Category Archives: International tax policy

Take 1: Digging The Foundation To Build The House Of US Residency-based Taxation

Prologue

This is the fifth of a series of posts focussing on the need to end US citizenship-based taxation (practised only by the USA) and move to a form of pure residence-based taxation (practised by the rest of the world). The first post was titled “Toward A Definition Of Residence-based Taxation For Americans Abroad“. The second post was titled “Toward A Movement For Residence-based Taxation For Americans Abroad“. The third post was “Toward An Explanation For Why Some Americans Abroad Are Complacent About Citizenship Taxation“. The fourth post explains why some Americans Abroad actually OPPOSE changes to citizenship-based taxation. This fifth post in the series is to begin a discussion of what would be the basic changes (to the existing Internal Revenue Code) that would move the United States toward the world standard of pure residency-based taxation.

It’s about “pure residency-based taxation” and not citizenship-based taxation with a “carve out”

I have previously advocated that the United States should move to to a system of pure residence-based taxation. A system of pure residency-based taxation, means that:

Citizenship is NOT a sufficient condition for tax residency. If citizenship is not a sufficient condition for tax residency, income sourced outside the United States, which is received by people who are not residents of the United States, should not be taxable by the United States.

Note that pure residency-based taxation is NOT citizenship-based taxation with a “carve out” for US citizens living abroad. To put it another way: US citizens, simply because they are US citizens, would NOT be defined as US tax residents and subject to US worldwide taxation. This is different from US citizens being defined as US tax residents, but allowing (like the FEIE) for their foreign income to be excluded from US taxation. Note also that this is a legislative proposal. It is therefore different from our earlier proposal for “A Regulatory Fix To Citizenship Taxation“.

It is my opinion and the opinion of the members of SEAT, that only a system of pure residency-based taxation will solve the many problems of Americans abroad!

How is residency to be determined?

Residency is commonly determined in various ways. For example, Canada determines residency based on an objective deeming provision (number of days spent in Canada and through a “facts and circumstances” test described as ordinary residence). Generally, citizenship (if it is a factor at all) is not a significant issue in determining ordinary residence. The Canadian experience is proof that it is possible to have very sticky tax residency without citizenship being an issue.

Purpose of this post:

The purpose of this post is to propose some simple amendments to the Internal Revenue Code which would provide a foundation for the United States to transition from citizenship-based taxation to pure residence-based taxation. The goal is modest. The post is not intended to (I will write a separate post) deal with those who are CURRENTLY US citizens living outside the United States. It is NOT to address all the issues. That said, most of the Internal Revenue Code focuses on the taxation of those who are US tax residents. Little in the Code focuses on the actual definition of US tax residency.

The purpose of this post is begin with the fundamentals and ask:

How could the existing Internal Revenue Code be modified to provide a framework for residency-based taxation? Of course, readers will be left with many questions. But, the proposed foundation would allow for:

1. US citizens to move from the United States and sever tax residency with the United States.

2. US citizens to move from the United States and continue to be treated as tax residents of the United States.

Under either scenario, US citizens would remain US citizens. They would NOT be required to relinquish US citizenship in order to sever tax residency.

Obviously there will be many complications. But, every journey begins with a modest beginning. This is intended to be only a modest beginning. It is to begin digging the foundation to build the house of “residency-based taxation”.

The post is composed of the following parts:

Part A – Residents Are Subject To Worldwide Taxation

Part B – Nonresidents Are Not Subject To Worldwide Taxation

Part C – Definition Of Resident and Nonresident- 7701(b)

Part D – Definitions That Require Change “US Person”, “Relinquishment Of Residency”, etc.

Part E – Relinquishment Of Residence

Part F – Living abroad without relinquishing US residence

Generally, I believe that amendments to a small number of sections of the Internal Revenue Code provide the foundation from which to grow. Note that this proposal solves the problems of the “Retirees Abroad” (they don’t give notice under the new 877(a)(g)) and the problems of accidentals (they were never tax residents in the first place). There would be regulations (like the Canada Revenue Agency folio) for what constitutes residence. In Canada tax residency is defined largely by “ordinary residence” – a concept that is very sticky).

I am identifying the building blocks that could define tax residency under a US system of residency-based taxation, with few modifications to the Internal Revenue Code. (These building blocks are generally compatible with the existing Internal Revenue Code.) Once the foundation has been built we would then build our way out. This initial foundation solves the PFIC problem, the CFC problems and most problems related to foreign source income. The FinCEN 114 (FBAR) rules currently reference Internal Revenue Code 7701(b). Therefore, the proposals in this post would solve the FBAR problem.

I will discuss other issues impacting Americans abroad in subsequent posts.

I have included only the sections of the Internal Revenue Code that I consider the foundation of US tax residency. When a word is IN CAPS that means that there has been a change to facilitate a change to pure residence-based taxation.

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US Tax Treaties Should Reflect The 21st Century And Not The World Of 100 Years Ago

Prologue

The rules of taxation should follow changes in society. The ordering of society should NOT be hampered by the rules of taxation!

As the world has become more digital, companies can carry on business from any location. Individuals have become more mobile. Multiple citizenships, factual residences and legal tax residencies are not unusual. It has become clear that the rules of international tax as reflected in tax treaties (as they apply to both corporations and individuals) are in need of reform.

The purpose of this post is to identify two specific areas where US tax treaties are rooted in the world as it was one hundred years ago and NOT as it is today.

First: The “Permanent Establishment” clause found in US and OECD tax treaties

Second: US Citizenship-based taxation which the US exports to other countries through the “saving clause” found in almost all US tax treaties

Each of these will be considered.

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US Senate Finance Hearing Affects Americans Abroad AKA Mini-Multinationals – Action Needed!

Introduction

The background: The US Senate Finance Committee has begun hearings for the purpose of discussing further reform of the rules of International Tax. These reforms would appear to include raising the GILTI tax and raising US corporate tax rates in general. Each of these would have a massive negative effect on Americans abroad. The reasons are detailed in the rest of this post.

Bottom line: Americans abroad need to send their views (presumably objections) to the Committee. The rest of this post provides the background, SEAT’s understanding of the issue and templates individuals can use to email Senate Finance.

Please forward this post to anybody who you believe would be affected by this (anybody who runs a small business through a corporation.)

Okay ….

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Part 2 – The Warren “Ultra-Millionaire Tax Act of 2021” and The Wealth Of Other Nations

The fact that …

Leads to the obvious question of …

Hmm…

The fact is that Senator Warren is proposing to impose her wealth tax on property located outside the United States, purchased by individuals who live outside the United States, who have no connection to the United States other than (perhaps) the circumstance of having been born in the United States. Yup, it’s true.

On March 18, 2021, FATCA will turn on 11. The Senator’s proposed wealth tax explicitly states that FATCA is to be used to enforce this tax! Finally an (il)legitimate use for FATCA.

In the 18th Century Adam Smith wrote “The Wealth Of Nations”. In the 21st Century Senator Warren is proposing to impose a wealth tax on “The Wealth Of OTHER Nations”.

Discussion And Analysis

This is the second of what I expect to be a multi-part series on Senator Warren’s proposed wealth tax of 2021. As the above tweet makes clear, the practical utility of the tax depends on US citizenship-based taxation (to whom it applies) and FATCA (how are non-US assets located). In my first post, I referenced Senator Warren’s statement that:

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Association of Accidental Americans v. US Department Of State – Is The $2350 USD renunciation fee constitutional?

Introduction

As described in the first paragraph of the Claim:

1. Voluntary expatriation, the ability to renounce one’s nationality, is a fundamental right, upon which, arguably, all other civil rights ultimately depend. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, expatriation is a “natural right which all men have.” A Bill Declaring Who Shall Be Deemed Citizens of This Commonwealth, June 18, 1779.

See https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-02-02-0132-0004-0055.

So begins the claim of the lawsuit launched by the Association of Accidental Americans against the US Department Of State.

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Proposal by @JoeBiden to increase the GILTI tax has particularly vicious implications for #Americansabroad

Introduction

Taxation is what America is about and America is about taxation.

Perhaps it’s better to say that:

Politics is about taxation and taxation is about politics.

Once Upon A Time In America

The primary legislative achievement of President Trump’s first term was the 2017 TCJA. It’s important to note that the TCJA had it’s genesis in the work of Michigan Congressman Dave Camp and was the result of a long term project of reworking the US tax system. It is absolutely incorrect to suggest that the TCJA was developed by the Trump Administration. It should not be referred to as “Trump Tax Reform”. That said, because of the “politics” involved in enacting the TCJA, the Trump Administration and Republican Controlled Ways and Means Committee, did impact the legislation at the margins. (Rate of repatriation tax, etc.)

Like all tax legislation the TJCA had clear winners and clear losers.

The TCJA Winner(s)

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Seeking short social media – twitter and facebook posts – explaining why @citizenshiptax and #FATCA are wrong

On June 3, 2020 I plan to do a podcast with Anthony Scaramucci of Skybridge Capital and SALT Conference fame. The June 3 podcast has its roots in the following @Scaramucci tweet which was the subject of discussion at the Isaac Brock Society.

Mr. Scaramucci’s tweet generated a great deal of discussion. If you click on the tweet, you will see, what some of the responses were.

A third party individual has arranged for me to do a podcast with Mr. Scaramucci. This will take place on June 3. In order to provide background information for “citizenship taxation”, FATCA and how they impact Americans abroad, I would ask that you reply to the following tweet. It is your opportunity to contribute to the conversation.

Feel free to leave a comment to this post. I will ensure that it finds its way into the twitter thread.

John Richardson – Follow me on Twitter @Expatriationlaw

Seriously now, who’s GILTI? Senators Wyden and Brown attempt to reinforce the punishment of GILTI Americans abroad

Introduction and July 2021 update …

There is wide agreement that the United States needs to improve its infrastructure. This will require massive spending. All spending necessitates a discussion of taxation. Since March 25, 2021 the Senate Finance Committee, Ways and Means Committee and the Biden administration have been exploring ways to increase taxation to pay for this. A series of SEAT submissions to the Senate Finance Committee is available here.

The community of Americans abroad has also recognized that any major tax reform creates an opportunity for a consideration of the United States transitioning to residence-based taxation. Although everybody claims to want residence-based taxation, the devil is in the details. As I have previously explained the words “residence-based taxation” mean different things to different people. The shared objective (of residence based taxation) is that the United States would cease imposing taxation on the non-US source income received by Americans abroad. That said, there are two broad ways that goal can be achieved. One way completely severs Americans abroad from US tax jurisdiction. The other leaves Americans abroad subject to US tax jurisdiction (forcing them to live in fear of every legislative change).

1. Pure residence-based taxation: Ending US tax jurisdiction over individuals who do NOT live in the United States. This would mean that Americans abroad would simply NOT be part of the US tax base. This is what residence-based taxation means in every other country of the world. In other words: you are not subject to US worldwide taxation because you don’t live in the United States. This is what I call “pure residence based taxation”. It is the only form of residence-based taxation that will solve the problems of Americans abroad. (This is what is advocated by SEAT.)

2. Citizenship-based taxation with a carve out: Continuing US tax jurisdiction over individuals who do NOT live in the United States, but relaxing the requirements that would apply to them. This proposal is what I call citizenship-based taxation with a carve out for certain people. Under this proposal, ALL Americans abroad would continue to be subject to US tax jurisdiction, but their non-US source income would (presumably) not be taxed by the United States. (This citizenship-based taxation with a carve out was the basis of the 2018 Holding bill and appears to what is being proposed by various groups. Further discussion of the Holding bill is here. It is essential that whenever a group announces that it is working toward residence based taxation that you ask them to clarify what they mean. Under the proposal, will Americans abroad remain subject to US tax jurisdiction? Will they still be defined as tax residents of the United States?)

(A more complete discussion about the difference between pure residence taxation and citizenship taxation with a carve out is here. A proposal for changes in the Internal Revenue Code that would result in pure residence-based taxation is here.)

Why completely ending US tax jurisdiction over Americans abroad (moving to pure residency-based taxation) is essential!!

The US tax code is incredibly complicated. The existence of citizenship-based taxation means that many changes in the tax code can impact Americans abroad even when the legislators are not considering the impact on Americans abroad. Since March of 2021 the Senate Finance Committee has been conducing hearings discussing tax reform for US corporations. The truth is that these proposals will affect many more individuals than corporations. Yet, Senate Finance never discusses the impact on individuals generally and individual Americans abroad in particular.

It is impossible for Americans abroad to survive when any change in the tax code could impact them without the legislators remembering that they even exist.

Let’s be clear! When it comes to Americans abroad:

It’s not that Congress doesn’t care about them. It’s that they don’t care that they don’t care!

This is why it is essential that ALL Americans abroad support and only support a movement toward “pure residence based taxation” which will ensure that nonresidents are NOT part of the US tax base.

If Americans abroad are left subject to the US tax based (citizenship-based taxation with a carve out) they will always be subject to being affected by any and all changes in US tax law.

A particularly egregious example of this in the following post. What follows is long, comprehensive and technical. Most will NOT want to read it.

But, the following post (written in 2020) is proof that ONLY pure residence-based taxation will solve the problems of Americans Abroad!

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Prologue

Americans abroad who are individual shareholders of small business corporations in their country of residence have been very negatively impacted by the Section 951A GILTI and Section 965 TCJA amendments. In June of 2019, by regulation, Treasury interpreted the 951A GILTI rules to NOT apply to active business income when the effective foreign corporate tax rate was at a rate of 18.9% or higher. Treasury’s interpretation was reasonable, consistent with the history of Subpart F and consistent with the purpose of the GILTI rules.

Now, Senators Wyden and Brown are attempting to reverse Treasury’s regulation through legislation. This is a direct attack on Americans abroad. Senators Wyden and Brown are living proof of the principle that:

When it comes to Americans abroad:

It’s not that Congress doesn’t care. It’s that they don’t care that they don’t care!

Introduction

As many readers will know the 2017 US Tax Reform, referred to as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), contained provisions which have made it difficult for Americans abroad to run small businesses outside the United States. In the common law world a corporation is treated as a separate legal entity for tax purposes. In other words the corporation and the shareholders are separate for tax purposes, file separate tax returns and pay tax on different streams of income. The 2017 TCJA contained two provisions that basically ended the separation of the company and the individual for U.S. tax purposes. In other words: there is now a presumption (at least how the Internal Revenue Code applies to small business owners) that active business income earned by the corporation will be deemed to have been earned by the individual “U.S. Shareholders”. To put it another way: individual shareholders are now presumptively taxed on income earned by the corporation, whether the income is paid out to the shareholders or not! The effect of this on individual Americans abroad has been discussed by Dr. Karen Alpert in her article: “Callous Neglect: The impact of United States tax reform on nonresident citizens“.

The expansion of the Subpart F Regime

The Subpart F rules were established in 1962. The principle behind them was that individual Americans should be prevented from, using foreign corporations to earn passive income, in jurisdictions with low tax regimes (or tax regimes that have lower taxes than those imposed by the United States). The Subpart F rules have (since 1986) included a provision to the effect that investment income (earned inside a foreign corporation) which was subject to foreign taxation at a rate of 90% or more of the U.S. corporate rate, would NOT be subject to taxation in the hands of the individual shareholder.

To put it another way (with respect to investment income):

1. It was mostly investment/passive income that was subject to inclusion in the incomes of individual shareholders as Subpart F income; and

2. Passive income that was subject to foreign taxation at a rate of 90% or more of the U.S. corporate tax rate (now 21%) would NOT be considered to be Subpart F income (and therefore not subject to inclusion in the hands of individual shareholders).

To coordinate my background discussion with the Arnold Porter submission described below, I will refer to exclusion of investment income subject to a 90% tax rate as “HTKO” (High Tax Kick Out).

The basic principle was (and continues to be):

If passive income earned in a foreign corporation is taxed at a rate of 90% or more of the U.S. corporate tax rate, that there was no attribution of that corporate income to the individual U.S. shareholder.

In its most simple terms, the Subpart F rules are found in Sections 951 – 965 of the Internal Revenue Code. They are designed to attribute income earned by the corporation directly to the U.S. shareholder, without regard to whether the corporate profits were paid to the shareholders as a dividend. Note that many developed countries have similar rules. Many developing (from a tax perspective) countries (for example Russia) are adopting Subpart F type rules. The U.S. rules are more complicated, more robust and (because of citizenship taxation) apply to the locally owned companies of individuals, who do not live in the United States.

Punishing them for their past and destroying their futures – The expansion of the Subpart F Regime to active business income

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The common law "revenue rule": From whence it came to where it's going

Introduction – What is the Revenue Rule?


The “Revenue Rule” can be overridden by statute of by treaty. The United States is attempting to override the “Revenue Rule” through changes to tax treaties. Because the United States imposes worldwide taxation on the residents of other countries, the United States would be advantaged overriding the “Revenue Rule”.
Putting the “Revenue Rule” in historical context. Does the Revenue Rule still matter?
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US Treasury proposes that foreign income subject to high foreign tax be excluded from definition of #GILTI

In general – Good News For American Entrepreneurs Abroad …

On Friday June 14, 2019 US Treasury proposed in Notice 2019-12436 that any foreign income earned by Controlled Foreign Corporations be (subject to election) excluded from the definition of GILTI income. This will be particularly welcome to Americans living outside the United States, who are attempting to carry on business in their country of residence, through non-U.S. corporations.

For those who are concerned with understanding the hows and whys, I suggest you read Treasury’s Notice which includes a good history and description of the Subpart F rules, some Legislative History leading to the GILTI rules, and Treasury’s attempt to piece it all together. You will find it all here.

Treasury Notice 2019-12436
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