Unintended consequences of the Patriot Act: more US expatriates give up citizenship

Stringent new banking regulations — aimed both at curbing tax evasion and, under the Patriot Act, preventing money from flowing to terrorist groups — have inadvertently made it harder for some expats to keep bank accounts in the United States and in some cases abroad., the New York Times reports.

Some U.S.-based banks have closed expats’ accounts because of difficulty in certifying that the holders still maintain U.S. addresses, as required by a Patriot Act provision.

“It seems the new anti-terrorist rules are having unintended effects,” Daniel Flynn, who lives in Belgium, wrote in a letter quoted by the Americans Abroad Caucus in the U.S. Congress in correspondence with the Treasury Department.

“I was born in San Francisco in 1939, served my country as an army officer from 1961 to 1963, have been paying U.S. income taxes for 57 years, since 1952, have continually maintained federal voting residence, and hold a valid American passport.”

Mr. Flynn had held an account with a U.S. bank for 44 years. Still, he wrote, “they said that the new anti-terrorism rules required them to close our account because of our address outside the U.S.”

Kathleen Rittenhouse, who lives in Canada, wrote that until she encountered a similar problem, “I did not know that the Patriot Act placed me in the same category as terrorists, arms dealers and money launderers.”

Andy Sundberg, another director of American Citizens Abroad, said, “These banks are closing our accounts as acts of prudent self-defense.” But the result, he said, is that expats have become “toxic citizens.”

The Americans Abroad Caucus, headed by Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York, and Representative Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, has made repeated entreaties to the Treasury Department.

In response, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner wrote Ms. Maloney on Feb. 24 that “nothing in U.S. financial law and regulation should make it impossible for Americans living abroad to access financial services here in the United States.”

But banks, Treasury officials note, are free to ignore that advice.

“That Americans living overseas are being denied banking services in U.S. banks, and increasingly in foreign banks, is unacceptable,” Ms. Maloney said in a letter Friday to leaders of the House Financial Services Committee, requesting a hearing on the question.

Mr. Wilson, joining her request, said that pleas from expats for relief “continue to come in at a startling rate.”

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One Response

  1. Informative about who in Congress cares and how little that has mattered so far.

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