Data on renunciations
US law requires the IRS to publish quarterly the names of US citizens who renounce their citizenship. These names are published in the Federal Register. The regulation was created by Congress in the 1996 expatriation legislation in an attempt to “name and shame” people who renounce citizenship.
Data on these lists is hard to find. As far as we know, there is no analysis or summary of this data made publicly available by the U.S. government. The few private sector sources which refer to the lists have clearly never actually analyzed the data and are rife with misinformation.
So we collected and summarized the data ourselves. We present the results in the table below.
But first, some important caveats about the both the quality and the integrity of the data.
The lists published in the Federal Register contain the only information publicly available on renunciations, yet they suffer from numerous data problems.
We present the information from the Federal Register here because it’s the only information available, but it is important to understand that it is a deeply-flawed data set for numerous reasons. Any conclusions regarding expatriation – both on an absolute and a relative basis – which are reached based on this data-set must be considered rather tenuous.
The most glaring flaw is that the U.S. only has information on those who actually tell the government formally that they’re renouncing citizenship. The number of people who officially expatriate is dwarfed by the much bigger number of those who just “disappear” and never formally renounce.
Moreover, it is important to note that the lists include many foreign nationals who relinquish permanent residence in the United States, e.g. corporate executives who work in the United States and then want to exit the tax reach of the U.S. when they return to their country. Additionally, the lists include dual citizens who are “accidental” U.S. citizens, i.e. those individuals who have little connection to the United States but acquired citizenship through various ways (most prominently, birth on U.S. soil).
These problems already make the lists an unreliable indicator of renunciations of citizenship by native-born citizens. But even allowing for the fact that the government only knows about those who formally renounce and that many of the individuals on the list are foreign nationals giving up permanent U.S. residence and “accidental” citizens, the data is still beset by significant errors affecting both its quality and its integrity. We explain the other problems below.
The data is kept by two agencies, poorly maintained and hard to reconcile
When Congress pushed the idea of “name and shame” in the mid-1990s, the Department of State was very hesitant about the legality of revealing confidential data on renunciations. In what appears to have been a workaround created to avoid putting the Department of State into an awkward position, Congress mandated the Department of State to give its information to the IRS and then have the IRS publish the data based on the information it has. (Apparently, the IRS suffered no such qualms about revealing the data).
The Department of State informs the IRS when an individual renounces. The IRS records this information. Later, the individual may contact the IRS directly when he submits expatriation tax forms. The IRS then records this information and publishes it according to the law (although in practice, it is invariably published later than stipulated by the law).
Unfortunately, these multiple sources of information on renunciants can be quite different. It is very difficult to reconcile the lists, because names are recorded differently, misspellings are frequent, etc. And as we discussed here, the Department of State does not collect Social Security numbers when an individual renounces, so the IRS cannot accurately reconcile the data even if it wanted to.
Additionally, a large number of changing data collection problems have plagued the data since the 1996 “name and shame” regulation. The lists have been revised at several times, cannot be compared between years because of “reporting differences”, and have been “corrected” frequently.
The result has been data pockmarked with errors.
It is important to note that the lists publicly available are based on IRS records. In theory, the IRS receives this information directly from the Department of State, and we have heard informally that State officials realize the lists are error-filled and blame it on the IRS/Treasury. But we know first-hand that the Department of State lists themselves are also filled with errors. Several people we know who have expatriated have noticed in later dealings with the U.S. and the Department of State that there is no record of their expatriation in any systems. Government officials were incredulous that the individuals had actually renounced.
The Department of State itself unwittingly published an interesting report which highlights the unreliability of the data. In a June 2009 cost of services study commissioned by State to analyze consular fees, the fiscal year 2009 workload for documentation of renunciation of citizenships is stated to be 1,188. Presumably, this means that 1,188 renunciation cases were documented from October 1, 2008 to September 30, 2009 (the dates of the U.S. government 2009 fiscal year). However, according to the expatriation lists published in the Federal Register, there were 295 unique renunciation cases in that period. In fact, in all of fiscal years 2008 and 2009, there were only 606 unique renunciation cases reported in the Federal Register. So we have no idea how the independent analysts who made the Department of State report arrived at the figure of 1,188, but clearly it bears little relation to the information published by Treasury in the Federal Register. [A separate issue is that the State study was conducted from August 2007 to June 2009, and is referred to by State documents as the “June 2009 cost of services study”, begging the question of how any of the information could incorporate data through September 30, 2009. According to the Federal Register data, there were only 552 unique renunciations in the entire 2 year period roughly corresponding to the period of the study, highlighting even further the unreliability of the data.]
In short, errors crop up throughout the entire process and the accuracy of the lists is highly suspect.
The lists miss even those people who do file the IRS forms
We personally know 6 people who renounced citizenship at different times in the last few years, filed all forms with the IRS, and received their confirmation certificate. So the IRS has two sources of information about them. Nonetheless, their names do not appear in the lists. Unfortunately, none wish to have their information made public, so we cannot disclose their names as proof.
Several other individuals whom we don’t know personally, though, have made their renunciations very public, so we feel comfortable in pointing out their cases. Boris Johnson, an English politician, publicly announced that he renounced his citizenship in 2006, but his name did not appear on any list. Mike Gogulski, a political activist, renounced in Q4 2008, explicitly certified his tax status on the form during the renunciation process, and posted online his Certificate of Loss of Nationality. But his name did not appear on any list at the time of his renunciation. (Interestingly enough, his name did appear in the 2010 Q4 list with a very unusual note that he had renounced in Q4 2008; we suspect that his name was included either directly at his request or simply because of the attention he personally has drawn as a prominent and public renunciant.)
We have no way to estimate how many other people are similarly left off the lists, but based on our experiences we have to guess that it’s a very significant percent of those whom they do include.
The lists are riddled with errors
Beyond the problem of numerous missing names, when we analyzed the data, we quickly found numerous types of errors in the data that is published: the exact same name is frequently repeated within the same quarter; the same name appears twice with slightly different spacing or punctuation both within the same quarter and in different quarters; the same person appears two or three times across different quarters (often in consecutive quarters, but there are numerous examples of the same name appearing up to five years apart).
Using very strict standards of what constitutes the “same” name, we found that 5% of all entries on the Federal Register lists were obviously incorrect duplicate (or even triplicate) entries. As an example, in just the 2010 Q4 list, names were published which had already been published in the lists from 2005 Q2, 2006 Q2, 2007 Q2 and Q3, 2008 Q1, 2009 Q3 and Q4, and 2010 Q2 and Q3. And these are just names which were exactly identical; there are several more which are extremely close and almost certainly also constitute repetitions.
We’d guess this strict standard misses another 3-5% where we’re reasonably certain that the same person is counted twice due to spelling errors, inclusion/exclusion of middle initial/middle name, cultural miscues (order of family name and given name switched, Anglicized name used in one entry while non-Anglicized name used in a different entry), etc.
In total, we estimate that about 10% of the entries in the Federal Register lists suffer from these simple data problems. These errors are just those we can see from the published lists, and doesn’t count the numerous errors of omission we discussed above. We can’t imagine how many errors we’d find if we had access to the actual underlying information.
Please note there are also instances where the time of an individual’s renunciation was misreported, e.g. the individual renounced in 2008 Q3, but his name appears in the list of 2009 Q2. We personally know of 5 such mis-reportings, and imagine that such cases could be one contributing factor to the very large variation between quarters.
All these errors just emphasize the overarching theme that neither the Department of State nor the IRS has any set program in place. Instead, they just deal with renunciations on a very ad-hoc basis.
Federal Register lists of renunciants summarized
The summary of the data of the most recent years is below. These are the totals after we corrected the IRS’s obvious double-counting and errors.