Senators and Representatives hear from overseas Americans in their own words.
Millions of Americans live outside the United States. They do so for ordinary reasons, such as to join a romantic partner or to pursue professional opportunities. They seek to live ordinary lives, with families, homes, retirement plans, banking and investment accounts, and small businesses. Unfortunately, when Congress passes legislation and federal agencies adopt new regulations, many have unintended and harmful consequences for Americans living overseas.
To understand more about these problems, AARO, the Association of Americans Resident Overseas, and SEAT, Stop Extraterritorial American Taxation (see here for SEAT’s website) conducted surveys, asking expatriate Americans about the problems and issues they encountered while living overseas.
Thousands of detailed responses were received, many telling heartfelt and emotional stories of problems encountered because of U.S. laws and regulations.
Every Senator and Representative has been sent a set of these comments from their own constituents.
Detailed Surveys Provide Personal Experience Stories
Both surveys were conducted in late 2020. While their topics, questions and methodologies differed somewhat, each survey provided a rich data set on issues faced daily by expatriate Americans.
AARO Survey Highlights Problem Areas
AARO’s survey asked questions about the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), banking, investment and retirement accounts, taxation, Social Security, Medicare, voting, U.S. citizen services, citizenship renunciation and representation in Congress. More than 30% of the AARO membership responded, as well as more than 100 non-members, many adding comments with details and personal experiences. The respondents included expats hailing from 41 States. While most lived in Europe, comments were received by expats living on every continent in the world.
The survey was created and conducted by AARO President Doris L. Speer, who then wrote a series of eleven articles detailing the results and providing analysis of the issues evoked. The articles covered seven topics: U.S. and foreign banking issues; investment account issues; FATCA and FBAR; citizenship-based taxation; renunciation; voting; and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).
More about the AARO survey and the eleven articles can be found on the AARO website at Advocacy Survey.
SEAT’s Survey is Extensive and Detailed
The purpose of SEAT’s survey was to better understand the effects of the extraterritorial application of U.S. taxation and banking policies on persons living overseas. The survey was open to current and former U.S. citizens and green card holders, as well as their spouses and partners, living outside the United States.
A total of 1564 persons participated in the survey. The participants included persons from every state in the United States, living in 68 different countries around the world.
As noted above, SEAT’s survey report is extensive and detailed. Its full report be accessed on SEAT’s website at Survey Report. Detailed participant comments organized by state can be accessed at Survey Report by State.
Developing the Idea
In the spring of 2022, AARO member Eric Fenster realized that the surveys contained a wealth of information regarding the problems faced by American living overseas. He felt that their testimonials should be more widely shared.
He suggested sending a letter to each Representative in the House with relevant comments from the surveys to highlight the difficulties faced. AARO and SEAT liked the idea, and AARO formed a committee to develop the project and to expand it to include the Senate.
Putting the Project Together
From September 2022 through April 2023, hundreds of hours were spent culling comments and anecdotes from each survey. For each Congressperson, AARO prepared a specific set of comments. The idea was to send to each Congressperson testimonials from their own constituents, those who had lived in and/or were registered voters of that Congressperson’s state. AARO believed that this would resonate more fully. For a few Congresspersons, we added comments from other States for a fuller picture when there were few comments from their own constituents.
The comments covered a wide variety of substantive issues: Expats' inability to invest, save for retirement, own a home, keep financial accounts or access financial services; issues with FATCA and FBAR; the unfairness of citizenship-based taxation; challenges interacting with the IRS; the lack of citizen services; the impossibility of compliance; the high cost of professional assistance; the denial of job and business opportunities; and the perceived lack of representation in Congress.
They also highlighted the many moving personal issues, such as overseas Americans’ stress, fear and worry, feelings of persecution and the inability to hold title to family assets; the negative effect on spouses and other family members; the regret and concern for U.S. citizen children; and, finally, the pain of those contemplating renunciation of citizenship.
Preparing 535 Individual Letters
To introduce the comments, three different cover letters were prepared.
- One was individually addressed to members of the bipartisan Americans Abroad Caucus. See Americans Abroad Caucus in the House of Representatives, thanking them for their service.
Letter to members of Americans Abroad Caucus
- Another was individually addressed to the remaining House members, asking them to join the Americans Abroad Caucus and support the legal reforms necessary to allow overseas Americans to live ordinary lives.
Letter to other members not in Americans Abroad Caucus
- A third letter was individually addressed to each member of the Senate.
Letter to members of the Senate
In each letter, AARO and SEAT emphasized that many overseas Americans cannot live ordinary lives due to laws, regulations and practices that fail to respect the American values of equal protection and due process. AARO promised that Congress would continue to hear from us about the problems faced by Americans abroad.
Submitting the Packages to Congress
535 packages were mailed by post to each member of Congress in late April, shortly before AARO’s annual Overseas Americans Week (OAW).
AARO’s Follow Up
During AARO’s Overseas Americans Week, members of AARO and FAWCO (Federation of American’s Women’s Clubs Overseas) visit members of Congress, their staffs, executive agencies and national organizations to advocate changing laws and regulations negatively affecting overseas Americans. The Dear 535 Campaign will feature in these discussions.
As each Congressperson received just a small sample of comments, AARO plans in a second step to prepare a short booklet with the most compelling comments to use in future advocacy.
Next Steps by You
This Dear 535 Campaign could not have been done without the efforts of those who responded to the surveys. In order for AARO to continue to effectively advocate for overseas Americans, we ask you to continue to let us know of your problems.
We also invite you to write your Congressional representatives, reminding them that they have been sent these letters and asking them to do something about it. To assist our members, AARO plans to prepare a template letter that our members can adapt to their special circumstances.