives abroad, and who are citizens of other countries. Such "accidental Americans" tend not to think of themselves as American, and for this reason are disinclined, and in some cases wary, of obtaining a U.S. Social Security number, or otherwise cooperating in efforts to bring them further into the U.S. tax net.
The only reason such individuals are considered liable for U.S. tax is because the U.S., unique in the world apart from, it is often said, Eritrea, taxes on the basis of citizenship rather than residency.
Call for action
Fabien Lehagre, president and founder of the Paris-based Accidental Amerians Association, which has been calling attention to the Tax Information Number problem and other issues he and other "accidentals" are having to contend with as a result of FATCA and other American tax and reporting laws, said the Nederlandse Vereniging van Banken video was "incredible", and called for urgent action by the EU's Economic and Financial Affairs Council to find a way to resolve the bank account issue for accidental Americans who don't wish to enter the U.S. tax system.
As this news website has reported numerous times over the past year, certain members of the European Parliament have spoken out on behalf of Europe's estimated 300,000 "accidentals", and in July 2018, unanimously voted in favour of a resolution supporting their cause (470 votes to 43, with 26 abstentions).
"They [the Nederlandse Vereniging van Banken] say clearly in their video that they will close the bank accounts of Americans who don't provide them with a Social Security number," Lehagre said today.
"Perhaps they are unaware that in order to get an SSN, these Dutch citizens will be expected to provide an extensive amount of information to a foreign country [the U.S.].
"It would be interesting to know what the Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens [Dutch Data Protection Authority] thinks of this, or whether they were even consulted."
Lehagre said Dutch finance minister Menno Snel and French foreign minister Bruno Le Maire – both of whom have recently raised the matter of the U.S. demands for Social Security numbers from non-U.S. banks – "must ensure that the topic of the accidental Americans is firmly on the agenda of the next ECOFIN Council meeting."
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- Dutch finance minister makes commitments to 'accidental Americans' in virtual meeting