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.
Q: Why did you give up U.S. citizenship?
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.
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.
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).
Worried about getting visa after giving up U.S. citizenship
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: To give up U.S. citizenship, what procedures did you have to go through?
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:
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: But doesn’t that mean a lot of public officials could avoid giving up [their U.S. citizenship]?
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.
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.
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.