Monday, April 9, 2012

Get passport seized by a bureaucrat's accusation

Passport 1
Not as useful as you thought?
Photo by The Wide Wide World
Could you imagine having your passport seized because of an IRS error and suddenly you can't return home any more? I have a wife and daughter here in France and the thought of not being able to return to them (not to mention having my life destroyed) is a nightmare. Unfortunately, this may become a very real scenario for some.

One of the problems with being an expat, particularly a US one, is that your government really doesn't give a damn about you. There is widespread ignorance about expats and we have to face silly things like Congressman Tierney (an otherwise great guy) trying to bankrupt expats by removing our earned income exemption. To a certain extent, many laws surrounding expats are passed in ways that many laws surrounding computers are: by men and women who have no idea what the actual impact of their laws would be.

Now here's another one. A bill in Congress would allow suspension of your passport on there mere accusation that you owe taxes. From the article:
Senate Bill 1813 (Highway trust fund), which was passed by the Senate last week and is now pending in the House of Representatives contains a provision that would allow the IRS to order the State Department to refuse to grant, refuse to renew, revoke or restrict the passport of any US citizen which the IRS certifies owes the IRS $50,000 or more in unpaid taxes. There is no requirement that the tax payer be guilty of or even charged with tax evasion, fraud, or any criminal offense - only that the citizen is alleged to owe the IRS back taxes of $50,000 or more.
How does anyone think that punishing expats without due process is a good idea? Imagine you're an expat living in South Africa and some bureaucrat at the IRS has decided that you owe $50,000 in back taxes. If the bill passes, you don't even need to be charged with any crime or have any proof presented: you can simply lose your passport and effectively be "stateless" unless you have a backup passport.

For further reading of the implications, I recommend Passport Restrictions in Highway Bill, a short article by Charles M. Bruce, a partner at Moore & Bruce LLP (Washington, D.C.) and counsel at Bonnard Lawson (Lausanne, Switzerland).