You can't deny Eduardo Saverin a visa for being a jerk

The outrage directed at Facebook's co-founder has led some to demand that Uncle Sam deny him a U.S. visa. Good luck with that.

So if I've got this straight Raul Castro's daughter Mariela deserves a visa to enter the United States but not (former American citizen) Eduardo Saverin.

Saverin, as you may have heard, has renounced his U.S. citizenship and will avoid paying capital gains taxes on windfall profits after Facebook goes public tomorrow. As the company's co-founder, Saverin's 4 percent share of the company is worth around $4 billion, give or take a few shekels. That has infuriated the morality police, and now the chatter has turned to how the U.S. may -- ought to? -- try to prevent him from ever returning here for a visit.

Little surprise, then, to learn that some in Congress couldn't resist this made-for-tabloid drama. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) today unveiled what they cleverly called the "Ex-PATRIOT" -- "Expatriation Prevention by Abolishing Tax-Related Incentives for Offshore Tenancy" -- Act as they whacked Saverin for devising a "scheme" that would "help him duck up to $67 million in taxes." Their proposed legislation would bar individuals like Saverin from ever reentering the United States again because -- in Schumer's words -- Saverin had decided to "defriend" the United States of America simply to avoid paying his taxes and "we aren't going to let him get away with it so easily."

It's infuriating to see someone sell out the country that welcomed him and kept him safe, educated him and helped him become a billionaire. This is a great American success story gone horribly wrong. We plan to put a stop to this tax avoidance scheme. There should be no financial gain from renouncing your country.

Team Saverin had to know this was going to be a hard sell. Last year he was best-known as the other guy in "The Social Network." Now his name has turned into a dirty word, if not a point of departure for unsympathetic ruminations about a world where the global elite enjoy their special perks while everyone else foots the bill to speculation about the enormity of the true debt Saverin owes this country.

But before we all get our self-righteous knickers in a knot, does anyone find it odd how there's no evidence to support the allegation that Saverin is pulling a fast one? Yeah, it's sorta cheesy and perhaps even ungrateful -- after all, the U.S. did offer his family refuge after his name appeared up on a list of potential kidnap victims -- but c'mon; we're not talking about the second coming of Robert Vesco. Can you keep someone out of the country for being a jerk?

Saverin is a long shot to win this PR war, but after getting beaten up in the press he's at least giving it a shot. He responded today with a prepared statement where, among other things, he reaffirmed his gratitude "to the U.S. for everything it has given me."

My decision to expatriate was based solely on my interest in working and living in Singapore, where I have been since 2009. I am obligated to and will pay hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes to the United States government. I have paid and will continue to pay any taxes due on everything I earned while a U.S. citizen. It is unfortunate that my personal choice has led to a public debate, based not on the facts, but entirely on speculation and misinformation.

And he also agreed to an interview with The New York Times in which he disclosed that he initially filed to give up American citizenship in January 2011. "I'm not a tax expert," he said. "We complied with all the known laws. There was an exit tax."

After Scott Thompson and the weird turns in "resumegate," that's something for the U.S. State Department, which issues visas, to check out. So what would keep Saverin on a visa blacklist?

State, which declined comment, is very specific about who it keeps out of the country, especially when it involves the prosecution of former citizens. What it needs is evidence that someone intended to avoid paying financial obligations "previously incurred in the United States or incurred as United States citizens abroad." Meanwhile, the relevant portions in the U.S. Code governing visa eligibility (Sec. 212. [8 U.S.C. 1182]) are very specific about this.

"Any alien who is a former citizen of the United States who officially renounces United States citizenship and who is determined by the Attorney General to have renounced United States citizenship for the purpose of avoiding taxation by the United States is excludable.

Try to make that case in the absence of the proverbial smoking gun.

"Unless there is something really fool-proof out there, they would not deny a visa," said Kirsten Schlenger, a veteran immigration attorney with the San Francisco law firm Weaver, Schlenger, Mazel. "They would have to offer proof that there was a basis for exclusion."

That's the takeaway. Unless Saverin was so stupid as to write a gleeful memo celebrating how he skunked Uncle Sam -- and we're not talking about a stupid person -- this sturm und drang is little more than a pre-IPO side story. As far as the visa officers are concerned, it's not a federal offense to be a jerk. ...And they are right about that.

 

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