Offshore payroll tax problems

Houses passes legislation that would make sure certain government contractors pay employment taxes Foreign shell companies payroll tax problems

Mike Habib, EA

The House of Representatives has passed legislation [H.R. 5719, Sec. 18, 4/15/08] proposed by Representatives Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.) and Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) that seeks to end the practice of U.S. government contractors setting up shell companies in foreign jurisdictions to avoid paying payroll taxes. Under current law, US companies are required to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes for their American workers overseas. But some firms have been able to get around that requirement by hiring workers through offshore shell companies or foreign subsidiaries.

The legislation would amend the Internal Revenue Code and the Social Security Act to treat foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies performing services under contract with the U.S. government as American employers for Social Security and Medicare tax purposes. The legislation would require any foreign company that is at least 50% owned by a U.S. federal contractor to pay payroll taxes for its American employees.

The bill was inspired by recent news that defense contractor KBR Inc. had avoided paying Social Security and Medicare taxes by creating shell companies in the Cayman Islands. A similar provision is being sponsored in the Senate by Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.).