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United States set to reduce fee for renouncing American citizenship

Renouncing American citizenship could become less costly, after the US department of state announced that it intends to reduce the citizenship renunciation fee from the current eye-watering $2,350.

United States set to reduce fee for renouncing American citizenship
The Association des Americains Accidentels (AAA - Accidental Americans Association) demonstrate against certain aspects of US legislation of extraterritorial nature in Paris. (Photo by Zakaria ABDELKAFI / AFP)

Rina Bitter, the Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs in the USA, wrote a declaration stating that “the Department intends to pursue rule-making to reduce the fee for processing CLN requests [renunciation of US citizenship] from the current amount of $2,350 to the previous fee of $450.”

Bitter also said that “the Department will consider any necessary changes to this fee, as appropriate, in future rule-making.” The Washington DC District Court was set to hear in-person oral arguments on January 9th.

The change has been particularly welcomed by ‘Accidental Americans’ – people born in the US who therefore have American citizenship but have little connection to the US during their adult lives – but applies to anyone who wants to renounce their US citizenship.

The usual reason for wanting to do this is the strict tax rules that continue to apply to Americans, even if they live outside the US for many years. 

The Accidental Americans group founder and president, Fabien Lehagre said: “By lowering the fee to $450, the US government is showing that the right of voluntary expatriation is not to be trifled with and deserves the utmost protection.”

Nevertheless – the change has not yet been put into practice, and the court case was still ongoing as of January 9th, a fact that Lehagre acknowledged, stating that “time will tell how the government will formulate and develop the new fee.”

However, even with lower fees, renouncing American citizenship remains a lengthy and complex process, that for most people will involve paying a lawyer or accountant.

The United States is unusual in that it imposes tax responsibilities based on both residence and citizenship – so even citizens who have lived abroad for many years and have no economic activity in the US have to file an annual tax declaration to the IRS.

There are also certain limitations on US citizens who live abroad such as the FATCA law that make it hard for them to open European bank accounts and limitations on certain types of financial products such as pensions in Europe.

“Renouncing US citizenship is not as simple as scheduling an appointment at a US embassy or consulate, paying the applicable fee, and declaring that one does not want to be American,” explained international tax law specialist Alexander Marino. “There are many details to consider, and careful planning is essential.”

READ MORE: How to renounce American citizenship in France – and why you might want to

Set in 2010 to $450 to pay for the processing renunciation requests, the amount was later increased to $2,350 due to the need for “close and detailed case-by-case review,” according to Bloomberg Tax.  

The Accidental Americans group is made up of European citizens who also have American citizenship – often without even knowing it.

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POLITICS

Spanish government to alter sexual consent law to fix loopholes

Spain's leftwing government said Monday it was looking to modify a landmark law to fight sexual violence to close a loophole that has let some convicted offenders reduce their sentences.

Spanish government to alter sexual consent law to fix loopholes

Since the law came into force in October, around 20 offenders have reportedly been released and 300 others have seen their sentences reduced.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist party has announced plans to reform the law.

“In the coming days, we will present a draft bill, a meticulous text that will provide a response and a solution to these undesired effects which we obviously don’t want to see repeated in the future,” said Education Minister Pilar Alegria, who is also party spokeswoman.

“Logically, the best way to specifically address these undesired effects would be to increase the penalties for sexual offenders,” she told reporters.

READ ALSO – ‘Only yes means yes’: Spain tightens sexual consent law

The controversy erupted barely six weeks after the entry into force of the “Only yes means yes” law, which reformed the criminal code in a bid to define all non-consensual sex as rape.

The overall aim of the law was to shift the focus in cases of sexual violence from the victims’ resistance to a women’s free and clearly expressed consent.

To this end, the charge of sexual abuse was dropped and everything was grouped under sexual assault. The range of penalties was widened to include all possibilities under that single term.

READ ALSO: How Spain is trying to fix its new trouble-ridden sexual consent law

The law effectively reduces the minimum and the maximum punishment in certain specific cases and hundreds have applied to have their sentences revised.

‘Consent must remain at the centre’

Over the weekend, reports that the government was mulling changes to the law prompted tensions between the ruling Socialists and their hard-left junior coalition partner Podemos, which has championed the legislation.

The right-wing opposition Popular Party (PP) had quickly moved to offer parliamentary support if the Socialists wanted to push through the changes without Podemos.

But Podemos reacted angrily. Equality Minister Irene Montero warned that such a move would mean the law reverting to its original format and she vowed to do “whatever necessary” to ensure consent was kept at the centre.

Her stance was hammered home by party leader Ione Belarra on Monday morning. “Consent has to remain at the heart of the criminal code. We can’t go back to the evidentiary ordeal of proving we resisted enough or that we hadn’t been drinking,” tweeted Belarra, the social rights minister.

Socialist ministers insisted the planned changes would merely address the loopholes and would not touch the issue of consent.

“The correction and modification of the law is designed to avoid any undesired outcomes in the future and the issue of consent will remain at the centre of the law against sexual assault so that women avoid enduring the ordeal of proof in court,” cabinet minister Felix Bolanos, a close Sánchez aide, told reporters.

Until now, rape victims had needed to prove they were subjected to violence or intimidation. Without that, the offence was considered “sexual abuse” and carried lighter penalties than rape.

With “sexual abuse” dropped from the reformed criminal code and a much wider range of offences grouped under “sexual assault”, a broader range of penalties was required to ensure proportionality.

At the weekend, Montero said it was only a “minority” of judges who had applied the law incorrectly.

She said there were similar teething problems with Spain’s landmark 2004 domestic violence legislation, the first in Europe, which faced “almost 200 questions” about its legality in the first years after it was passed.

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