"I wish I were wealthy," said Nelson, who says she takes in about $50,000 a year from pensions and earnings from publishing an online journal covering credit union news.
Nelson has vivid memories of growing up in the U.S. Even after moving to Europe, she continued sending five to 10 emails a week to members of Congress, opposing the Iraq war and the Patriot Act. After 15 years, she acquired Swiss citizenship so she could vote. But she began considering expatriation only in 2010 after a banker told her that, because of new U.S. financial reporting laws, it was closing the accounts of many Americans and a mistake as minor as an overdraft could mean the same for hers.
"How would my clients pay me?" says Nelson, who is 71 and also an author of mystery novels. "Where does my Social Security get deposited? Where does my pension get deposited?"
The jump in renunciations reflects evolving views about national identity, said Nancy L. Green, an American professor at the L'Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. When the U.S. got its start, citizenship was defined by "perpetual allegiance" — the British notion of nationality as a birthright that could never be changed.
American colonists rejected that to justify becoming citizens of a newly independent country. But changeable citizenship wasn't widely embraced until the mass immigration of the late 1800s, says Green, a historian of migration and expatriation.
Even then, U.S. artists and writers who moved to Europe in the 1920s were criticized, suspected of trying to avoid taxes. Until the 1960s, U.S. citizenship remained a privilege the government could take away on certain grounds. It's only since then that U.S. citizenship has come to be viewed as belonging to an individual, who could keep — or surrender it — by choice.