A celebrity’s relinquishment report from Taipei, 2009

This story was published in Taiwan’s Apple Daily last summer; a friend of mine forwarded it to me recently. It recounts the relinquishment experience of Ms. Chi Cheng, an Olympic medalist and Cal Poly Pomona graduate who gave up her U.S. citizenship in 2009 to take up a policy-level advisory job with the government in Taipei under Ma Ying-jeou. (According to Article 28(2) of their Civil Service Employment Act, civil servants are not permitted to hold foreign citizenship.) Translation and my comments after the jump.

人間異語:放棄美國國籍 好難啊
Giving up U.S. citizenship is hard

Q:為何放棄美國國籍?
Q: Why did you give up U.S. citizenship?

A:2008年,我答應總統府邀請擔任無給職國策顧問,隨即被要求在開會前,要放棄美國國籍。多少人想要美國國籍,一個人要付出多少心血,才能拿到美國國籍?尤其我在那邊工作過,等於放棄所有福利。
A: In 2008, I accepted an invitation from the Office of the President to take up an unremunerated position as a national policy advisor, and so before the first meeting of the advisory committee I was required to give up my U.S. citizenship. [Think of] how many people there are who want U.S. citizenship, and all the things they go through to get it. Especially for people who have worked over there, this means giving up all your benefits.

我不崇洋,也不媚美,但還是很感激過去擁有美國國籍。想當年,台灣外交處境艱難,我們那一代要出國,真的很困難。尤其運動員拿著中華民國護照要到某國比賽,申請簽證,那種遙遙不知期的焦慮真的很讓人不安。所以,我剛去美國,他們就幫我申請綠卡,讓我可以到世界各地比賽。
I don’t worship the U.S., and nor do I want to flatter it, but I still appreciate having had U.S. citizenship. In those years, Taiwan’s diplomatic situation was very precarious, and for those of us from that generation to go abroad was quite inconvenient. Especially for athletes participating in competitions in certain countries while holding Republic of China passports, we had to apply for visas, and all the worrying about whether they’d come through on time really made us uneasy. So, since I’d been in the U.S. before, they helped me to apply for a green card, allowing me to travel all around the world for competitions.

後來我因為結婚,擁有美國國籍。無論為公為私,所到之國,經常因我擁有美國護照,享有免簽證;即使需要簽證,也因USA之故,免受刁難或遭拒簽。美國護照讓我背著青天白日滿地紅的國旗逍遙自在、無憂無慮的征戰各國。六項世界紀錄,讓我得到飛躍羚羊、黃色閃電的綽號。
In the end, I got U.S. citizenship through marriage. No matter whether I was [travelling] on business or on pleasure, most of the countries I went to would give me visa-free treatment because I held that U.S. passport; even if a visa was required, because of the U.S.A., I never had any difficulties or refusals. The U.S. passport let me turn my back on the blue sky, white sun, and red earth of the national flag and happily and freely invade other countries without any worries as I set six world records and earned myself nicknames “Flying Antelope” and “Yellow Lightning”.

These days, in contrast to the 1970s, a Republic of China passport issued to Taiwan residents offers visa-free or visa-on-arrival treatment in 153 territories, including the European Union and Canada, and Taiwan has even enrolled as a candidate in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. (The Republic of China passport issued to non-Taiwan residents, in sharp contrast, is almost entirely useless).

憂棄美籍難辦簽證
Worried about getting visa after giving up U.S. citizenship

但我心想,我現在也不會到那住了,而且台灣很好很美。我想把握機會為台灣做點事,而且人生無常,我還能活幾年?我決定放棄美國國籍,為國家說點良心的建言。
But I didn’t have any plans of going to go over there to live, and Taiwan is really nice and pretty. I wanted to take the opportunity to do something for Taiwan. Life is always changing, and besides how many more years do I have left to live? I decided to give up my U.S. citizenship so I could raise my voice on behalf of Taiwan.

Q:放棄美國國籍需經哪些流程?
Q: To give up U.S. citizenship, what procedures did you have to go through?

A:我很天真,以為到AIT填填單子,把我的美國護照還給他,他取消掉我的美國國籍就好了。沒想到移民官很慎重的問我:「妳要放棄美國國籍?」我說是。我那時唯一擔心的是,大女兒在美國如果要生孩子,希望我去陪她,如果我放棄美國國籍,接下來的簽證,他們是否能很快發給我?沒想到移民官說:「我們不見得要給妳簽證。」我問他為什麼?他說:「既然妳已放棄美國國籍,就表示妳不喜歡美國。」後來,他給我一大疊英文paper,非常多page要填,我根本不可能馬上回。移民官建議我,最好找個律師幫忙。
A: I was really naive. I thought I’d just be able to go to the American Institute in Taiwan [ed: the U.S.’ unofficial embassy in Taipei], fill out a form, hand back my U.S. passport, and they’d cancel my U.S. citizenship right there. I never though the immigration official would very carefully ask me: “You want to give up U.S. citizenship?” I said yes. My only worry was that my eldest daughter was about to give birth in the U.S., and she wanted me to go stay with her. If I gave up my U.S. citizenship, then in the future I’d have to get a visa, and maybe it would take a while for them to give it to me. I never though the immigration official would say: “We might not issue you a visa”. I asked why. He said: “Because you’re giving up U.S. citizenship, it means you don’t like the United States”. Afterwards, he gave me a huge stack of English papers, with lots of pages to fill out. I really couldn’t just go back and do it all at once, and the immigration official suggested I find a lawyer to help me out.

The comment about the visa is really bizarre. It doesn’t sound like something a real consular official would say — though maybe one of the locally-engaged employees would (the ones in Asia in particular tend to be rather prickly). Taiwan’s media prints an enormous amount of highly politicised misinformation about the renunciation process, so it’s hard to know whose stories to trust. Anyway, whether or not it’s what Ms. Chi was really told, it doesn’t match with what other renunciants (like Mark Nestmann’s correspondent “P.T. Freeman”, the RenunciationGuide.com authors, and others) have reported — that getting a U.S. tourist visa was fairly simple, since the likelihood that a renunciant plans to overstay a tourist visa is probably rather low (notwithstanding those “hilarious” U.S. homelanders in the comments sections of articles about renunciation who all say they’re gonna renounce and sneak back in so they can live “tax free like an illegal”).

The comment about getting a lawyer, on the other hand, is entirely believeable and entirely American. The U.S. is Form Nation, and if you do not know how to complete your obeisance to the paperwork gods, you must pay a high priest for assistance. Contrast that to India — not a country which is known for the speed and simplicity of its bureaucracy, to say the least — which processes renunciations on the same day in Hong Kong, according to reports from people on the ground:

2) HKIMMD will send a letter saying that you have to renounce the existing nationality and produce proof to them for issuing Chinese naturalization certificate.

3) Take this letter to Indian Consulate and renounce your Indian nationality. CGI will issue affidavit.(take 0.5-1 hr) Better do it in morning.

4) Take this affidavit to HKIMMD on same day afternoon. You need to sign a form to let HKIMMD requests your personal particulars in CGI. The HKIMMD will contact CGI by fax. (This could be done on same day. CGI will reply very quick. Just stand near the IMMD counter. For fastest trace, you can directly call CGI and tell them to reply back the HKIMMD’s fax)

Can you imagine bothering to advise an American renunciant on whether to go to the consulate in the morning or the afternoon? It’s like the old joke about buying a car in the Soviet Union. Anyway, going back to the article:

我回去看內容,裡面有個問題「你哪年歸化為美國公民?」我根本不記得,還好美國朋友記得我的歸化證書放在美國銀行保險箱,那時我很忙,實在沒時間回美國,我繼續看資料,發現問的問題超多的,像何時任公職?還要把宣誓詞翻成英文。我心想這麼難,就打電話找個曾當立委的律師。她說她當年申請放棄美國國籍,移民官問她如果不是為了選立委,會不會放棄?她說不會。於是,他們不讓她放棄,因為除非是自願,美國不能允許自己公民被逼迫,放棄國籍。
I went back home to look through the forms. One of the questions asked: “What year did you naturalise as a U.S. citizen?” I really didn’t remember, but fortunately my friend in the U.S. remembered that I’d left my naturalisation certificate in my U.S. bank safety deposit box. But I was really busy back then, and I didn’t have any time to go back to the U.S. I kept on going through the forms, and found out that they had a lot more questions, like when did I take on a public service position? I also had to get the oath of office translated into English. I called up a lawyer who was a former legislator, and she said that the year she applied to give up U.S. citizenship, the immigration official asked her if it wasn’t for the fact that she’d been elected as a legislator, would she still give up citizenship? She said no. And then, they didn’t let her renounce, because they said it wasn’t voluntary, and the U.S. doesn’t allow its own citizens to be forced to renounce citizenship.

Q:這樣不是很多公職人員都可以不要放棄?
Q: But doesn’t that mean a lot of public officials could avoid giving up [their U.S. citizenship]?

A:除非我說謊,說我沒有雙重國籍,因政府的確也不知道去哪查。但我不做這種事。半年後,我找到時間回美國,整個辦好,他們才通知我去宣誓。
Not unless I lied to them and told them I didn’t have dual citizenship, because the government wouldn’t know where to go to check it. But I wouldn’t do that kind of thing. Half a year later, I found some time to go back to the U.S. and get everything together, and then they notified me that I should go take the oath of renunciation.

Again, this is the first time I’ve heard this kind of story. The United Kingdom is famous for making it easy to renounce your citizenship and then resume it. Of course this isn’t because they want to be nice to random British emigrant retirees who want to buy beachfront property on some Caribbean or Pacific island which restricts land ownership to citizens; the major effect and likely the very purpose of the policy is to defeat their ex-colonies’ requirements that government officials not retain any foreign citizenships. If Ms. Chi’s friend’s statement is accurate, the U.S. has a similar (but much quieter) kind of policy: encouraging foreign politicians to break the laws of their own countries in order to retain U.S. citizenship. But this isn’t even the most bizarre politician citizenship story I’ve heard; the award for that probably goes to Shahine Robinson of Jamaica, who according to the Jamaica Gleaner somehow managed to naturalise as a U.S. citizen while a sitting member in the Jamaican Parliament.

放棄美國國籍後,好朋友為我哭,因她感覺我們情感上就斷了;還有我不少家人都住美國,也覺得我不可思議,放棄美國國籍又不是有薪水可領。我大女兒也說:「媽咪不愛我了。」哭起來。不過幸好後來我拿到五年有效的美國簽證,可以去看她。
After I gave up U.S. citizenship, a good friend of mine cried for me, because she felt like a bond of emotion between us was broken. A lot of my relatives are living in the U.S., and they also felt that what I did was unthinkable, giving up U.S. citizenship when I wasn’t even earning a salary in return. My daughter even said: “Mommy doesn’t love me” and started crying. But happily, in the end I was able to get a five-year U.S. visa and go see her.

記者陳玉梅採訪整理
Interview and editing by reporter Chen Yu-mei

In the aftermath, Ms. Chi finally showed up in the Q4 2009 “name and shame” list. That list wasn’t published until late February 2010, fifty-six days after the close of the previous quarter — almost twice as long as the deadline imposed on the Secretary of the Treasury by 26 USC 6039G(d). But of course Geithner is never punished for violating obscure sections of the Internal Revenue Code mandating ridiculous deadlines for useless information reporting — he doesn’t even get punished for serious tax evasion. Punishment is only for us little U.S. Persons abroad.

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3 thoughts on “A celebrity’s relinquishment report from Taipei, 2009

  1. Off the thread a little bit – but does the issues in this video sound familiar about American Companies and profits overseas.

    From the folks at the Tax Foundation – I wonder what their view is on citizenship-based taxation?

  2. Note under section 349(a), Ms. Chi did not need to renounce, her taking the government job was a potentially relinquishing act:

    (4) (A) accepting, serving in, or performing the duties of any office, post, or employment under the government of a foreign state or a political subdivision thereof, after attaining the age of eighteen years if he has or acquires the nationality of such foreign state;

    She only need to tell her employer that she would inform the Consulate of her loss of citizenship after taking the government job. The story of the officer telling her “: “We might not issue you a visa … Because you’re giving up U.S. citizenship, it means you don’t like the United States” , rings true. Many here in Canada have been told similarly, “As a citizen you always have the right to enter the US” but that right can be denied if you renounce. It is one of the scary warnings that the consular officials use to dissuade renunciants. Relinquishing is thus preferable, because she would not have “renounced” because she did not like the US, but she would have relinquished so as to take the foreign government job–this would imply nothing regarding the person’s attitude towards the US, unless it is a country which has hostile relations with the United States.

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