Friday, March 31, 2017

Shu Yi Oei: The Offshore Tax Enforcement Dragnet

Shu Yi Oei (Tulane) has posted an important new paper on U.S. offshore tax enforcement, of interest. Here is the abstract:

Taxpayers who hide assets abroad to evade taxes present a serious enforcement challenge for the United States. In response, the U.S. has developed a family of initiatives that punish and rehabilitate non-compliant taxpayers, raise revenues, and require widespread reporting of offshore financial information. Yet, while these initiatives help catch willful tax cheats, they have also adversely affected immigrants, Americans living abroad, and “accidental Americans.”  
This Article critiques the United States’ offshore tax enforcement initiatives, arguing that the U.S. has prioritized two problematic policy commitments in designing enforcement at the expense of competing considerations: First, the U.S. has attempted to equalize enforcement against taxpayers with solely domestic holdings and those with harder-to-detect offshore holdings by imposing harsher reporting requirements and penalties on the latter. But in doing so, it has failed to appropriately distinguish among differently situated taxpayers with offshore holdings. Second, the U.S. has focused on revenue and enforcement, ignoring the significant compliance costs and social harms that its initiatives create.  
The confluence of these two policy commitments risks creating high costs for the wrong taxpayers. While offshore tax enforcement may have been designed to catch high¬-net-worth tax cheats, it may instead impose disproportionate burdens on those immigrants and expatriates who have less ability to complain, comply, or “substitute out” of the law’s grasp. This Article argues that the U.S. should redesign its enforcement approach to minimize these risks and suggests reforms to this end.
The paper provides a thorough review of the panoply of offshore enforcement programs and mechanisms and documents the harms of their dragnet approach, especially on the most vulnerable and least likely targets. A significant contribution to the literature.


  1. Is FATCA really a dragnet when the search for indicia fails to detect US persons who lack a US place of birth - a false-negative so to speak?
    It also seems incongruous from a discrimination point of view when Canadian banks won't ask someone where they were born, yet search for place of birth in singling out bank customers.

  2. I hope you write a blog post on the recent marijuana legalization legislation announcement. I think there are lot of important implications to the worlds of tax, money laundering, trade, and international governance.

  3. Below is a very good article from the University of Ottawa Law School discussing some of the international legal obligations of legalizing pot.