This is part of a series of posts on: (1) “tax residency“, (2) the use of “treaty tiebreakers” when an individual is a “tax resident” of more than one jurisdiction and (3) how to use “treaty tiebreakers” to end “tax residency” in an undesirable tax jurisdiction.
Topsnik 1: It’s about the taxation (not expatriation) of Green Card Holders
The 2014 decision in Topsnik is an interesting example of how these components interact. Mr. Topsnik was given a Green Card in 1977. He moved from the United States in 2003 and did NOT formally abandon his Green Card. He then attempted to argue that because he was a “tax resident” of Germany that he could use a “treaty tie breaker” to argue that he was NOT a “U.S tax resident”.
In summary the court ruled on a number of questions which INCLUDED:
1. Was Mr. Topsnik a U.S. “tax resident”?
Because Mr Topsnik never formally abandoned his Green Card (as required by the regulations) that he WAS a “U.S. tax resident” for ALL relevant years. This meant that he was taxable in the United States on all of his world income.
For clarity the regulations to Internal Revenue Code 7701(b) specifically state:
(b)Lawful permanent resident –
(1)Green card test. An alien is a resident alien with respect to a calendar year if the individual is a lawful permanent resident at any time during the calendar year. A lawful permanent resident is an individual who has been lawfully granted the privilege of residing permanently in the United States as an immigrant in accordance with the immigration laws. Resident status is deemed to continue unless it is rescinded or administratively or judicially determined to have been abandoned.
(2)Rescission of resident status. Resident status is considered to be rescinded if a final administrative or judicial order of exclusion or deportation is issued regarding the alien individual. For purposes of this paragraph, the term “final judicial order” means an order that is no longer subject to appeal to a higher court of competent jurisdiction.
(3)Administrative or judicial determination of abandonment of resident status. An administrative or judicial determination of abandonment of resident status may be initiated by the alien individual, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), or a consular officer. If the alien initiates this determination, resident status is considered to be abandoned when the individual’s application for abandonment (INS Form I-407) or a letter stating the alien’s intent to abandon his or her resident status, with the Alien Registration Receipt Card (INS Form I-151 or Form I-551) enclosed, is filed with the INS or a consular officer. If INS replaces any of the form numbers referred to in this paragraph or § 301.7701(b)-2(f), refer to the comparable INS replacement form number. For purposes of this paragraph, an alien individual shall be considered to have filed a letter stating the intent to abandon resident status with the INS or a consular office if such letter is sent by certified mail, return receipt requested (or a foreign country’s equivalent thereof). A copy of the letter, along with proof that the letter was mailed and received, should be retained by the alien individual. If the INS or a consular officer initiates this determination, resident status will be considered to be abandoned upon the issuance of a final administrative order of abandonment. If an individual is granted an appeal to a federal court of competent jurisdiction, a final judicial order is required.
Green Card holders must understand that they do NOT end their status as “U.S. tax residents” by leaving the United States and taking up residence in another country! Specific steps (related to notification) are required.
2. Could Mr. Topsnik use the “treaty tiebreaker” to argue that he was a “tax resident” of Germany and NOT a “tax resident” of the United States?
No. The use of a “treaty tiebreaker” requires that an individual be a “tax resident” of both countries. In this case the “treaty tie breaker” could be used ONLY if Mr. Topsnik was a “tax resident” of both Germany and the United States. The court held that Mr. Topsnik was NOT a “tax resident” of Germany but was a “tax resident” of the United States.
Note that the fact that Mr. Topsnik was NOT a “tax resident” of Germany meant that he was NOT eligible to use the “tax treaty tie breaker” rules. Eligibility to use the “tax treaty tie breaker” rules would NOT guarantee that Mr. Topsnik would be a “German tax resident”.
Conclusion: Mr. Topsnik was ONLY a “U.S. tax resident” and was therefore taxable in the United States on his world income!
Moral of the story: If a Green Card Holder ceases to reside in the United States he as NOT ended his status as a U.S. “tax resident”.