Importance of Pre-Immigration Tax Planning

Pre-immigration tax planning is done by very few of the millions of immigrants who come to the United States. This is highly unfortunate because US tax laws are highly complex and it is very easy to get into trouble. The legal and emotional costs of bringing your tax affairs back into US tax compliance (after you violated any of these complex laws) are usually a lot higher than those of the pre-immigration tax planning. In this writing, I would like to discuss the concept and process of pre-immigration tax planning for persons who wish to immigrate and/or work in the United States.

The concept of pre-immigration tax planning is far more complex than what people generally believe. Most people simply focus on the actions required by local tax laws of their home country; very little attention is actually paid to the tax laws of the future host country – the United States. Perhaps, the only exception to this rule is avoidance of double-taxation; however, even this concept is approached narrowly to avoid only the taxation of US-source income by the home country.

Yet, the pre-immigration tax planning should focus on both, US tax laws and the laws of the home country. It is even safe to argue that a much larger effort should be going into US tax planning due to the much farther reach and the higher level of complexity of the US tax system; in fact, the capacity of US tax laws to invade one’s life is not something for which the new US immigrants are likely to be prepared. Furthermore, once a person emigrates to the United States, he will likely lose his tax residency in his home country.

Once the correct focus on US tax laws is adopted, the pre-immigration tax planning process should begin by securing a consultation with an international tax lawyer in the United States. Beware of using local tax lawyers who are not licensed in the United States to do your pre-immigration tax planning – having an idea of US tax laws is not the same as practicing US tax law. A separate article can be written on how to find and secure the right international tax lawyer, but, if you are reading this article, you already know that you should call Sherayzen Law Office for help with your pre-immigration tax planning!

During the consultation, your international tax lawyer should carefully go over your existing asset structure, their acquisition history, any built-up appreciation and other relevant matters. Then, he should classify the assets according to their likely US tax treatment and identify the problematic assets or assets which need further research. The lawyer should also discuss with you some of the most common US tax compliance requirements.

After the initial consultation, your US international tax lawyer will engage in preliminary pre-immigration tax planning, creating the first draft of your plan solely from US tax perspective.

Then, he will contact a tax professional in your home country (preferably a tax professional that you supply and who is familiar with your asset structure). If you have assets in multiple jurisdictions, the US lawyer should also contact tax attorneys in these jurisdictions in order to find out the tax consequences of his plan in these jurisdictions. He will then modify his plan based on these discussions to create the second draft of your pre-immigration tax plan.

The next step of your pre-immigration tax planning should be the discussion of the relevant details of the modified plan with your immigration lawyer in order to make sure that the plan does not interfere with your immigration goals. Once the immigration lawyer’s approval is secured, you can proceed with the implementation of the tax plan.

Obviously, this discussion of your pre-immigration tax planning is somewhat simplified in some aspects and overly structured in others. Not all of the steps need to be always followed, especially followed in the same order; a lot will depend on your asset structure and how complex or simple it is.

Finally, it is important to emphasize that pre-immigration tax planning applies not only to persons who wish to obtain US permanent residence, but also to persons who just wish to work (either as employees, contractors or business owners) in the United States, because these persons are likely to become US tax residents even if they never become US permanent residents.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Experienced Help With Your Pre-Immigration Tax Planning

If you are thinking of immigrating to or working in the United States, contact a leading international tax law firm in this field, Sherayzen Law Office, for professional tax help. Our experienced legal team has helped foreign individuals and families around the world and we can help you!

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Higher OVDP Penalty Risk for US Taxpayers With Foreign Accounts

December of 2015 was one of the most successful months for the DOJ’s Swiss Bank Program as nearly a record number of banks signed non-prosecution agreements. This success for the DOJ means that more and more of non-compliant US taxpayers with foreign accounts are likely to deal with Higher OVDP Penalty with respect to their undisclosed foreign accounts.

DOJ’s Swiss Bank Program

The Program for Non-Prosecution Agreements or Non-Target Letters for Swiss Banks (Program) was announced by the US Department of Justice on August 29, 2013. The Program was intended to achieve multiple goals, but there are four of them that are most important to the understanding of the Higher OVDP Penalty and the Program.

First, this was an “offer that one cannot refuse” for the Swiss banks– the Program was intended to “allow” (or force) Swiss banks to bring themselves into compliance with US tax laws. In exchange, the Swiss banks received a non-prosecution agreement that promised them protection from US legal enforcement actions.

Second, the Program was intended to obtain as much information as possible about non-compliant US taxpayers with foreign accounts.

The third important goal was to create an atmosphere of global enforcement that would make US voluntary disclosure the most rational choice for non-compliant US taxpayers with foreign accounts given the risk of IRS discovery of their undisclosed foreign accounts.

Fourth, the Program was intended to pave the way for easier acceptance of FATCA throughout the world by demonstrating what could potentially happen in any country that decides to resist the implementation of FATCA.

It must be stated that the Swiss Bank Program has been a spectacular success for the DOJ and the IRS. Both, the banks and non-compliant US taxpayers with foreign accounts flocked to the voluntary disclosure programs. Moreover, today, FATCA is the new global standard of international tax enforcement.

2014 OVDP

The current 2014 IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program is a modification of 2012 OVDP which, in turn, was the continuation of a series of prior IRS offshore voluntary disclosure programs (particularly 2011 OVDI). The 2014 OVDP is designed to help non-compliant US taxpayers with foreign accounts to bring their tax affairs into compliance with US tax laws.

2014 OVDP has a two-tier penalty system. The 50% penalty rate applies to US taxpayers with foreign accounts in the banks on the special IRS list. The 27.5% penalty rate applies to everyone else.

Influence of the Program on the OVDP

The Swiss Bank Program has a direct impact on the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program because every Swiss Bank that signs a Non-Prosecution Agreement under the Program is automatically added to the 50% penalty list of foreign banks.

Thus, as more and more Swiss Banks reach an agreement with the DOJ under the Program, the list of 50% penalty banks keeps expanding and so does the list of US taxpayers with foreign accounts who may be subject to this higher penalty rate.

What Should Non-Compliant US Taxpayers With Foreign Accounts Do?

The growing risk of higher OVDP penalty means that non-compliant US taxpayers with foreign accounts should explore their voluntary disclosure options as soon as possible by contacting an experienced international tax lawyer.

It is a mistake to assume that 50% penalty list will grow only as a result of the Swiss Bank Program. Even today, the list already contains banks which are located outside of the United States (such as HSBC India and Israeli Bank Leumi). This means that any bank in almost any part of the world may tomorrow be on the 50% penalty list and US taxpayers with foreign accounts in this bank would be forced to pay a much higher penalty.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Tax Help With The Voluntary Disclosure of Your Foreign Accounts

The growing risk of higher OVDP penalty means that you should contact the experienced international tax team of Sherayzen Law Office. International tax attorney and Founder of Sherayzen Law Office, Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, will personally analyze your case, estimate your IRS penalty exposure, determine your offshore voluntary disclosure options, and implement your customized voluntary disclosure plan to resolve your US tax problems.

Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure

One of the most dramatic changes to the voluntary disclosure process made by the IRS on June 18, 2014, was the complete revamping of the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure. As long as the taxpayer can honestly certify that his prior violations of U.S. tax laws were non-willful, the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure offers a unique opportunity for such a taxpayer to bring his tax affairs with respect to foreign accounts and other offshore assets into complete compliance with the U.S. tax rules with potentially no penalties. In this article, I am going to outline the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure and discuss why it is important to take advantage of it as soon as possible.

Old Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure

The Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure already existed prior to June 18 changes. However, while it offered a no penalty solution to U.S. taxpayers residing overseas, it also imposed severe limitations preventing the great majority of these taxpayers from qualifying to participate in the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure.

The most difficult conditions were the $1,500 additional tax liability threshold and the risk assessment process (to comply with the “simple return” rule). Further complications would arise from the failure to timely file original tax returns.

2014 Changes to Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure

It is precisely these difficult requirements that were removed by the IRS in June of 2014, thereby opening up a tremendous opportunity to U.S. taxpayers residing overseas: the $1,500 tax limit was gone, the risk assessment process was gone, and the importance of timely filed U.S. tax returns was also downgraded. Instead, the IRS created a new advantageous (to U.S. taxpayers) Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure with simplified eligibility requirements.

If these requirements are met, a U.S. taxpayer residing overseas can now avoid the imposition of all FBAR penalties if he follows the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure for filing amended tax returns and delinquent FBARs.  Moreover, as an additional bonus, the IRS is stating that it will waive all failure-to-file and failure-to-pay penalties, accuracy-related penalties, and information return penalties.

There are some limitations on this generous gift. Any previously assessed penalties with respect to those years, however, will not be abated. Furthermore, as with any U.S. tax return filed in the normal course, if the IRS determines an additional tax deficiency for a return submitted under these procedures, the IRS may assert applicable additions to tax and penalties relating to that additional deficiency.

Since Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure offers such tremendous benefits to U.S. taxpayers who reside outside of the United States, it is important to make sure that all of the eligibility and filing requirements are met.

Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure: Eligibility requirements

There are three main eligibility requirements for participation in the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure. First, the taxpayer must meet the applicable non-residency requirement. Here is the first caveat, for joint return filers, both spouses must meet the applicable non-residency requirement. Different rules apply to taxpayers who are U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents than to those taxpayers who do not fall into these categories.

The second requirement of the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure is that the taxpayer violated the applicable U.S. tax requirements non-willfully – i.e. the taxpayer failed to report the income from a foreign financial asset and pay tax as required by U.S. law, and may have failed to file an FBAR (FinCEN Form 114, previously Form TD F 90-22.1) with respect to a foreign financial account, and such failures resulted from non-willful conduct.

The third requirement of the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure is that the participating taxpayer is not subject to an IRS civil examination or an IRS criminal investigation.  Two important points here – it does not matter whether the examination relates to undisclosed foreign financial assets and it does not matter whether the examination involves any of the years subject to the voluntary disclosure.  In either case,  the taxpayer will not be eligible to use the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure.

In reality, there is a more obscure fourth requirement that there is a valid Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN), but this issue can be solved by enclosing a completed ITIN application with the disclosure package under the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure.

Filing Requirements Under the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure

There are five main filing requirements that must be met in order to comply with the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure.

The first filing requirement under the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure is that, for each of the most recent 3 years for which the U.S. tax return due date (or properly applied for extended due date) has passed, the taxpayer must file delinquent or amended tax returns, together with all required information returns (e.g., Forms 3520, 5471, and 8938). Specific procedures must be followed in the preparation of these returns.

The second filing requirement under the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure is that, for each of the most recent 6 years for which the FBAR due date has passed, the taxpayer must file delinquent FBARs according to the FBAR instructions and include a statement explaining that the FBARs are being filed as part of the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures. The taxpayer is required to file these delinquent FBARs electronically at FinCen. Detailed instructions must be followed to file these FBARs properly.

The third filing requirement under the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure is the submission of the payment of all tax due as reflected on the tax returns and all applicable statutory interest with respect to each of the late payment amounts. The taxpayer’s TIN must be included on the check.

The fourth filing requirement under the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure is the submission of any requests for relief for failure to timely elect deferral of income from certain retirement or savings plans where deferral is permitted by an applicable treaty.  Specific additional requirements apply to this request (especially, in the Canadian RRSP context).

Finally, the fifth filing requirement under the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure is the most important part of this application – completed and signed “Certification by U.S. Person Residing Outside of the U.S.” (as of July 4, 2014, this is still in draft format but the final version should appear soon).

This is the most important legal document in the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure. This is the statement that certifies that the taxpayer: (1) is eligible for the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures; (2) that all required FBARs have now been properly filed; and (3) that the failure to file tax returns, report all income, pay all tax, and submit all required information returns, including FBARs, resulted from non-willful conduct. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of contacting your international tax attorney prior to submitting this document to the IRS.

The taxpayer must submit the original signed statement as well as attach copies of the statement to each tax return and information return being submitted through these procedures.

Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure: Some Considerations

While participation in the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure may offer tremendous benefits to U.S. taxpayers who reside outside of the United States, it is important to understand that this may not be a simple process and all considerations should be taken into account. From the legal determination of whether the residency requirements are met to the very complicated legal decision on whether the “non-willful” determination applies, Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure involves significant legal analysis.

Based on my extensive experience, I believe that the great majority of the U.S. taxpayers who are currently not in compliance with the FBAR requirements are non-willful at heart. However, it is important to make sure that the legal case supports this finding – i.e. the facts of the case should support the determination of legal non-wilfulness.

I strongly advise against making such determination without the help of an international tax lawyer. You need an attorney who can look at your case objectively and with a “cool head”, and make such determination based on his experience and knowledge of law.

Finally, it is essential to understand that there is no guarantee that Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure will be available even in half a year in the same format.  The IRS reserved the power to change the rules regarding  Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure at any point.  This is why it is so important to act fast to make sure that you are able to take advantage of this unique opportunity.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with Your Participation in the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedure

If you have undisclosed foreign accounts, contact Sherayzen Law Office for a professional analysis of your voluntary disclosure options. Our international tax law firm has helped hundreds of U.S. taxpayers worldwide and we can help you.

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Significance of Income Source Rules in International Tax Law

When dealing with the international transactions, the United States tax law usually divides income into two broad categories: foreign source income and the U.S. source income. The determination of whether the income is foreign or U.S. in origin depends on a set of rules – the source-of-income rules – created by Congress, elaborated by the U.S. Treasury regulations, refined in courts, and further modified by the international treaties. While jurisdictional in nature, the income source rules are fundamentally and critically important to the understanding and operation of international transactions, primarily because these rules generate real operational consequences that affect a variety of substantive U.S. tax provisions. For the purposes of this essay, these consequences may be classified according to the grouping of the affected taxpayers.

The first set of such taxpayers are U.S. citizens, residents and domestic corporations subject to foreign tax on their income. The income source rules are crucial for these taxpayers because the U.S. foreign tax credit is available only if the foreign taxes are paid on the foreign source income. Hence, foreign taxes paid on the U.S. source income are not available to offset U.S. income tax liability. For example, suppose that a U.S. corporation earns income in the United Kingdom, which under the U.S. tax rules and relevant treaties is considered to be U.S. source income. If the U.K. authorities tax this income, the U.S. corporation will not be able to credit these taxes against the U.S. tax liability. Thus, the unfortunate result in this situation is double-taxation of the same income (note, however, that a deduction may be available to the U.S. corporation).

The other set of affected taxpayers is comprised of the nonresident aliens and foreign corporations. For this group, the impact of income source rules is two-fold. First, with respect to the business income, only U.S. source income may be regarded as effectively connected income and subject to the U.S. taxation. Hence, if the income is not a U.S. source income, then it cannot be considered as effectively connected income, thereby avoiding taxation by the U.S. government, unless the exception under I.R.C. §871(c)(4) applies. Under this exception, where certain types of income (such as dividends, interest, rents, royalties, sale of personal property, et cetera) are attributed to the nonresident alien’s (or foreign corporation’s) U.S. office or other fixed place of business, the income is regarded as effectively connected income and may be subject to the U.S. taxation.

Second, in case of non-business (usually, investment) income, the 30 percent withholding tax may be imposed only on U.S. source income. If, however, the income is considered by the U.S. tax authorities to be foreign source income, then no such tax may be imposed. For example, if a French investor receives interest that is deemed not to be U.S. source income, then the withholding tax will not be imposed.

Thus, based on the analysis above, the enormous importance of the income source rules in structuring international transactions becomes apparent. Obviously, for the purposes of illustrating their significance, I simplified this discussion into a simple domestic versus foreign dichotomy. The reality may quickly become much more complex when one takes into account various variations with respect to U.S. territories, certain types of income and/or transactions, politically-motivated exceptions regarding some foreign countries, and modification of the rules by bilateral tax treaties.

It should be remembered, however, that while they contain many traps and dangers for the unwary, the income source rules may provide excellent opportunities for beneficial and responsible tax planning.