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October 13 2008

Tax bills prompt Chinese to ditch US passports By Lulu Chen



The long arm of the American taxman has many wealthy mainlanders ruing theday they decided to get US citizenship, and more are considering trying to get rid of it. 

For many wealthy mainland Chinese who immigrated to the US, an American passport is a genie that cannot be put back in the bottle.

More and more of them are thinking about renouncing their US citizenship, something that would have been almost unimaginable a decade ago, when getting a US passport was the ultimate status symbol in China.

Wu, a 31-year-old housewife who asked to be identified only by her family name, said she started toying with the idea about a year ago. "I regret it to death, all of my friends regret it to death," said Wu about taking out US citizenship. "I'm never going back."

Behind her change of heart is tax. Under US law, American citizens and permanent residents, known as green card holders, are taxed on their worldwide income regardless of where they live. Other countries, including China, tax their citizens' global income. But it is the US, with its sophisticated systems and the long arm of its taxman, that has the highest profile.

In March 2010, Washington stepped up its tax collection efforts by enacting the Foreign Account Tax Compliance, or Fatca, aimed at cracking down on tax dodgers abroad. The regulations are set to be finalised before year's end, and the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) expects the tightened compliance to generate as much as an extra US$9 billion over the next decade.

America's long history of tax collection, starting with the 16th amendment to the constitution that gave Congress the power to levy and collect taxes, makes paying tax a serious legal issue that many immigrants do not realise when they decide to become citizens. The law even extends beyond life to a dead person's estate.

But it's not just having to pay up that's a problem. Americans and green card holders face onerous US reporting requirements, often have trouble opening bank accounts outside the US and frequently find it hard to form business ventures overseas because potential partners fear getting on the IRS' radar screen.

The number of Americans renouncing their citizenship rose to about 1,780 last year from just 280 in 2006, according to data from the US Federal Register compiled by the Sunday Morning Post. The figures don't distinguish between US-born and naturalised citizens, and don't include permanent residents who have given up their green cards.

"With all this compliance burden, we think that the trend of US citizens at least thinking about giving up their citizenship" will continue, said Anthony Tong, a tax services partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Hong Kong.

Many wealthy people are deterred from giving up their citizenship halfway through the process when they learn the IRS will inspect their income globally looking for evidence of tax evasion, said Timmas Deng, a Hong Kong lawyer who specialises in immigration. "It's very hard to find a Chinese entrepreneur with an impeccable tax reporting history," he added.

John Gaver, author of The Rich Don't Pay Tax!...Or Do They?, argues that vast and increasing numbers of wealthy US citizens are just "dropping out" - taking all their wealth and quitting the US without ever formally renouncing their citizenship.

But this bears risks. Take, for instance, Steven Ng-Sheong Cheung, a Hong Kong-born economist who became a naturalised US citizen. He fled to mainland China from Hong Kong after he was indicted by the IRS in 2003 for tax evasion. He is still holed up on the mainland, which doesn't have an extradition treaty with the US. But Cheung could be extradited to the US if he travels to jurisdictions that do have such treaties, and according to the US State Department, that is more than half the jurisdictions on the planet, including Hong Kong.

Renouncing US citizenship is also expensive. Deng, the Hong Kong lawyer, said it usually took one to two years to complete the process. To avoid an individual becoming stateless, the US requires anyone giving back citizenship to be a citizen elsewhere.

There is also the fee for legal advice, which runs up to US$30,000 at Deng's firm. And there's a so-called expatriation tax, a charge that has to be paid when the US passport is surrendered, and which is subject to a complicated calculation. Different rules apply depending on the date of surrender. For instance, people giving up their citizenship since June 16, 2008, can be taxed as if their worldwide assets were sold at fair value at the time, even though there are no actual sales.

The rules "require individuals to come up with extra liquidity in a short time, which could be hard to fulfil", said Angelica Kwan, a US tax expert and partner at accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers in Hong Kong.

People who gave up their US passports before June 16, 2008, and who are deemed to meet a certain threshold of income or net worth are generally subject to continued US tax on a certain amount of their income for 10 years following the date they are no longer considered to be US citizens.

Still, the number of mainland Chinese immigrating to the US continues to swell. Last year 34,693 did so, more than double the number in 1992, according to the latest available figures from the US government.

Many are seeking better health care, a better environment or asset protection. Political risk is also a key reason, said independent economist Andy Xie, a Chinese citizen who lives in Shanghai and does not hold a US passport.

"For private entrepreneurs who became rich in China," Xie said, the chances were "very slim" that they hadn't been engaged in some kind of official corruption. That begged the question, he added, of "is this your money or the government's money".

Unlike the US, China doesn't recognise dual nationality, and Chinese who acquire foreign nationality are supposed to automatically lose their Chinese nationality, says Patrick Phua, a Beijing-based partner at law firm Ashurst.

Many mainlanders, like Wu, retain their Chinese citizenship while holding US citizenship, betting they will not get caught.

When Wu first decided to try to become a US citizen, she said it was the "in" thing to do in China. Her mother was living there temporarily, so Wu went there to study. Once she graduated, she wanted to stay on, so she took out citizenship, becoming the only member of her family to do so. Later, she married a wealthy mainlander but he doesn't have a US passport. Wu, who now has an eight-month-old child, said she was not worried about losing her Chinese citizenship because having more than one passport is "quite common in China".

Today, Wu splits her time between Hong Kong and the mainland. She has no ties to the US, where she says she has never owned property or any other assets. All of her immediate relatives live on the mainland and she hasn't been to the US for nearly a decade.

Wu never travels anywhere on her US passport, and tries to hide all traces of her income. Once she even refused to sign a contract with a potential business partner lest it leave a paper trail for US tax authorities to follow.

"I had no idea about the legal risks when I applied for American citizenship," Wu said. "If only I had consulted a lawyer." 

Alien concept

US citizens and resident aliens are taxed on their worldwide income.

Some taxpayers may qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion and foreign housing exclusion, or foreign housing deduction, if:

Their tax home is in a foreign country;
They are US citizens who are a bona fide resident of a foreign country or countries for an uninterrupted period that includes an entire tax year;
They are US resident aliens who are a citizen or national of a country with which the United States has an income tax treaty with a nondiscrimination article in effect and who is a bona fide resident of a foreign country or countries for an uninterrupted period that includes an entire tax year; or
They are US citizens and resident aliens who are physically present in a foreign country or countries for at least 330 full days during any period of 12 consecutive months.

Taxpayers may be able to claim a foreign tax credit if required to pay a foreign income tax to the foreign country, if he or she has not elected the foreign earned income exclusion with respect to that income.

Taxpayers may also qualify to deduct away-from-home expenses (for travel, meals, and lodging), but not against excluded income.

November 13 2008

Employers Beware: Under New Law, U.S. Employees of Many Partnerships and Foreign Corporations May No Longer Be Able to Defer Compensation

Beginning on January 1, 2009, commonly used nonqualified deferred compensation arrangements may no longer be available to U.S. employees of certain partnerships and foreign corporations (referred to herein as “Covered Employers”). Legislation enacted on October 3, 2008 has added Section 457A to the Internal Revenue Code (the “Code”). Section 409A of the Code (“Section 409A”) (enacted in 2004) already imposes many requirements and limitations on nonqualified deferred compensation arrangements. However, new Section 457A of the Code (“Section 457A”) may spell the end of U.S. federal income tax deferral for compensation paid to U.S. employees by Covered Employers.

Hedge funds, whose U.S. managers are the primary target of Section 457A, will naturally want to review the effect of the new rules on their deferred fee arrangements and to monitor for upcoming regulations or other guidance that will presumably address some of the uncertainties created by the new statute (including, in particular, the uncertainties illustrated by the examples below). However, all Covered Employers who may pay deferred compensation should also carefully examine the potential application of the new statutory rules to their employees subject to U.S. taxes, including U.S. citizens and U.S. residents, and monitor for any new guidance with respect to these rules.

The New Law Ends Deferral or Imposes a Punitive Tax on Deferred Compensation

The new law introduces two basic rules for “deferred compensation” (i.e., compensation deferred for a period of more than 12 months following the year in which it is earned) received from a Covered Employer. First, deferred compensation is taxable once it is “vested.” Deferred compensation is vested when it is no longer subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture (generally, once the right to compensation is no longer contingent upon the performance of “substantial” future services). Second, if at the time of vesting the amount of deferred compensation is not determinable, it is included in income when it becomes determinable. However, at the time the amount becomes determinable, it is also subject to an additional 20% tax plus interest.

The New Law Targets Hedge Fund Managers, But…

Section 457A targets a structure commonly used to defer fee income received by managers of offshore hedge funds. In a typical offshore hedge fund structure, a fund manager (generally organized as either a foreign corporation or partnership) earns fee income from the funds it manages and, in turn, pays compensation to the individuals who provide the management services on its behalf. The compensation arrangements also frequently include non-qualified deferred compensation plans that allow the individuals to defer all or a portion of their compensation, subject to the limitations of Section 409A. Under Section 457A, this deferral opportunity will be substantially eliminated.

The Broad Reach of the New Law Extends to Many Other Types of Employers

The scope of Section 457A is much broader than just hedge fund managers, in large part as a result of the statutory definition of “Covered Employers” whose compensation arrangements are subject to the new rules. Under Section 457A, Covered Employers include, with limited exceptions, all non-U.S. corporations unless substantially all of their income is subject to a “comprehensive foreign income tax.” It therefore generally includes, among others, all corporations organized in offshore jurisdictions like the Cayman Islands, Bermuda or the British Virgin Islands. It also includes any partnership, whether domestic or foreign, any meaningful amount of whose income is allocated to partners who are either U.S. tax-exempt organizations or non-U.S. persons not subject to a “comprehensive foreign income tax” with respect to such income.

“Side Pocket” Arrangements

Section 457A authorizes regulations that would treat deferred fees with respect to certain single-investment “side pocket” arrangements as being unvested until the side pocket’s sole investment is sold (which would prevent the application of the additional 20% tax and interest charge). However, no such regulations have been issued so far. Furthermore, it remains unclear how this special rule will interact with the rules of Section 409A. Treatment of side pocket arrangements will remain uncertain until the Treasury Department issues guidance that activates the special rule and addresses the interrelation between Sections 409A and 457A with respect to single-investment side pocket compensatory arrangements.

Examples

To better understand what the new rules mean as a practical matter, consider the following common scenarios:

1. Deferred Hedge Fund Fees:

Andrew is a U.S. citizen employed by Investco. Investco is a foreign hedge fund manager and is a Covered Employer. Investco agrees to pay Andrew annual compensation in an amount equal to a specified percentage of the fund’s net income (his “Fees”). Andrew is entitled to (and does) defer this compensation under an arrangement that complies with Section 409A. Deferred Fees accrue earnings at a rate that reflects the rate of appreciation of the fund’s assets. The deferred Fees, together with earnings thereon, are payable at the earlier of the time that Andrew terminates his employment with Investco or the time that the fund is liquidated.

In this example, Andrew’s right to his deferred Fees and any earnings that may be credited to those deferred Fees is “vested” (that is, not subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture) at the time he performs the services. Accordingly, under the first rule of Section 457A, Andrew should be subject to tax on the amount of his deferred Fees in the year that he performs the services to which those deferred Fees are attributable. However, the total amount of the earnings that he will receive is not determinable because they depend on the performance of the fund. As a result, it is not clear how the Internal Revenue Service (the “IRS”) will apply the second rule of Section 457A. The IRS most likely will determine that the amount of the deferred Fees is determinable and included in Andrew’s income at the time it is earned and credited to his account each year and that any earnings on the deferred Fees are determinable and included in his income as they are earned and credited to his account each year. (Under this scenario, it is not clear how the losses would be treated -- perhaps Andrew would not be allowed any deduction for losses but would not include additional earnings in income until after he recoups prior losses through additional earnings.) Alternatively, the IRS may determine that the amount of the deferred Fees is determinable and included in his income each year, but the amount of earnings to be paid to him in the future is not determinable until the final payment date (because of potential losses and unknown future earnings). In that case, the amount of earnings would not be taxable until paid to him in the future. (This treatment would be analogous to the treatment of earnings after vesting under deferred compensation plans of governmental entities and tax exempt organizations under Section 457(f) of the Code.) Under this analysis, the earnings would be subject to the additional tax of 20% plus interest in at the time of payment. Finally, though not very likely, the IRS may determine that the total amount of the deferred Fees and earnings thereon is not determinable until paid. Under that analysis, Andrew would not pay any tax on either the deferred Fees or the earnings on the deferred Fees until all of the deferred compensation is paid, but it would all be subject to the additional tax of 20% plus interest when paid.

2. Defined Benefit Deferred Compensation:

Employee Betty is a U.S. taxpayer who works for foreign corporation, Caymanco. Caymanco is organized in the Cayman Islands (one of a number of jurisdictions that do not have a comprehensive income tax system) and is thus a Covered Employer. Caymanco provides Betty with a nonqualified supplemental executive retirement plan (“SERP”). The SERP benefit is based on a percentage of Betty’s final average pay and years of service. The benefit vests after 5 years of service. Upon vesting, Betty will not know the amount of her SERP benefit because she may have future earnings and years of service that will affect the amount of the benefit.

Because the benefit is not determinable upon vesting, under Section 457A, Betty does not have taxable income at vesting, but will be taxed at ordinary income tax rates, incur an additional 20% tax and bear an interest charge when the amount of her benefit can be determined (i.e., upon her retirement).

3. Elective Deferrals:

Assume the same facts as in Example 2, except Caymanco provides Betty with a nonqualified deferred compensation plan under which Betty may elect to defer up to 30% of her salary, payable upon termination of employment. Caymanco will match her deferrals up to 5% of her salary, subject to a 3-year vesting requirement. Under this arrangement, Betty’s account balance payable upon termination will include the aggregate of her deferrals and matching contributions, adjusted for earnings or losses thereon based on various investment options chosen by Betty.

Prior to the enactment of Section 457A, Betty generally would have been able to defer tax on her deferred compensation until termination of her employment. However, Section 457A significantly alters this result. Since Betty is always vested in her elective deferrals, such amounts should be taxable immediately under Section 457A in the year that she earns the salary (thus defeating the purpose of the deferral arrangement). With respect to the matching contributions, Betty should first become taxable on the accumulated matching contributions when she becomes vested in year 3 under the first rule of Section 457A, and each matching contribution after vesting should be taxable at the time it is credited to her account. However, the precise amount of all or a portion of Betty’s ultimate deferred compensation benefit may be viewed as not determinable until paid due to the continuing adjustment for earnings and losses as discussed with respect to Andrew’s deferred Fees in Example 1. Forthcoming regulations will likely explain which of the three alternatives described in Example 1 will apply for determining the timing of the taxation of Betty’s deferred compensation. However, we expect the most likely result is that (1) her own deferrals will be taxed as they are earned and credited to her account each year, (2) the amount of accumulated matching contributions through the vesting date, together with earnings thereon, will be taxed at the vesting date and subsequent matching contributions will be taxed as they are credited to her account, (3) earnings on her own deferrals will be taxed as they are credited to her account, (4) earnings on the matching contributions after the vesting date will be taxed as they are credited to her account and (5) special rules will address how to deal with losses.

Effective Dates

The rules of Section 457A generally apply only to compensation for services performed on or after January 1, 2009. However, deferred compensation amounts relating to services performed prior to that date do not escape Section 457A. Rather, such amounts will be includible in income no later than 2017 (or, if not yet vested by that point, upon vesting).

This memorandum is a summary for general information and discussion only and may be considered an advertisement for certain purposes. It is not a full analysis of the matters presented, may not be relied upon as legal advice, and does not purport to represent the views of our clients or the Firm. Linda Griffey, Luc Moritz, Summer Conley, and Bryan Kelly contributed to the content of this newsletter. The views expressed in this newsletter are the views of the authors except as otherwise noted.

Portions of this communication may contain attorney advertising. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Please direct all inquiries regarding our conduct under New York's Code of Professional Responsibility to O’Melveny & Myers LLP, Times Square Tower, 7 Times Square, New York, NY, 10036, Phone:+1-212-326-2000. © 2008 O'Melveny & Myers LLP. All Rights Reserved.

IRS Circular 230 Disclosure

To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, we inform you that any U.S. tax advice contained in this communication (including any attachments) is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code, or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any matters addressed herein.

June 11 2008

Social Security is pleased to announce that the enrollment period for the Consent Based Social Security Number (SSN) Verification (CBSV) service has been extended through June 30, 2008.

As you know, CBSV is a fee-based SSN verification service that will permit private businesses, Federal, State, and local governments to verify an individual’s SSN once a valid and signed consent form is obtained from the SSN holder. This letter is being sent to you because you and/or your affiliates may have an interest in enrolling in this service. Service will begin October 2008.

If you are interested in more information about CBSV, click on, http://www.socialsecurity.gov/bso/cbsvMarketing.html

If you have any questions you may write to SSA.CBSV@ssa.gov.

We hope you will find this service useful and look forward to the opportunity to discuss this exciting new project with you.

Sincerely,
Cheri Arnott
Associate Commissioner for External Affairs

June 11 2008

ATTENTION ALL Hawaii QHTB'S - Tax Filing Deadline for N-317 June 30th

The deadline for filing the new on-line N-317 is June 30th. Two critical reasons for filing on time:

1. The penalty for not filing is $1,000 per month up to $6,000.
2. The data DoTax receives from industry will be critical in the discussion on the renewal of Act 221/215.

Visit the DoTax site home page http://hawaii.gov/tax/ and look for "E-File Login" for instructions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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