Hours after the U.S. government published on Saturday its latest quarterly list of the names of Americans who have, as the Federal Register in which the names appear puts it, “chosen to expatriate,” at least one already-renounced citizen was raising fresh questions about the data.
According to this Europe-based former American, the questions center around what he believes is a “significant number” of individuals whose names are included in the latest list, who had “already been doxed” previously.
(“Doxing” is a slang term favored by many expatriating Americans when referring to the Federal Register’s quarterly list and is usually defined as the act of having one’s personal information publicly revealed, typically in an online context).
As many as 583 of last year's "record number" of 6,705 renunciations, in fact, actually appear to be the names of people whose names had appeared on previous lists, based on this individual's study over the last few days of the Federal Register data.
In the absence of other publicly-available data from the government, these quarterly lists published in the Federal Register are closely monitored by many citizenship advisers and others in the American expat community, as well as by many of those who are currently in the process of renouncing, for whom the publication of their names is seen as proof that the process has at last been completed.
478 names may have 'already been doxed'
What prompted him to investigate the numbers, the former American explained, was the fact that his own name appeared on this latest list – even though it already had appeared on a previous year’s quarterly list as well.
After doing some basic work comparing two previous years’ quarterly lists of names with the latest one, he determined that, of the 977 names on the latest list, as many as 478 had previously been "doxed.”
In other words, rather than containing the names of 977 individuals who have recently expatriated, the latest quarterly list actually contains only 499 new names, since nearly half of them had appeared previously.
The American, who has asked for professional reasons to be referred to here only as Jeffrey, admits that it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that two people sharing the same first and last names might have renounced their U.S. citizenships around the same time, but he believes this couldn’t explain most of the duplications.
“When you look at names like Bastiaan Van Domselaar or Hedwich Vlieg, it is difficult to believe that ‘redoxing’ isn’t taking place,” he said.
What’s more, of the 478 names that seem to have appeared on the Federal Register list previously, 410 are duplications from 2020 and 2021, he noted.
The American Expat Financial News Journal has emailed the U.S. Treasury Department's press office to find out why the Federal Register list often contains names of people that have appeared previously, and whether there are any plans to review the data, with the thought of potentially updating it if necessary.
The Federal Register's quarterly list of names dates back to the 1990s, when it was introduced during the administration of President Bill Clinton, at a time of heightened concerns about certain wealthy individuals giving up their U.S. citizenships.
The legislation that brought what came to be known by some as "the name and shame list" into being was formally introduced in April, 1995 by a Florida member of the House of Representatives named Sam Gibbons, who was the senior ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee at the time, according to contemporary reports of the Federal Register list's origins.
According to these reports, the thought was that the publication of the names of those renouncing their citizenships would serve as a disincentive to those who were considering expatriating.
As the latest renunciation data suggests, this strategy would seem not to have been terribly successful, as the financial reporting obligations placed on Americans resident outside of the U.S., who normally are also expected to pay taxes in the countries in which they now live, have grown steadily more intrusive and costly to comply with, and the incentives for expatriating, for some, became more compelling.
‘Some individuals’ names
‘doxed’ more than twice’
In addition to revealing the widespread re-publication of the names of many of those expatriated individuals whose names had already appeared, meanwhile, Jeffrey’s research also found that the Federal Register has posted the names of some individuals not just twice, but three times or more.
Around 40 people “have seen their names appear three or more times,” he noted, pointing to five individuals whose names he found to have appeared at least three times so far (see left).
“Obviously, the three ‘James Becks’ are probably actually three different people who just happen to have the same first and last names,” Jeffrey noted.
“Connie Berger is also not that unusual a name, so it may or may not be a single individual whose name appeared four times.
"But Alperstein, Aritomo and Brandt would seem to be the last names of one individual in each case that appeared three times rather than just once.”
Difficult ‘but not impossible’ data
Jeffrey, who works in software development and who therefore has a more-than-basic understanding of online data-crunching, said that the Federal Register’s data “contains a lot of inconsistencies” that made the task of trying to determine how many names had appeared more than once “difficult, but not impossible.”
His findings were therefore sufficient to convince him, he went on, that the Federal Register data is probably best not relied on to indicate the numbers of Americans who have renounced – at least until someone at the Treasury, which is responsible for providing it, has had a chance to review it.
That said, he stressed that the most recent quarter’s list of names contained “significantly more” that had appeared on previous Federal Register lists of “expatriating individuals” than any of the other quarters he looked at – and he went back as far as the first quarter of 2014. (See table, below.)
“What is evident is that the newest report is replete with duplicates, and this is abnormal,” he told the AXFNJ.
“It appears that up to 3% of the names on the prior years’ lists were duplicates of names that had appeared before.
“I’m hesitant to comment on the 2017 and 2016 lists, because to do this we’d need to incorporate data from as far back as 2013, in order to make an apples-for-apples comparison.
“But from the data we’ve got, you can see that the second quarter of 2020 kicks off with a large number of duplicates, followed by even more in the ensuing quarters.
"Q3 of 2021 remains an outlier, though. Something is definitely going on here.”
As an aside, Jeffrey also noted that one of the names on this year’s list is that of someone who appears to have the first name “David 2019” (see screengrab, below).
Questions regarding Federal
Register names list not new
As the AXFNJ and other news organizations have said previously – as have many citizenship experts – the list of names published quarterly on the Federal Register has long been considered imperfect, in part because it says it contains “the name of each individual losing United States citizenship…with respect to whom the Secretary [of the Treasury] received information during the [most recently-ended] quarter,” even though it has been obvious for years that the people whose names appear actually lost their citizenship a year or more previously.
This was particularly evident last year, during which, as reported, more Americans were seen to have renounced their citizenships (or handed back their Green Cards) than during any other single year to date – in spite of the fact that U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, which are needed to process such citizenship renunciations, were closed, or offering significantly-reduced services for most of the year.
Whether or not the names of Green Card holders – who are not technically U.S. citizens but citizens of other countries who have been given “long-term resident” tax status in the U.S., which requires them to formally apply to be released from this – are included on the Federal Register’s quarterly lists is a matter of some debate, even though the introduction to this list says that it does.
Unlike those seeking to give up their citizenships, who are obliged to appear in person at a U.S. renunciation-processing facility at least once in the process, Green Card holders are able to complete the handing-back process by mail. Some observers believe that the Federal Register's most recent lists must be largely comprised of such former Green Card holders’ names for this reason, although others say this is still unlikely to account for the numbers of names that have been published since the U.S. effectively stopped renunciation processing services more than 20 months ago.
Even now, few U.S. citizenship renunciation facilities are open anywhere, even in countries where pandemic lockdowns and other precautions have largely been lifted.
Those who don't think Green Card holders' names are included say that there would be far more names each quarter if they were.
The continuing inability for Americans resident overseas to renounce since March, 2020, except in a handful of jurisdictions, was behind the Association of Accidental Americans’ latest legal complaint against the U.S. State Department, on Nov. 6, alleging that the continued suspension of voluntary expatriation services constitutes a violation of the U.S. constitution.
The AAA and the nine individuals who are joining it in its action argue, according to a statement released by the AAA last week, that by “continuing to suspend renunciation services for U.S. citizens" even “many U.S. missions have recommenced providing non-immigrant visa services for foreign nationals,” that the U.S. government is discriminating against its own citizens in favor of non-resident aliens, making a mockery of American citizenship."
'Still not on the list'
While the Federal Register still claims that the list it's publishing each quarter contains "the name of each individual losing United States citizenship (within the meaning of section 877(a) or 877A) with respect to whom the Secretary received information during the [most-recently-ended] quarter," many of those individuals who have been in the process of giving up their citizenships and who received their Certificate of Loss of Nationality (CLN) a year or longer before are often disappointed not to see their names on the latest list.
Many take to Twitter to share their frustration, as Susanne DW did today (see below left.)
"I renounced over 2 years ago," she said, above a screenshot from the Federal Register's website.
"Still not on the list - really is it that hard to create an up to date register?"
Others express frustration that the government doesn't take the business of providing data on the numbers of those renouncing more seriously – the way it does, for example, data on unemployment, wages and especially, voters.
"Accurate data on the numbers of individuals getting U.S. citizenship, Green Cards, etc. each year, as well as the numbers of those expatriating, should be part of the information that a democratically-elected government provides to its people," said John Richardson, a Toronto-based lawyer, and expatriate American, who helps American expats with their citizenship issues.
"That journalists and others with an interest in the renunciation data are forced to make due with these lists of names published on the Federal Register every three months, isn't good enough."
To see the Federal Register's latest quarterly listing of the names of "Individuals, Who Have Chosen To Expatriate," click here.
In August 2019, a Sri Lankan candidate for that country's presidency, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, went public with his frustrations at the time it was taking for his U.S. citizenship relinquishment to come through, after his name failed repeatedly, he said, to appear on the Federal Register's quarterly list of individuals who supposedly had renounced their citizenship during the previous three-month period.
Rajapaksa, who is now the country's president, finally saw his name appear in May 2020, on the list containing the first quarter of that year's list of names. (This mattered to Rajapaksa, as under the Sri Lankan constitution, "no person can contest the presidency [of Sri Lanka] or serve as president if they are a citizen of any country other than Sri Lanka," the Sri Lanka Guardian newspaper noted at the time.)
Renunciations up in
wake of FATCA, other regs
As this and other media organizations have reported regularly in recent years, U.S. citizenship relinquishments began to jump in the wake of the signing into law by President Obama, on March 18, 2010, of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, a tax evasion-prevention bill that was contained inside a domestic jobs bill known as the HIRE Act.
Although it was another four years before the law began to come into force around the world, as the following table shows, the numbers of those renouncing more than doubled in 2010 over the previous year, and the trend has continued ever since, at least according to U.S. Treasury data, which, as of the latest quarterly report, may or may not be 100% accurate.
As reported, a U.S. Government Accountability Office report on a range of issues having to do with the reporting of FATCA data, published in April 2019, noted that the legislation had contributed to what it called a "nearly 178%" increase in the rate of citizenship renunciations between 2011 and 2016.
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