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'Accidental Americans' in France increase pressure on US over tax bills

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'Accidental Americans' in France increase pressure on US over tax bills
Photo: AFP
13:33 CET+01:00
The battle of French-American dual citizens living in France to protect themselves from the threat of tax bills from the US - which they may be subject to despite not living there - continues, as a campaign group representing those affected increases pressure on the US.
The term for people who fall into this category is 'accidental Americans' and they are those who have US citizenship but do not live there, with many of them having little or no connection to the country at all. 
 
Despite this they often find that they are eligible to pay tax on their global income in America because US tax eligibility is based on citizenship and not residency (as it is in most countries).
 
That means that many are finding themselves slapped with huge tax bills from a country they are unfamiliar with that they can little afford to pay.  
 
Two weeks ago, more than 400 'accidental Americans' in France sent a letter to the 124 elected Democrats in the US as part of their campaign effort to exempt themselves from having to pay taxes there. 
 
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Photo: AFP
 
One of the problems it highlights is that for many of those affected, it's not just a simple case of rescinding their citizenship because that costs more than $3,000 on top of the legal and accounting fees to start the procedure.
 
"The American taxation system is seriously prejudicial to 'accidental Americans', most of whom cannot afford to renounce US citizenship," said the letter. 
 
According to the European Banking Federation (EBF), more than 300,000 people in the European Union are 'accidental Americans'.
 
President of the 'Association des Americains Accidentels' (Association of Accidental Americans), a campaign group devoted to defending the rights of those affected in France, Fabien Lehagre also sent a copy of all the letters to several prominent politicians in the US, including Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.
 
"We urge the Congress of United-States to switch to residence-base taxation, repeal FATCA and allow those of accidental Americans who wish to renounce American citizenship to do so through a simple cost-free procedure," Lehagre told The Local. 
 
The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) act, signed in 2010, was created to stop tax evasion by Americans with financial assets abroad after a financial scandal revealed that US taxpayers were hiding millions of dollars overseas. 
 
Once the FATCA was signed by most countries in the world, foreign banks were required to comply with the law by asking people to provide their US tax identification number and information about financial accounts held by US citizens to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the United States.
 
A moratorium to exempt European banks from recovering this number from 'accidental Americans' was put in place by the United States Treasury however this is set to end on 31st December 2019.
 
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'Accidental Americans' living in France take stand against US tax bills
Photo: AFP
 
Lehagre, 33, is a commercial manager in France who has dual French-American citizenship himself. 
 
In Lehagre's situation, his French bank contacted him asking for his US tax identification number in 2014 but, believing it to be a mistake, he ignored the request despite repeated warnings. 
 
But after doing some research he realised it wasn't a mistake at all and that he was also an 'accidental American'.
 
Lehagre, who only lived in the United States for a short time as a toddler and whose mother is a Singaporean-American, said he was being "forced into the administrative system that obliges [him] to fill out forms, pay a lawyer and have [his] bank accounts scrutinised."
 
He created a collective in 2015 and that blossomed into the Association of Accidental Americans and now news of their plight has reached the ears of the European Union. 
 
However the fight to put an end to the situation is ongoing despite the European Parliament calling for the opening of negotiations with Washington and the protection of "accidental Americans" in Europe back in July 2018.
 
Representatives from the European Banking Federation (EBF), the voice of Europe's banking sector, paid a visit to Washington earlier this month to meet with the US Treasury Department and plead for a permanent solution for 'accidental Americans' however so far no further action has been taken. 
 
So, for the time being, 'accidental Americans' are left in limbo. 
 
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