Thursday, November 04, 2004

So you're thinking about leaving America.

Sean Penn wanted to do it, so did Alec Baldwin and Barbara Streisand.
Now thanks to my good friend "BklynGirl" I am attaching the:

A reader's guide to expatriating on November 3

Originally from Harper's Magazine, October 2004. By Bryant Urstadt.

Renouncing your citizenship

Given how much the United States as a nation professes
to value freedom, your freedom to opt out of the
nation itself is surprisingly limited. The State
Department does not record the annual number of
Americans renouncing their citizenship-"renunciants,"
as they are officially termed-but the Internal Revenue
Service publishes their names on a quarterly basis in
the Federal Register. The IRS's interest in the
subject is, of course, purely financial; since 1996,
the agency has tracked ex-Americans in the hopes of
recouping tax revenue, which in some cases may be owed
for up to ten years after a person leaves the country.
In any event, the number of renunciants is small. In
2002, for example, the Register recorded only 403
departures, of which many (if not most) were merely
longtime resident aliens returning home.

The most serious barrier to renouncing your
citizenship is that the State Department, which
oversees expatriation, is reluctant to allow citizens
to go "stateless." Before allowing expatriation, the
department will want you to have obtained citizenship
or legal asylum in another country-usually a
complicated and expensive process, if it can be done
at all. Would-be renunciants must also prove that they
do not intend to live in the United States afterward.
Furthermore, you cannot renounce inside U.S. borders;
the declaration must be made at a consul's office

Those who imagine that exile will be easily won would
do well to consider the travails of Kenneth Nichols
O'Keefe. An ex-Marine who was discharged, according to
his website, under "other than honorable conditions,"
O'Keefe has tried officially to renounce his
citizenship twice without success, first in Vancouver
and then in the Netherlands. His initial bid was
rejected after the State Department concluded that he
would return to the United States-a credible
inference, as O'Keefe in fact had returned
immediately. After his second attempt, O'Keefe waited
seven months with no response before he tried a more
sensational approach. He went back to the consulate at
The Hague, retrieved his passport, walked outside, and
lit it on fire. Seventeen days later, he received a
letter from the State Department informing him that he
was still an American, because he had not obtained the
right to reside elsewhere. He had succeeded only in
breaking the law, since mutilating a passport is
illegal. It says so right on the passport.

Heading to Canada or Mexico

In your search for alternate citizenship, you might
naturally think first of Canada and Mexico. But
despite the generous terms of NAFTA, our neighbors to
the north and south are, like us, far more interested
in the flow of money than of persons. Canada, in
particular, is no longer a paradise awaiting American
dissidents: whereas in 1970 roughly 20,000 Americans
became permanent residents of Canada, that number has
dropped over the last decade to an average of just
about 5,000. Today it takes an average of twenty-five
months to be accepted as a permanent resident, and
this is only the first step in what is likely to be a
five-year process of becoming a citizen. At that point
the gesture of expatriation may already be moot,
particularly if a sympathetic political party has
since resumed power.

Mexico's citizenship program is equally complicated.
Seniors should know that the country does offer a
lenient program for retirees, who may essentially stay
as long as they want. But you will not be able to work
or to vote, and, more important, you must remain an
American for at least five years.


Should one candidate win, those who opposed the Iraq
war might hope to find refuge in France, where a very
select few are allowed to "assimilate" each year.
Assimilation is reserved for persons of non-French
descent who are able to prove that they are more
French than American, having mastered the language as
well as the philosophy of the French way of life. Each
case is determined on its own merit, and decisions are
made by the Ministère de l'Emploi, du Travail, et de
la Cohésion Social. When your name is published in the
Journal Officiel de la République Français, you are
officially a citizen, and may thereafter heckle the
United States with authentic Gallic zeal.

The coalition of the willing

Should the other candidate win, war supporters might
naturally look to join the coalition of the willing.
But you may find a willing and developing nation as
difficult to join as an unwilling and developed one.
It takes at least five years to become a citizen of
Pakistan, for instance, unless one marries into a
family, and each applicant for residency in Pakistan
is judged on a case-by-case basis. Uzbekistan imposes
a five-year wait as well, with an additional twist:
the nation does not recognize dual citizenship, and so
you will be required to renounce your U.S. citizenship
first. Given Uzbekistan's standard of living (low),
unemployment (high), and human-rights record (poor),
this would be something of a leap of faith.

The Caribbean

A more pleasant solution might be found in the
Caribbean. Take, for example, the twin-island nation
of St. Kitts and Nevis, which Frommer's guide praises
for its "average year-round temperature of 79°F
(26°C), low humidity, white-sand beaches, and
unspoiled natural beauty." Citizenship in this
paradise can be purchased outright. Prices start at
around $125,000, which includes a $25,000 application
fee and a minimum purchase of $100,000 in bonds.
Processing time, which includes checks for criminal
records and HIV, can take up to three months, but with
luck you could be renouncing by Inauguration Day. The
island of Dominica likewise offers a program of
"economic citizenship," though it should be noted that
Frommer's describes the beaches as "not worth the
effort to get there."

Speed is of the essence, however, because your choice
of tropical paradises is fast dwindling: similar
passport-vending programs in Belize and Grenada have
been shut down since 2001 under pressure from the
State Department, which does not approve. In any case,
it should be noted that under the aforementioned IRS
rules, you might well be forced to continue
subsidizing needless invasions-or, to be evenhanded,
needless afterschool programs.

Indian reservations

Our Native American reservations, which enjoy freedom
from state taxation and law enforcement, might seem an
ideal home for the political exile. But becoming a
citizen of a reservation is difficult-one must prove
that one is a descendant of a member of the original
tribal base roll-and moreover would be, as a gesture
of political disaffection, largely symbolic.
Reservations remain subject to federal law;
furthermore, citizens of a reservation hold dual
citizenships, and as such are expected to vote in U.S.
elections and to live with the results.

The high seas

You might consider moving yourself offshore. At a
price of $1.3 million you can purchase an apartment on
The World, a residential cruise ship that moves
continuously, stopping at ports from Venice to
Zanzibar to Palm Beach. Again, however, your
expatriation would be only partial: The World flies
the flag of the Bahamas, but its homeowners, who hail
from all over Europe, Asia, and the United States,
retain citizenship in their home nations.

To obtain a similar result more cheaply, you can
simply register your own boat under a flag of
convenience and float it outside the United States'
230-mile zone of economic control. There, on your
Liberian tanker, you will essentially be an extension
of that African nation, subject only to its laws, and
may imagine yourself free of oppressive government.


The boldest approach is to start a nation of your own.
Sadly, these days it is essentially impossible to buy
an uninhabited island and declare it a sovereign
nation: virtually every rock above the waterline is
now under the jurisdiction of one principality or
another. But efforts have been made to build nations
on man-made structures or on reefs lying just below
the waterline. Among the more successful of these is
the famous Principality of Sealand, which was founded
in 1967 on an abandoned military platform off the
coast of Britain. The following year a British judge
ruled that the principality lay outside the nation's
territorial waters. New citizenships in Sealand,
however, are not being granted or sold at present.

A less fortunate attempt was made in 1972, when
Michael Oliver, a Nevada businessman, built an island
on a reef 260 miles southwest of Tonga. Hiring a
dredger, he piled up sand and mud until he had enough
landmass to declare independence for his "Republic of
Minerva." Unfortunately, the Republic of Minerva was
soon invaded by a Tongan force, whose number is said
to have included a work detail of prisoners, a brass
band, and Tonga's 350-pound king himself. The reef was
later officially annexed by the kingdom.

More recently, John J. Prisco III, of the Philippines,
has declared himself the prince of the Principality of
New Pacific, and announced that he has discovered a
suitable atoll in the international waters of the
Central Pacific. As of publication, the principality
has yet to begin the first phase of construction, but
it is already accepting applications for citizenship.

Imaginary nations

Perhaps the most elegant solution is to join a country
that exists only in one's own-or someone
else's-imagination. Many such virtual nations can be
found on the Internet, and citizenships in them are
easy to acquire. This, in fact, was the route most
recently attempted by Kenneth Nichols O'Keefe, the
unfortunate ex-Marine. In February 2003,

O'Keefe went to Baghdad to serve as a human shield,
traveling with a passport issued to him by the "World
Service Authority," an outfit based in Washington,
D.C., that has dubbed more than 1.2 million people
"world citizens." While laying over in Turkey,
however, he was detained; Turkey, as it turns out,
does not recognize the World Service Authority.
O'Keefe was forced to apply for a replacement U.S.
passport from the State Department, which rather
graciously complied.

Upon his arrival in Baghdad, O'Keefe promptly set the
replacement passport on fire. But he remains, to his
dismay, an American.


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