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US Airspace and the Definition of the United States | US Tax Lawyers

This article is a continuation of a recent series of articles on the exploration of the definition of the United States. As it was mentioned in a prior article, the general definition of the United States found in IRC § 7701(a)(9) has numerous exceptions throughout the Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”). The US airspace is another example of such exceptions. In this article, I would like to outline some of the ways in which the borders of the United States are defined in the context of the US airspace.

General Tax Definition of the United States Does Not Mention US Airspace

The general tax definition of the United States is found in IRC § 7701(a)(9). According to IRC § 7701(a)(9), the United States is comprised of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the territorial waters. There is no mention of the US airspace.

This, of course, does not mean that US airspace never constitutes part of the United States. Rather, as I had explained it in a prior article, one needs to look at the specific tax provisions and determine if there is a special definition of the United States that applies to them.

Examples of Various IRC Provisions Including and Excluding US Airspace from the Definition of the United states

Indeed, there is a rich variety of treatment of US airspace that can be found within the IRC. Here, I will just mentioned three examples that demonstrate how differently the IRC provisions define the United States with respect to its airspace.

1. There is an esoteric but important IRC § 965 which deals with the Dividends Received deduction for repatriated corporate earnings. IRS Notice 2005-64 provides foreign tax credit guidance under IRC § 965 and specifically follows the general definition of the United States with the addition of the Continental Shelf. Then, the Notice states: “the term ‘United States’ does not include possessions and territories of the United States or the airspace over the United States and these areas”. Thus, the US airspace is excluded from the tax definition of the United States under IRC § 965.

2. The treatment of the US airspace is the opposite for the purposes of the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (“FEIE”). Since FEIE allows a taxpayer to exclude only “foreign” earned income, the tax definition of the United States is crucial for this part of the IRC.

In general, the courts have ruled that the airspace over the United States is included within the definition of the United States with respect to IRC § 911. This means that, if you are flying over the United States, you are considered to be within the United States for the purposes of FEIE.

3. When we are dealing with the analysis of whether an individual is a US tax resident under the Substantial Presence Test, we are again back to the same situation as in example 1 – the US airspace is not included in the definition of the United States.

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Mr. Sherayzen Completes Immigration and International Tax Law Seminar

On February 18, 2016, Mr. Sherayzen, in cooperation with two lawyers (an immigration lawyer and a business lawyer) completed another immigration and international tax law seminar “Foreign Investment in the United States: Key Immigration, Business and Tax Considerations”.

During this immigration and international tax law seminar, the immigration lawyer, Mr. Streff, covered a wide range of topics including investors visas, such as E-2 and EB-5, and alternative options for entrepreneurs, such as L-1 intracompany transferees, EB-1 and O-1 extraordinary ability, and National Interest Waivers’ through the Entrepreneurs Pathways initiative.

While immigration and international tax law issues were at the center of the seminar, a substantial part of the seminar was also devoted to business issues associated with various immigration options. The business lawyer, Mr. Vollmers, covered relevant business issues of appropriate entity formation, business plans, international business relationships, investment due diligence, and funds tracing.

Mr. Sherayzen’s presentation focused on the intersection of immigration and international tax law, especially U.S. tax residency classification, disclosure of foreign income and foreign assets, and foreign business ownership compliance requirements. U.S. tax residency is a concept completely different from U.S. permanent residence or “green card” and it occupies the center of any tax inquiry that involves immigration to the United States.

A lot of attention was given to tax compliance requirements with respect to another common intersection of immigration and international tax law issues – business ownership tax compliance issues associated with L-1 visa structures. In particular, Mr. Sherayzen discussed Forms 5471, 5472, 8865 and 8858 as well as PFIC and Subpart F antideferral regimes.

During the seminar, Mr. Sherayzen spent a substantial amount of time to one of the most important points of convergence of immigration and international tax law – reporting of foreign financial assets. Here, he explained the importance of FBAR and Form 8938, as well as FATCA.

Another part of Mr. Sherayzen’s presentation was devoted to the importance of pre-immigration tax planning. It is important for persons who plan to immigrate to the United States to contact a U.S. international tax attorney before they actually become U.S. persons. The international tax attorney should review their existing asset structure and advise on how this structure should be modified in order to avoid the various U.S. tax landmines and maximize favorable treatment under U.S. tax law. Special attention should be paid not only to income tax rules, but also estate and gift tax laws.

Mr. Sherayzen ended his presentation with the emphasis that immigration lawyers are at the forefront of international tax compliance, because they are usually the first to deal with persons who immigrate to the United States. Therefore, it is highly important for the immigration lawyers to be able to identify the most common junctions of immigration and international tax law issues and timely advise their clients to seek professional international tax help.

US Tax Return Statute of Limitations and IRC Section 6501(c)(8)

Most tax practitioners are familiar with the general rules of assessment statute of limitation for US tax returns. However, very few of them are aware of the danger of potentially indefinite extension of the statute of limitations contained in IRC Section 6501(c)(8). In this article, I would like to do offer a succinct observation of the impact of IRC Section 6501(c)(8) on the US tax return Statute of Limitations as well as your offshore voluntary disclosure strategy.

Background Information

While IRC Section 6501(c)(8) has existed for a while, its present language came into existence as a result of the infamous HIRE act (the same that gave birth to FATCA) in 2010. The major amendments came from PL 111-147 and PL 111-226.

When IRC Section 6501(c)(8) Applies

IRC Section 6501(c)(8) applies when there has been a failure to by the taxpayer to supply one or more accurate foreign information return(s) with respect to reporting of certain foreign assets and foreign-related transactions under IRC Sections 1295(b), 1298(f), 6038, 6038A, 6038B, 6038D, 6046, 6046A and 6048. In essence, it means IRC Section 6501(c)(8) applies whenever the taxpayer fails to file Forms 8621, 5471, 5472, 926, 3520, 3520-A, 8865, 8858 and 8938 (and potentially other forms). In essence, this Section comes into play with respect to virtually all major international tax reporting requirements, with the exception of FBAR (which is governed by its own Title 31 Statute of Limitations provisions).

It is important to emphasize that it is not just the failure to file these international tax returns that triggers IRC Section 6501(c)(8). Rather, most international tax attorneys agree that, if the filed international tax returns are inaccurate or incomplete, IRC Section 6501(c)(8) still applies.

IRC Section 6501(c)(8) only applies to the returns filed after the date of the enactment of the provisions that amended the section – March 18, 2010. The Section also applies to returns filed on or before March 18, 2010 if the statute of limitations under Section 6501 (without regard to the amendments) has not expired as of March 18, 2010.

The Impact of IRC Section 6501(c)(8) On the Statute of Limitations

As amended by PL 111-147 and PL 111-226, IRC Section 6501(c)(8) may have a truly monstrous effect on the statute of limitations for the entire affected tax return – a failure to file any of the aforementioned international tax forms (including a failure to provide accurate and complete information) will keep the statute of limitations open indefinitely with respect to “any tax return, even, or period to which such information relates”.

Thus, a failure to file a foreign information return may keep the statute of limitations open forever for the entire tax return, not just that particular foreign information return. This means that the IRS can potentially audit a taxpayer’s return and assess additional taxes outside of the usual statute of limitations period; the IRS changes can affect any item on the US tax return, not just the items on the foreign information return.

Reasonable Cause Exception to the “Entire Case” Rule

IRC Section 6501(c)(8)(B) provides a limited exception to the “entire case” rule. Where a taxpayer establishes that the failure ot file an accurate international information return was due to a reasonable cause and not willful neglect, only the international tax forms will be subject to indefinite statute of limitations and not the entire return.

Impact of IRC Section 6501(c)(8) on Your Voluntary Disclosure Strategy

IRC Section 6501(c)(8) may have a significant impact on the voluntary disclosure strategy where multiple international tax forms need to be filed. In these cases, the taxpayers are more likely to go into Streamlined disclosures or 2014 OVDP rather than attempt doing a reasonable cause disclosure.

This is the case because this indefinite statute of limitations may undermine a reasonable cause strategy if the disclosure period does not coincide with the years in which the international tax returns were due. For example, let’s suppose that US citizen X owned PFICs during the years 2008-2014, but he never filed Forms 8621 even though they were required. If X decides to do a reasonable cause disclosure and files amended 2012-2014 tax returns only, then, the years 2008-2011 will still be open to an IRS audit (though, if X successfully establishes reasonable cause for the earlier non-filing, only Forms 8621 will be subject to an IRS audit). In this case, X may have to make a choice between an unpleasant filing of amended 2008-2011 tax return or doing a Streamlined disclosure.

Obviously, IRC Section 6501(c)(8) is just one factor in what could be a very complex maze of pros and cons of a distinct voluntary disclosure strategy. Other factors need to be taken into effect in determining, including whether the financials were disclosed on the FBAR and Form 8938 and the amounts of underreported income (which may actually keep the statute of limitations open for the years 2009-2011 as well).

These types of decisions need to be made carefully by a tax professional on a case-by-case basis with detailed analysis of the facts and potential legal strategies; I strongly recommend retaining an experienced tax attorney for the creation and implementation of your voluntary disclosure strategy.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help With Your Delinquent International Tax Forms

If you have not filed international tax forms and you were required to do so, you should contact the professional international tax team of Sherayzen Law Office. Our team is lead by an experienced international tax attorney, Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, and has helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the world to bring their US tax affairs into fully US tax compliance.

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!