Reflections Of An Expatriation Lawyer: From The Solemn Occasion of 1988 To The Non-event of 2021

Guest Post by UK based New York lawyer Diane Gelon

Diane is a London, UK based New York lawyer who specializes in issues affecting Americans abroad including renunciation. What follows are her thoughts on how the renunciation process has evolved since 1988. The message is that in 1988 the renunciation of US citizenship was a serious and solemn event that was taken very seriously by the US government (it was also free of charge). By 2021 it had become a routine matter, of little concern to the US government (and cost $2350). This is one more reason why the State Department should process renunciations of US citizenship through video conferencing!


Over to Diane …

The first time I was involved with a client who wished to renounce their US citizenship was in 1987 or 1988. It was an act to be taken very seriously and the small London law firm where I was working at the time brought in specialist US and UK immigration attorneys to also advise as our client had recently obtained British citizenship. Holding dual nationality was not taken lightly and something to be considered for fear of losing American citizenship. It was a couple of years later that the American Embassy in London issued a statement indicating that becoming a British citizen would not in and of itself mean that a person had the intention to relinquish their US citizenship. In the late 1980s fewer than 30 people world-wide relinquished their citizenship each year.

It was a requirement that someone who wished to renounce their citizenship attend a meeting at the American Embassy in London accompanied by an attorney. For years I went with my clients and we would sit in a wood panelled room, American flags in the corners, with a senior consular official sitting behind a large desk. These meetings often lasted up to an hour with talk ranging from baseball versus cricket to do you understand what you are about to do today.

Eventually these meetings were no longer held in the private office but in the large room at the Embassy where general consular business took place. My clients were still required to attend with an attorney present and the meeting usually lasted less than 15 minutes in a small room off to the side. As more and more people wished to renounce their US citizenship they were given the choice to attend the Embassy with or without an attorney present. About half of my clients decided they would go alone with the rest saying they wanted to ensure that the paperwork was handled correctly. No one was asked to read out loud the oath of renunciation on the document they signed. Meetings with the consular officer look less and less time.

For the past nearly ten years as the number of people wishing to renounce their citizenship has increased the Embassy has refused to allow an attorney to be present at the meeting. The Embassy in London no longer requires two meetings – the first to ensure that the person understands what they will be doing and the second to sign the renunciation papers. The first meeting initially replaced by a telephone call (with an attorney also on the line); now replaced by a one page questionnaire. So – if they could start doing the first meeting by phone years ago (to save time) even more reason to do the second meeting by video now.

Consular staff now view the appointment as routine; a non-event; similar to renewing a passport or getting a document notorised. The consular officer stands behind a window in a large room as if one is conducting business with a teller at a bank. Not even the privacy of a small room. No questions are asked; often only asking the person to state their full name. My clients are usually asked to read out loud the oath of renunciation. Less than five minutes is spent with the consular officer who is handed the receipt that the $2,350 fee has been paid. Few words are said. One of the biggest decisions someone can ever make is to renounce their citizenship; now a routine non-event.

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