Does this fee constitute a barrier to exercising that right? The State Department doesn't think so. I disagree and it's not just the fee that's the problem, it's the entire process which is cumbersome, time-consuming and, yes, costly for everyone - renunciants and State Department alike.
A US citizen wishing to renounce or relinquish citizenship must travel to the nearest US consulate which may be in a city far from where he or she actually lives. There can be more than one interview required which means multiple trips. Some of the paperwork is complex enough it would be wise to consult a lawyer before filling them out and filing the tax and bank account declarations. All of these things taken together make that high consular fee another burden laid on top of the others that already exist. The onus should be on the State Department to show that these burdens are legitimate and necessary.
In the State Department response they offer their justifications for the fee raise and answer those of us who sent comments. For this they have my thanks. I and others have answered other agencies' requests for comments on matters concerning Americans abroad, and never received the dignity of a reply. I may not like the answers but I appreciate that they took the time.
State argues that there is no burden, no restrictions on the right to expatriate and there is nothing punitive about the fee raise. It is, they say, a matter of money.
"Rather, the fee is a cost-based user fee for consular services. Conforming to guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), federal agencies make every effort to ensure that each service provided to specific recipients is self-sustaining, charging fees that are sufficient to recover the full cost to the government."
A perfectly reasonable argument if we were talking about something like, say, camping in a national park. Not so reasonable when it concerns a fundamental human right guaranteed by national or international law. It certainly costs money for US civilians and military to vote from abroad, but could we really argue that the FVAP and the local consulates should start charging overseas voters for providing services like the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot?
That analogy is not perfect but the underlying principle is the same. There are things that government does for which it has both a monopoly and a duty to provide services to its citizens in the exercise of their rights. Voting is not just another service , and neither is expatriation.
My take on this is that there should be no fee for renunciations, relinquishments or requests for CLNs. The first two concern a fundamental human right for which I contend cost should never be an issue. As for the last, the CLN, this is a necessary document, the only one that exists to prove that one is no longer a US citizen and is often required by states that do not allow dual citizenship.
If that's not possible then I'd propose an option to waive the fee if the renunciant can demonstrate that it would be a financial hardship to pay it. That would be a very reasonable compromise and one that would be more consistent with what State claims is their goal: protecting a US citizen's right to expatriate.