Who is a “resident”? What is a “resident”? This sounds like such a basic question. It is not so simple for tax purposes; nor for other provisions of the law.
There is the colloquial meaning of resident. For instance, if Mr. Smith says, “I have been a resident of Montana on my ranch for 30 years”; to what does he refer? What if Mr. Smith has a house in California (which he has owned for 15 years) and another ranch in Alberta, Canada that he has owned for 45 years. Is he also a “resident” of Canada and California?
What if he is not a U.S. citizen but holds a particular type of visa, such as lawful permanent residency (an immigrant visa)? What if he has a non-immigrant visa, such as an E-2 visa? What if he only spends 4 months a year on his ranch in Montana, of where is he a “resident”?
Is he a “resident” in some or all of these scenarios? Why is this important in the context of “U.S. expatriation taxation”?
There are three sources of federal law where it becomes very important, which will be discussed in later posts:
- Title 31 – which is the “bank secrecy” law that creates the “FBARs” – see a prior post, Nuances of FBAR – Foreign Bank Account Report Filings – for USCs and LPRs living outside the U.S.
- Title 26 – federal tax law that has a myriad of definitions regarding “residents”; see, Oops…Did I “Expatriate” and Never Know It: Lawful Permanent Residents Beware! International Tax Journal, CCH Wolters Kluwer, Jan.-Feb. 2014, Vol. 40 Issue 1, p9.
- Title 8 – federal immigration law; see, Part II: Who is a “long-term” lawful permanent resident (“LPR”) and why does it matter?
In addition, various states, such as California, Texas and Washington D.C. (actually not a state; but all places I happen to be licensed to practice law) have their own definitions of who are “residents” for income tax and other purposes.
Subsequent posts will discuss the importance of understanding who is a “resident” and the implications under these various laws.
Laymen regularly have an idea of where they are “resident” – but that idea is often very different from definitions of “resident” under federal Titles 31, 26 and 8 and state laws (e.g., Texas, D.C., Florida, California, New York, etc.).
A post in August 2014 explained the basic rule of who is a “long-term resident” as that technical term is defined for tax purposes in IRC Section 877 (e)(2). There is much confusion about how the tax law defines a “lawful permanent resident” (“LPR”) versus how immigration law defines what is almost the same concept. The statutes are different and have definitions in two separate federal codes (Title 26, the federal tax provisions and Title 8, the immigration law provisions).
Posted on August 19, 2014
This follow-up comment is to highlight some key concepts about why it matters if you become a “long-term” resident as that term is defined in the tax law.
- A LPR can reside for substantially shorter periods in the U.S. (shorter than the apparent 7 or 8 years identified in the statute), and still be a “long-term resident” per IRC Section 877 (e)(2) depending upon the facts of any particicular case.
- There are far more LPRs who abandon their status (formally) than U.S. citizens who formally take the oath of renunciation. See the table above reflecting those who have formally renounced U.S. citizenship versus those who have formally abandoned their LPR status.
- Plenty of LPRs informally abandon their LPR status for immigration purposes by moving and living permanently outside the U.S.
- An individual who has/had LPR status, has no control over the timing of when their status ends; if it is determined to have been legally abandonmened by a federal immigration judge. See, The dangers of becoming a “covered expatriate” by not complying with Section 877(a)(2)(C).
- There are plenty of timing issues for LPRs surrounding how and when they have “abandoned” their LPR status for purposes of IRC Section 877 (e)(2). See –
Timing Issues for Lawful Permanent Residents (“LPR”) Who Never “Formally Abandoned” Their Green Card
The “tax expatriation” statutory provisions are fraught with ambiguity and incomplete answers for those individuals who have cases that span different time periods. This is because the law has been changed numerous times over the last several years and ad hoc concepts added, including the technical concept of “long-term residents” for the first time in 1996. As has been previously explained, the first “expatriation tax” law was not adopted until 1966 as part of the The Foreign Investors Tax Act of 1966 (“FITA”) – The Origin of U.S. Tax Expatriation Law (Posted on April 6, 2014).
Next, 1996 amendments kept the basic regime but added a number of key concepts, including “long-term residents”. The changes in the law in 2004 made significant changes and in 2008 the first “mark to market” regime was adopted. Each time, the concept of “long-term residents” was maintained, but without clear thought as to the meaning and timing of “expatriation” in various cases. See, Timeline Summary of Changes in Tax Expatriation Provisions Since 1996, (Posted on April 9, 2014)
Unfortunately, none of these amendments to the law over the years carefully incorporated transition and timing rules for cases where the individual has lived in (or had U.S. citizenship or LPR) during one more of these time periods:
There are many inconsistent concepts among the law and one clear example is demonstrated by an individual who became a lawful permanent resident prior to 1996 and prior to amendments in the definition of a “resident alien” which was adopted generally in the federal tax in the law in 1984. This 1984 definition was not part of any specific “expatriation tax” provisions.
Remember, the technical definition of who is a “resident alien” is the basic definition of who is generally subject to U.S. income taxation on their worldwide income. See, Co-author. “Tax Simplification: The Need for Consistent Tax Treatment of All Individuals (Citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents and Non-Citizens Regardless of Immigration Status) Residing Overseas, Including the Repeal of U.S. Citizenship Based Taxation,” by Patrick W. Martin and Professor Reuven Avi-Yonah, September 2013.
Prior to 1984, a LPR was not necessarily an income tax resident of the U.S. This concept of LPR (i.e., a “green card”) driving U.S. income tax residency was adopted in 1984, long before Congress became obsessed with U.S. individual tax expatriation. For background in the law, see the 1985 Penn State Law Review Article – Internal Revenue Code 7701(b): A More Certain Definition of Resident
The Joint Committee on Taxation report on the 1984 changes in the tax law (“General explanation of the revenue provisions of the Deficit Reduction Act of 1984 : (H.R. 4170, 98th Congress; Public Law 98-369)“) addressing the tax residency test of “lawful permanent residency” rules provides the following language:
. . . The Act defines “lawful permanent resident” to mean an individual who has the status of having been lawfully accorded the privilege of residing permanently in the United States as an immigrant in accordance with the immigration laws, if such status has not been revoked or administratively or judicially determined to have been abandoned. Therefore, an alien who comes to the United States so infrequently that, on scrutiny, he or she is no longer legally entitled to permanent resident status, but who has not officially lost or abandoned that status, will be a resident for tax purposes. The purpose for this requirement of revocation or determination is to prevent aliens from attempting to retain an apparent right to enter or remain in the United States while attempting to avoid the tax responsibility that accompanies that right.
The logic of the LPR test is clear based upon this explanation. If one has the right to live in the U.S., they cannot avoid the tax responsibility that accompanies that right. However, as immigration lawyers will explain, there is no right to enter the U.S. after you have abandoned your LPR status and moved outside the U.S. on a permanent basis.
At the same time, there is other discussion in the report that would support the position that these provisions only apply for the years 1985 and thereafter (long after many individuals obtained LPR status, but who moved out of the country – e.g., in cases where individuals obtained LPR in the 1970s and left before 1985). Specifically, the explanation in the Joint Committee of Taxation is as follows:
. . . The purpose of this effective date rule is to delay tax resident status for only new green cardholders for a short time. Congress understood further that an alien may acquire lawful permanent resident status for immigration purposes before U.S. presence. Congress sought to impose tax resident status on all lawful permanent residents once they arrive in the United States. The Act does not affect the determination of residence, even for green card holders, for taxable years beginning before January 1, 1985.
Of course, the report by the Joint Committee on Taxation (“JCT”) is not the law and does not bind the IRS or the taxpayer. However, the JCT usually get their explanations of the law right.
Why is all of this important for LPRs who never formally abandoned their “green card”? The IRS might well try to argue they never terminated their U.S. federal income tax residency for purposes of the “tax expatriation provisions”, as later versions of the statute impose an obligation to notify the IRS. If the individual never notified the IRS, the government might ar
See, for instance Section 7701(b)(6) with specific rules for LPR individuals who live in a country with a U.S. income tax treaty. Importantly, the definition of a lawful permanent resident for tax purposes (as defined in Section 7701(b) ) is not identical to the definition for immigration law purposes as the legislative history to the 1984 amendments to the law explains.
See, Oops…Did I “Expatriate” and Never Know It: Lawful Permanent Residents Beware! International Tax Journal, CCH Wolters Kluwer, Jan.-Feb. 2014, Vol. 40 Issue 1, p9.
Finally, the information required as part of the process of formal abandonment is much more extensive than in the past.
A prior post discussed the published USCIS immigration form I-407 for LPRs who must now use it when formally abandoning LPR status. See, More Information and More Information: USCIS Creates New Form for Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Residency
See, new I-407 Form requires that much more information and is 2 pages in length.