Americans Overseas Go to Washington

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Twenty-five Americans living overseas, from five different organizations, spent more than a week in Washington in June 2007, seeing members of Congress and the Administration and discussing issues which concern all US citizens living outside of the United States. The major issues include Voting, Citizenship, Medicare, Social Security and Taxation. An Americans Abroad Caucus was officially launched in Congress during this week, and 84 different discussions were held with members of Congress or members of their staff, and Administration officials. Delegates were thanked for the information they provided on issues and problems which often are unknown to Congress, the Administration, and many Americans back home.

In what has become a yearly event called the Overseas Americans Week (OAW), twenty-five Americans living outside of the United States went to Washington in June 2007 for seven days, to talk to members of the US Administration and Congress about issues which most directly affect US citizens living abroad. These issues include Voting Procedures and Voting Rights, Citizenship, Medicare, Social Security and Taxation.

The participants from overseas included representatives of five different organizations of US citizens living abroad: American Citizens Abroad (ACA), the Federation of American Women's Clubs Overseas (FAWCO), the Association of Americans Resident Overseas (AARO), Democrats Abroad and Republicans Abroad. These participants paid their own travel and lodging expenses and gave a great deal of their time to promote the interests of Americans residing overseas.

Promoting the Americans Abroad Caucus of Congressional representatives was the key focus of OAW 2007. The Caucus was officially launched during the OAW and celebrated at a cocktail party organized for current and prospective members of the Caucus and their staffs, covered by the International Herald Tribune. During OAW, numerous members of Congress either joined the Caucus or expressed an intention or interest in doing so, and by the end of the OAW, eleven members had signed up. Several fruitful discussions were held with various members of the Caucus.

Eighty-four meetings were held in Congressional offices and research institutes. Many meetings were organized to include staffers of several Congressional offices from a particular state; hence the outreach on the Hill was even more extensive. Particularly intensive contacts were made with offices of representatives from Ohio, South Carolina, Connecticut, Maryland and Idaho. Other than Congressional offices on both sides of the Hill, appointments included the National Foreign Trade Council, the Urban Institute, the American Chamber of Commerce, AARP, the National Association of Secretaries of State, the US-Mexican Chamber of Commerce, the United States Council for International Business, the Peterson Institute of International Economics, Program Manager of the Foreign Resident Compliance office of the IRS, the Consular section of the State Department, the Federal Voting Assistance Program and the Election Assistance Commission.

On the voting issues, participants anticipate progress as it was learned that legislation would soon be introduced into Congress proposing to amend the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) to ensure that registration and voting forms downloaded from the internet will be accepted by the State voting offices and to allow Americans who have never resided in the United States to vote in the last place in which their parents were domiciled before leaving the United States.

Citizenship is another issue where the participating organizations hope the Caucus can play a positive role. Today, it is not only possible that a child of an American citizen born overseas will not be able to obtain American citizenship, due to the residency requirement for his parent(s). Worse, cases have arisen in which a child of an American overseas is born stateless, with no right to any nationality at all. Participants in the OAW feel strongly that all Americans should enjoy the same right to transmit US citizenship to all of their children at birth, including all children born to or adopted by a US citizen abroad.

The concern with Social Security is that the Windfall Elimination Provisions (WEP) section of the Social Security law penalizes overseas Americans simply because they also receive a foreign source pension. Fortunately the Social Security Fairness Act of 2007 was introduced in January 2007 in both the House (H.R. 82) and the Senate (S. 206) with a substantial number of co-sponsors. This act, if passed, would eliminate the WEP from the Social Security Act and would solve one of the key discriminatory issues faced by Americans who have contributed to US Social Security and who have worked overseas.

Medicare is not available to Americans in foreign countries, and the participating organizations feel strongly that Americans abroad who are eligible for Medicare benefits in the US should be able to receive equivalent benefits while abroad. In several meetings, OAW delegates highlighted the fact that enabling Medicare benefits overseas could in fact represent a cost savings to the Medicare system, as medical treatment in the US is generally far more expensive than elsewhere in the world.

On the taxation issue, meetings were held with staffers of many members of the Ways and Means Committee, the Finance Committee and the Joint Tax Committee. Delegates emphasized that the existing foreign earned income exclusion must be protected, and the cap on the exclusion should be eliminated, and it was communicated to Congressional representatives that these reforms are in the best interest of their constituencies, not just abroad, but back home as well. Facilitating American companies' ability to send workers abroad to promote products produced in the United States and exported overseas is good for jobs back home and important for the U.S. economy.

Several meetings reconfirmed the fact that general tax reform would not come back on the table until 2009 at the earliest. Many consider that all tax laws - corporate and individual - which touch on the international field are in need of major reform. Organizations representing overseas Americans will continue to work with their contacts in Congress and in various research institutes to make their cause heard in this general reform context.

OAW delegates are convinced that this annual event in Washington to exchange information with staffers and to present the point of view of Americans overseas is not only highly useful but absolutely essential. Through the efforts of the OAW this year and in the past, the Americans Abroad Caucus has become a reality and will be an important forum for spreading the word on issues of vital importance to US citizens living overseas.

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MaryLouise Serrato
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