International Organizations Immunities Act

The International Organizations Immunities Act[1] is a United States federal law enacted in 1945. It "established a special group of foreign or international organizations whose members could work in the U.S. and enjoy certain exemptions from US taxes and search and seizure laws".[2] These advantages are usually given to diplomatic bodies.

Background informationEdit

The 79th United States Congress passed the International Organization Immunities Act on December 29, 1945; the Act can be found under Title 22, chapter 7, sub-chapter XVIII. The International Organization Immunities Act entitles international organizations and their employees to certain exemptions, immunities, and privileges that other organizations and their employees are not granted. In addition, the entitled benefits organizations and their employees receive are similar to the benefits that foreign governments are granted. For example, international organizations and employees of the organizations are exempted from certain taxes. In addition, property and assets belonging to international organizations or their employees cannot be searched or confiscated. A lawsuit or any other type of legal action cannot be brought upon these organizations or their employees. The privileges, exemptions, and immunities that the employees and officers receive are extended to their immediate family members as well.

The International Organization Immunities Act was passed to strengthen the international organizations that the U.S. collaborates with, including those that are located in foreign countries. The Senate Committee believed that passing this Act would allow international organizations to perform more effectively and accomplish their goals.[3] The Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Labor Organization, and the United Nations are examples of designated public international organizations covered by the Act when it was passed.[4]

If international organizations want the advantages listed in the title, they need to fit the Act's definition of what an "international organization" is. The International Organizations Immunities Act states: "For the purposes of this title, the term "international organization" means a public international organization in which the United States participates pursuant to any treaty or under the authority of any Act of Congress authorizing such participation or making an appropriation for such participation..." (Section 1 of the Act).[5] International organizations need to fit the definition to be protected by this particular Act. Although the Act initially vised at international organizations of which the U.S. was a member, recent extensions have covered also international organizations with which the U.S. cooperate but in which they do not participate, such as the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Offices in 1997.[6][7]

The International Organization Immunities Act also states powers of certain offices. Since the time it was passed, the Department of State has been the agency that receives applications from organizations requesting designation under the Act.[8] The Secretary of State was given the power to advise the President (who makes the final decisions) on matters like whether an organization should or should not be granted protection under the International Organization Immunities Act. The Secretary of State also has the power to determine if an employee's presence is no longer "desirable"; in such instances, the Secretary of State can have the employee deported (the international organization, however, has to be notified first and the employee has to be allotted a reasonable time to leave).[9] Besides designating the status of international organizations, the President has the authority to withhold an organization or employees from receiving certain immunities, exemptions, and privileges the Act offers. The President can also limit the benefits an organization or its employees receives. In addition, the President has the power to revoke a designation if an international organization abuses the powers that it is given, which means the organization would no longer enjoy any of the benefits listed in the title.

Privileges, exemptions, and immunities of the actEdit

International organizations receive the same privileges, immunities, and exemptions as foreign governments. Some of these privileges, immunities, and exemptions (listed under section 4 of the Act) include:

  • Immunity from search and confiscation of any property and assets owned (unless immunity is waived)
  • Exemption from any internal-revenue taxes imposed
  • Free from baggage search and any other procedures related to customs duties

Employees and officers of international organizations designated under the Act also receive benefits. Even though, the Act provides employees, officers, and their family members many benefits, it does not grant full diplomatic immunity. Moreover, any of the rights granted can be waived. Also, organizations and their employees can only receive these benefits if the Secretary of State notifies and acknowledges the international organization and its workers. The benefits that employees and officials enjoy include:

  • Exemption from property taxes imposed by Congress, internal-revenue taxes, communication taxes and taxes on transportation of persons or property
  • Admission of officers and employees representing international organizations without checks from customs
  • Exemption from legal suits or any other legal action in regards to activities related to work (unless the right is waived)
  • Family members of employees and officers of international organizations receive similar privileges, immunities, and exemptions as well.[10]

Many of these benefits of employees and officials, however, do not apply to U.S. citizens (including dual citizens). More specifically, the salary of a person working for an international organization within the United States is exempt from U.S. tax under the condition that the person is either not a U.S. citizen, or is a U.S. citizen as well as a citizen of The Philippines.[11] Furthermore, a U.S. citizen working for an international organization in the U.S. must report self-employment income and pay self-employment tax; a U.S. citizen working for an international organization outside of the U.S. does not pay self-employment tax, nor does a green card holder working for an international organization in the U.S.[12]

Some international organizations (and their employees) enjoying these benefits are: International Committee of the Red Cross, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Organization of American States, Liaison Office of the People's Republic of China, European Central Bank, Commission of European Communities, Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, International Development Law Institute, African Union, The Holy See, and Hong Kong Economic and Trade Offices [13]

In 1992, when the State of Maryland changes its income tax laws with retroactive effect, several international organizations pointed out that their foreign employees were exempt from income taxes due to the relevant treaty and that, while the International Organizations Immunities Act shielded them from federal taxes, this was not the case for state and local taxes. Subsequently, on 14 May 1994 the President signed and brought into force the Agreement on State and Local Taxation of Foreign Employees of Public International Organizations.[14]

Recent activityEdit

Attempt to amend the actEdit

A bill called H.R. 3269 was introduced to the 109th United States Congress on July 13, 2005. The bill called for an amendment in the International Organization Immunities Act so the Bank for International Settlements would be recognized as an international organization under the Act. The United States House of Representatives passed the H.R. 3269 bill on December 6, 2005. The Senate referred the bill to the Committee on Foreign Relations; that was the last action taken regarding H.R. 3269. As a result, the bill did not become a law. Sessions of Congress last for two years, where towards the end bills that have not become law are "cleared from the books." This was the case with the H.R. 3269 bill.[15]

Interpol controversyEdit

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan extended certain benefits to Interpol. Some of these benefits included immunity from lawsuits and prosecution. Likewise, in 2009, President Barack Obama granted certain benefits found in the International Organizations Immunities Act to International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol). Conservative bloggers and people such as former Speaker Newt Gingrich did not support the President extending privileges, exemptions, and immunities to Interpol. Conservative bloggers claimed that by increasing the privileges and immunities Interpol received, the President was allowing an international police to reign freely without legal restraint. They also believe that it is a plot to allow international courts to arrest and prosecute American officials.

Government and Interpol officials claim people are overreacting and are against Interpol receiving privileges, immunities, and exemptions because they do not know how Interpol functions. For example, Interpol does not make arrests (a common misconception) and it does not have a police force. Instead, Interpol shares information and files with the 188 countries it serves. Rachel Billington states that the national police force makes arrests based on national laws.[16]

Jam v. International Finance Corporation (IFC)Edit

In 2019, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the IOIA did not grant international organizations absolute immunity. Rather, it ruled that, like foreign governments, international organizations could be sued under federal law for their commercial activities. This was a rejection of longstanding jurisprudence which held that international organizations shared the same expansive sovereign immunity enjoyed by foreign governments in 1945 (when the IOIA was first enacted) even though Congress had placed restrictions on foreign governments' sovereign immunity in subsequent legislation, including the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act).[17]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Public Law 79-291
  2. ^ Just What Did President Obama's Executive Order regarding INTERPOL Do?,, December 30, 2009
  3. ^ International Organization Immunities Act, article by Lawrence Preuss
  4. ^ Executive Order 9698--Designating public international organizations entitled to enjoy certain privileges, exemptions, and immunities
  5. ^ International Organizations Immunities Act
  6. ^ Aaron I-. Young, Deconstructing international organization immunity, Georgetown Journal of International Law, pages 311–364. See in particular page 333 with footnotes 155 to 157.
  7. ^ 22 USC § 288k - Extension of certain privileges, exemptions, and immunities to Hong Kong Economic and Trade Offices
  8. ^ 2 FAM 1420: International Organizations Immunities, U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual Volume 2 (General)
  9. ^ U.S. Code
  10. ^ U.S. Code
  11. ^ Employees of Foreign Governments or International Organizations, IRS
  12. ^ How to Report Wage Income Paid by Foreign Governments or International Organizations, IRS
  13. ^ U.S. Code
  14. ^ Robert E. Dalton, National Treaty Law and Practice, Chapter 6 Archived 2013-06-02 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ H. R. 3269
  16. ^ Order on Interpol Work Inside U.S. Irks Conservatives
  17. ^ McDonnell, Tim (2019-03-07). "U.S. Supreme Court Rules That World Bank Can Be Sued". NPR. Retrieved 2019-11-26.