For forty-five years, AARO’s work helping Americans abroad has never stopped. Even accomplishments as fundamental as founder Phyllis Michaux’s improbable success persuading Congress to let Americans overseas vote have rarely been savored – each victory is soon overtaken by new challenges.
Likewise, every disappointment is soon replaced by renewed determination by our members. Who are we? The people who care enough to donate their time, talent and/or their treasure to help other Americans overseas. Compared to the estimated 8 million Americans living overseas, we may be the few, but, like the Marine Corps, we are the proud.
The year that passed since our last General Assembly was mixed: for every “up”, it seemed there was a “down” … and yet I would classify 2018-19 as a “vintage year”: one that provided immediate satisfaction in a number of areas and, more important, one that promised even greater success in the future.
Hails and one Farewell
This was thanks in part to the talents of two relatively new members of our Board of Directors who hit the ground running and then kept on going, Victoria Ferauge and Charlie Crouch. I’ll elaborate on what these two accomplished, but first, a reminder: one need not join the AARO Board of Directors in order to make a difference, indeed a big difference. Over the past year we were blessed by the tireless activism of three other AARO members: John Fredenberger, Eric Fenster, and Monte Silver.
- John Fredenberger’s inspiring leadership of a voter-registration drive, seconded by AARO’s Secretary Pam Combastet, reaped returns far beyond expectations. Not only did hundreds of people sign-up to vote, many of those newly-empowered citizens discovered AARO for the first time, as did some of the volunteers who came out to support the campaign. The American Embassy in Paris also put its resources into this effort by conducting voter-registration training sessions.
These efforts paid off, as there was a record high turnout of overseas voters last November, no doubt thanks in part to AARO’s improved presence on the web, our video-taped talks given by political experts, and our debate between representatives from Democrats Abroad and Republicans Overseas.
- Eric Fenster, along with Board member Charlie Crouch and our Treasurer Jenifer Ehreth, worked closely with our health plan partner MSH to improve this unique member benefit.
In order to help the many Americans living in France who have become entangled – or should I say clawed – by France’s health insurance and tax regulatory regime known as “PUMA”, Eric has gone beyond simply getting the word out about PUMA to our Members and other concerned Americans; he has mastered the arcane world of URSSAF and French social security law and he even wrote a brief challenging the legitimacy of PUMA before France’s Constitutional Court.
- New member Monte Silver, along with fellow Tax Committee member Nora Muller, led a spirited campaign to protect overseas American small business owners from the negative consequences of the corporate tax reform passed by the Republican-led Congress late in 2017. To cut a long story short, Congress’s efforts to tax more effectively the corporate global giants – a system known as GILTI – had the unforeseen consequence of driving small overseas American business to the brink of bankruptcy. How inimical to the Trump administration’s stated goal of boosting America’s ability to compete overseas! News outlets such as Reuters and the New York Times noted AARO’s efforts. The Treasury Department suspended application of some of the most devastating features – temporarily. Then, less than a year later, VICTORY! As Monte put it in a celebratory email:
“We are GILTI no more!”
Yes indeed, as of March 4, 2019, the Treasury Department granted permanent relief to small businesses run by overseas Americans … but of course with a few devils in the details, such as the so-called “Transition Tax” – see your tax professional. Monte keeps on fighting until all burdens have been lifted.
Now for the accomplishments of two relatively new Board Members:
- Charlie Crouch, our Silicon Valley veteran. Charlie has been the key to making AARO’s use of the internet more effective, by working on AARO’s own website, but also by analysing the best means for growing membership by capitalizing on one of our unique features, the AARO Health Insurance plan. Charlie is also now looking at how AARO might realise Board Member Marc Levinson’s proposed project to create an AARO prize for young Americans who have best improved life for other people in an overseas community – a tip of the cap to Phyllis Michaux’s remark that overseas Americans are the “unknown ambassadors” able to act on America’s core beliefs for the benefit of all.
- Victoria Ferauge, our Vice-President for Communications. Along with Charlie Crouch and a few more hard-working volunteers, Victoria made happen what I believe was one of the most important undertakings in the history of AARO: the Midterm Election Project. AARO invited all Congressional candidates in the nine states with the largest number of overseas voters to share their views on our issues, not just the ones back home. The response rate exceeded expectations, and AARO’s web traffic soared. The strategy is clear: channel the eight million Americans overseas into a voting block that can no longer be ignored. AARO is your town hall, wherever you are on the planet. Can’t wait for 2020!
- And, last but not least, our newest Board Member, who joined us earlier this month, please welcome our new Chairman of the Membership Committee, Kristi Carroll Lorin. A member of AARO for over thirty years, Kristi is looking for volunteers to join her committee. No particular skill or experience is required to get involved, and no task is more important for the AARO. Without the dues and contributions from our members, all our work helping Americans abroad would stop.
I have said it before, but I must say it again: We all know many overseas Americans who are good people and good citizens, and yet, somehow, these good people are not members AARO. If each of us could persuade just one other such person to join AARO, our membership would double. That would give us the funds we need to make Mark Levinson’s proposed AARO prizes for the best young “unknown ambassadors” a reality. It would also enable us to expand our advocacy efforts, voter registration drives, community outreach, and so on.
It only takes one for each of us, so please choose a person you would like to urge to join our association. Then go out and get that person under our tent.
We have a retiring member of the Board, and I would be remiss not to recognize her many years of service. Thank you, Marylou Daniels. Marylou was particularly active in communication. We wish her best.
Advocacy, Banking, Tax, Citizenship, Voting and other AARO Work
Time does not permit me to go into all the details of the Advocacy, Banking, Tax, Citizenship, Voting and other AARO work. Please read more about that in the materials attached to my own report.
I will only touch on a couple of items that could bring big benefits in the not-too-distant future:
- Responding to their invitation, AARO has joined the American Chamber of Commerce in France as a non-profit organisation. This allows up to five designated AARO members to participate in ACCF activities in important areas such as taxation and banking. Moreover, it lets us rub shoulders with business leaders who might turn out to be important supporters of AARO projects such as Mark Levinson’s proposal that AARO give out prizes for the best “unknown ambassadors” amongst young Americans abroad.
- Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a bill. Congressman Holding, a Republican from North Carolina, has introduced legislation in Congress that would abolish citizenship based taxation. For a lot of you out there in this room, or watching this General Assembly over the internet, this is the Holy Grail. The bill is not perfect – no bill in Congress ever is – but it sings music to the ears of overseas Americans fed up with the heavy burden of double compliance and – all too often – double taxation. AARO’s Board has endorsed the bill, and it will be a centerpiece of our annual Overseas Americans Week advocacy trip scheduled for June 10th of the year. Even sooner, our VP for Advocacy, Fred Einbinder, and the Chairman of our Tax Committee, Tim Ramier, are headed to London at the end of this month to meet with Congressman Holding.
Meanwhile, “back at the ranch”, before I conclude, I would be foolish not to salute all the good work happening thanks to AARO’s Treasurer Jenifer Ehreth, Assistant Treasurer Marilyn Yakowitz, VP for Operations/Administration Frank Priest, and our talented office manager Christine Cathrine. They watch each other like hawks, but also work as a team to make sure that AARO can deliver the maximum “bang for the buck” from our members’ dues and donations.
Speaking of donations, as you have heard from our Treasurer, AARO essentially broke even in the 2018 fiscal year. However, were it not for those who joined our “Founders Circle”, in other words made a gift to AARO, we would have finished some five thousand Euros in the red.
Dear donors, you made the difference. I am so grateful.
Continuing a tradition started by the immediate AARO past-president, the late and much-missed Lucy Laederich, I would like to close my report the same way I did last year: by quoting the great anthropologist and thinker Margaret Mead:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Respectfully submitted 10 April 2019 by Neil Kearney, President.
AARO's purpose is to create and maintain ties among American citizens located in and/or residents of countries other than the United States, with no regard for their political preferences or party affiliations, in order to:
- Unite their efforts to promote, assert, obtain and safeguard their social, civil and fiscal rights under US law;
- Undertake all actions, through all legal means, regarding the recognition of those rights of which they may find themselves deprived due to their absence from the United States;
- Educate and inform (i) overseas Americans of their rights and responsibilities as American citizens and (ii) the American Federal and state governments about the nature of the American population abroad and about their needs and views.
AARO – Association of Americans Resident Overseas
The Association of Americans Resident Overseas (AARO), founded in 1973 and headquartered in Paris, is an international, non-partisan association with members in 46 countries. It researches issues that significantly affect the lives of overseas Americans and keeps its members informed on those issues.
8.7 million Americans (excluding military) live in 160-plus countries.
If all these Americans were placed in one state it would be the 12th most populous state in the US (right between New Jersey and Virginia)!
In March 2016, AARO delegates to "Overseas Americans Week" were told that State Department estimates had been raised to 8.7 million Americans living and working around the world. That makes them equivalent to the combined populations of Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Tucson – something to keep in mind when legislation is being drawn up!
All such numbers are "guesstimates" of course, but they are telling. They are projections from a number of sources but are not broken down by country, as they were at the turn of this century, or even by region, as they were in 2011.
2015 Government Estimate of Overseas Americans by region around the world
In 2018, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report "Workplace Retirement Accounts" which included estimates of U.S. citizens abroad by geographic region, as of April 21, 2015.
Total Private and Official U.S. Citizen Residents
- Africa: 231,854
- East Asia and Pacific: 1,135,114
- Europe and Eurasia: 2,027,914
- Near East: 1,019,457
- South Central Asia: 618,772
- Western Hemisphere: 3,706,577
- For a total of 8,739,688
AARO's Historic Achievements
AARO was founded in 1973 by a group of Americans concerned about the way the US government treated its citizens abroad. We have played an important role in enabling overseas Americans to freely exercise their right to vote. We have also helped to improve and protect citizenship rights for children and grandchildren born overseas to Americans living abroad.
AARO has worked to change laws and policies to ensure that Americans abroad receive the same benefits and protection as citizens in the US Together with other international groups, we have campaigned vigorously for:
- The right for Americans abroad to vote, by streamlining the registration and voting process. AARO worked energetically to push through the landmark Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Rights Act of 1976. AARO's founder, Phyllis Michaux describes what happened (The Teabag Campaign). We also worked hard to ensure passage of the 2002 Voting Reform Bill, which improved and unified absentee voting procedures for Americans abroad.
- The right of children who are US citizens at birth to maintain this status for their lifetimes, even if they were born overseas. Strenuous AARO advocacy helped to abolish in 1978 the law requiring that a child born abroad to a US citizen married to a non-American reside in the US for a specified period of time in order to keep the American citizenship the child was born with. In 1986 through our efforts, the period of residence in the US required to transmit citizenship to children born abroad to one American parent was reduced from ten years to five, of which two years must be after the age of 14. For children whose US parent could not fulfill that physical presence requirement, we obtained in 1995 a facilitated naturalization procedure. To be eligible the child must be under age 18 and have a US-citizen grandparent who can satisfy the physical presence requirement.
- Equitable tax treatment for Americans abroad. Unlike all industrialized countries, which tax on the basis of residence, the US taxes its citizens wherever they might live, thereby subjecting them to potential double taxation and costly filing and compliance requirements. We have over the years succeeded in reducing these burdens in certain situations such as aspects of the application of Alternative Minimum Tax ‘foreign’ tax credits and the application to foreign small businesses of the GILTI and Transition Tax regimes introduced in the 2017 tax reforms.
- Enabling overseas Americans to apply for local-hire positions in US embassies and consulates. With AARO's aid, the law barring local Americans from such positions was abolished in 1991.
Today AARO's goals have expanded to include new issues while protecting those rights already achieved:
- Raising the profile of Americans overseas in Washington by participation in the annual Overseas Americans Week (OAW) and year-long letter campaigns, to increase the political clout of the estimated 6.6 million Americans abroad.
- Securing Medicare coverage for eligible Americans resident overseas.
- Repealing or reducing the Windfall Elimination Provision to avoid undue penalties on Americans contributing to a US and a foreign pension system during their careers.
- Protecting gains in the citizenship and naturalization process for children of an American parent.
- Continuing to advocate for the elimination or at least significantly reducing the cost, administrative burden and anxiety occasioned by Citizen Based Taxation (“CBT”) and supporting advocacy and litigation efforts to eliminate the application of Transition and GILTI tax to small businesses.
- Advocating changes to FATCA to reduce the administrative burdens it imposes on Americans abroad. Fighting against Americans abroad exclusion from credit and financial investment opportunities by educating Congress, the EU and foreign governments of these issues and intervening with banks to find solutions to stop the practice.
- Continuing the effort for mutual recognition of US state driver's licenses by foreign countries.
- Further facilitating voting from overseas.
- Continuing to provide AARO members with a comprehensive health insurance program with worldwide coverage.