Dual Citizenship Explained

Dual citizenship (multiple citizenships) simply means that an individual is a citizen of two countries at the same given time.

One can also be a citizen of three or more countries. However, all countries have their own laws regarding the same. Some countries allow it and some do not, while certain countries have no particular laws regarding this.

Dual nationality laws and policies depend on each country. The U.S. Government recognizes that dual citizenship exists, but does not endorse it as a matter of policy because of the problems that it may cause.

Dual citizens owe allegiance to both the United States and the foreign country. They are required to obey the laws of both countries. Either country has the right to enforce its laws, particularly if the person later travels there.

There may be a conflict with the U.S. laws, which may cause problems for the dual citizen. Additionally, dual citizenship may limit the United States Government’s efforts to assist United States citizens abroad.

Does Dual Citizenship Require any Application Form?

This process is not something that can be applied for but that just happens when a person becomes a citizen of another country, in addition to his/her country of birth.

In the case of the U.S. if an immigrant applies for U.S. citizenship then they become a U.S. citizen and if the person’s country allows people to hold dual citizenship then they are dual citizens. If the other country doesn’t recognize dual citizenship then your other citizenship will be canceled once you become a U.S. citizen.

So basically there are no application forms for dual citizenship and the U.S. allows to hold dual citizenship in most cases.

Certain individuals get multiple citizenship automatically. For example, a child born in the U.S. to foreign parents gets dual citizenship as it is automatically a citizen of the U.S. and also a citizen of its parent’s home country. This also applies to children of U.S. citizens born abroad where the child is both a U.S. citizen and a citizen of the country of birth in most cases.

Countries Which Allow Dual Citizenship

Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Cyprus, Egypt, El Salvador, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malta, Mexico, New Zealand, Pakistan*, Portugal, Serbia and Montenegro, South Africa*, Spain (only in certain cases), Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Tonga (only in certain cases), Turkey, United Kingdom, United States of America, Western Samoa.

* Persons retain their former citizenship if they apply to retain it before taking out Australian citizenship.

Countries Which Prohibit Dual Citizenship

Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Burma, Chile, China, Denmark, Ecuador, Fiji, Finland, Germany, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran*, Japan, Kenya, Kiribati, Korea, Malaysia, Mauritius, Nepal, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Thailand, Venezuela, Vietnam, Zimbabwe.

* Iran does not recognize dual citizenship but continues to recognize its citizens as Iranian.
* Note that Germany has recently amended its citizenship laws so that in some exceptional circumstances, dual citizenship is now allowed. Consult the German Foreign Office website for details.
* Also, India announced on 8 January 2002 that it will shortly change its law to allow dual citizenship for Indians settled outside India.

This information was taken from Attachments A and B of the Government’s June 2001 Discussion Paper with updates that we have become aware of since then. Please note however that law may change in some countries and we cannot guarantee that this list is completely up to date.

Dual Citizenship FAQs

Is it possible to be a dual citizen of the United States of America and another country?

YES — in many cases.

If you have been a dual citizen from birth or childhood, or else became a citizen of another country after already having US citizenship, and the other country in question does not have any laws or regulations requiring you to formally renounce your US citizenship before US consular officials, then-current US law unambiguously assures your right to keep both citizenships for life.

The US State Department — traditionally quite combative in its handling of dual-citizenship claims — has changed the way it handles these cases in recent years, and it is now much easier to retain such a status without a fight than it used to be.

The situation is slightly less clear for someone who becomes a US citizen via naturalization and still wishes to take advantage of his old citizenship. People who go through US naturalization are required to state under oath that they are renouncing their old citizenship, and conduct inconsistent with this pledge could theoretically lead to loss of one’s US status.

However, the State Department is no longer actively pursuing cases of this nature in most situations. In particular, when a new American’s “old country” refuses to recognize the US naturalization oath (with its renunciatory clause) as having any effect on its own citizenship laws — and insists that the person in question must continue to deal with his old country as a citizen thereof (e.g., by using that country’s passport when traveling there to visit) — the US State Department no longer minds.

Similarly, the State Department doesn’t seem to be doing anything anymore to people who renounce their US citizenship as part of a foreign country’s “routine” naturalization procedure (in a manner similar to what the US makes its new citizens do). However, if the other country in question requires its newly naturalized citizens to approach officials of their old countries to revoke their previous status, one will generally not be able to remain a citizen both of that country and the US.

But I thought US law didn’t permit one to be a dual citizen — that if you were (by birth or otherwise), you either had to give up the other citizenship when you came of age, or else you’d lose your US status. And that if you become a citizen of another country, you’d automatically lose your US citizenship. So what’s all this talk about dual citizenship?

It indeed used to be the case in the US that you couldn’t hold dual citizenship (except in certain cases if you had dual citizenship from birth or childhood, in which case some Supreme Court rulings — Perkins v. Elg (1939), Mandoli v. Acheson (1952), and Kawakita v. U.S. (1952) — permitted you to keep both).

However, most of the laws forbidding dual citizenship were struck down in 1967 by the US Supreme Court. The court’s decision in this case, Afroyim v. Rusk, as well as a second case in 1980, Vance v. Terrazas, eventually made its way explicitly into the statute books in 1986; up till that time, the old laws were still on the books, but the State Department was effectively under court order to ignore them.

Rules against dual citizenship still apply to some extent to people who wish to become US citizens via naturalization. The Supreme Court chose to leave in place the requirement that new citizens must renounce their old citizenship during US naturalization. However, in practice, the State Department is no longer doing anything in the vast majority of situations where a new citizen’s “old country” refuses to recognize the US renunciation.

The official US State Department policy on dual citizenship today is that the United States does not favor it as a matter of policy because of various problems they feel it may cause, but the existence of dual citizenship is recognized in individual cases. That is, if you ask them if you ought to become a dual citizen, they will recommend against doing it; but if you tell them you are a dual citizen, they’ll usually say it’s OK.

Don’t you lose your US citizenship if you move to another country with the intent of living there for an extended period of time?

I used to think this was a totally off-the-wall question and that everyone knew the answer — until I told people I was about to move to Canada, whereupon probably at least half a dozen of my friends asked me if this meant I would have to give up my US citizenship.

It was once the case that a naturalized US citizen could lose his citizenship by remaining outside the US for an extended period. However, this provision was invalidated by the Supreme Court in Schneider v. Rusk (1964) and was repealed by Congress in 1978.

More recently, a naturalized citizen could lose his citizenship by setting up a permanent residence abroad within one year following US naturalization. This provision was repealed by Congress in 1994, however, and no longer applies.

Doesn’t the US Constitution forbid dual citizenship?

No. The Constitution says nothing explicitly about dual citizenship at all. Indeed, in its 1967 ruling in Afroyim v. Rusk, the Supreme Court used an argument derived from the 14th Amendment to the Constitution to affirm a right to dual citizenship.

If dual citizenship is legal now, then why do people who want to become naturalized US citizens still have to take an oath giving up their old citizenship?

The Afroyim Supreme Court ruling, which paved the way for dual citizenship after foreign naturalization, dealt specifically with the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of citizenship to people “born or naturalized in the United States.” The court did not prohibit Congress from establishing prerequisites to naturalization. Hence, it is still OK for Congress to require prospective new citizens to be willing to renounce their old citizenships.

Incidentally, this asymmetry may explain why many immigration lawyers in the US are seemingly unaware of the laws permitting dual US/other citizenship. They spend all their time dealing with people who want to become US citizens or permanent residents — and since the US requires a renunciation of prior citizenship as part of the naturalization procedure, these lawyers may incorrectly assume the law works the same both ways and thus misadvise someone who is already a US citizen that he can’t become a dual citizen. Be very mindful of this point if you look for a lawyer to discuss a dual citizenship situation with; if you find one who insists it’s flatly impossible because US law prohibits it, keep looking.

Also, officials of the U.S. of Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly known as the INS) may not always be aware of the full story on dual citizenship, for the same reason. U.S. of Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly known as the INS) employees who work as immigration officers at US border checkpoints presumably know dual US/other citizenship is possible — but U.S. of Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly known as the INS) people who handle naturalization applications may not (since, as already mentioned, the US naturalization oath does contain a renunciatory statement which all would-be citizens must agree to make). Keep in mind that the primary US agency which deals with people who already are (or claim to be) US citizens is not the U.S. of Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly known as the INS), but the Department of State. Consular officials at US embassies and consulates overseas work for the State Department.

Many other countries do not recognize the act of renouncing their citizenship as part of US naturalization, so a new US citizen may very likely still be considered a citizen by his old country. This is apparently a big reason why the State Department decided (in 1990) not to go after people any more, as a rule, when they continue to let their old country treat them as a citizen despite US naturalization.

I’ve heard that the US has a special agreement with Israel permitting people to be dual US/Israeli citizens. Is this true?

No. It just happens that Israeli citizenship law does not require renunciation of one’s old citizenship in order to become a citizen of Israel.

In this regard, Israel is really treated no differently than Canada, the UK, France, or other countries which permit people to become citizens without giving up their old status.

As best I have been able to determine, the US does not have any sort of treaty facilitating dual citizenship with any other country. Dual citizenship arises, not out of explicit bilateral agreements between nations, but because each country makes its own laws respecting who is or is not its citizen, often without regard for whether a given person is considered a citizen by more than one country at once.

It is interesting to note that Israel’s “Law of Return” (under which any Jew may immigrate to and become a citizen of Israel) confers Israeli citizenship automatically, without the immigrant having to apply for it, attend any ceremony, or swear any oath of allegiance. The Israeli law may originally have been written this way to encourage American Jews to move to Israel; they could, in theory, argue that they had not explicitly requested Israeli citizenship and were thus still entitled to keep their US citizenship. (Note that Mr. Afroyim, subject of Afroyim v. Rusk, was alleged to have lost his US citizenship, not because he had become an Israeli citizen, but because he had voted in an Israeli election.)

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the US ratified a series of citizenship treaties (the “Bancroft treaties”, named after American diplomat George Bancroft). The intent of these treaties was to prevent dual citizenship by providing for automatic loss of citizenship by foreigners who obtained US citizenship, or by Americans who obtained foreign citizenship. As a result of the various Supreme Court decisions on dual citizenship, however, the Bancroft treaties became legally unenforceable, and all of them have by now been formally abrogated by the US. One of these treaties (the one with Sweden) is mentioned in the Supreme Court’s decision in Perkins v. Elg.

If I become a US citizen and renounce my old citizenship as part of the naturalization ceremony, can I still run into problems (such as getting drafted or not being allowed to leave) if I go back to visit my old country?

Very possibly; be careful.

Many countries do not recognize the renunciation of old citizenship which is part of the US naturalization ceremony. Canada, for example, requires that someone who wants to give up his citizenship has to go to a Canadian embassy or consulate and sign a special form in the presence of Canadian officials.

Other countries may require an applicant for renunciation of citizenship to show he has sold or surrendered all his assets in the country, has fulfilled his military service obligations, etc. In some cases, renunciation of one’s old citizenship is simply impossible, because the old country either forbids it altogether or imposes unreasonable conditions on those wishing to sever their citizenship ties.

In general, you should assume that your old country does not acknowledge your US naturalization in any way, and that they still consider you to be one of their citizens just as before, unless you have talked to that country’s consular officials and determined otherwise.

So, even after becoming a naturalized US citizen, you should still check carefully with diplomatic officials both of the US and of the “old country” before going back for a visit. If you get arrested there for draft evasion, for voicing opinions about their government while you were in the US which are considered taboo in the old country, or for whatever other reason — or if you find yourself forced into their armed forces — you may very well find that the US can’t help you too much, because the other country will insist you’re one of their own citizens and that the matter is therefore none of the US’s $@&%# business. Cuba, for instance, is notorious for taking this position with expatriate Cubans who become US citizens and then go back to Cuba for a visit.

This same word of caution may also apply to people who were born in the US, but whose parents (or even grandparents) came from somewhere else. Many countries have laws conferring citizenship on the basis of the citizenship of one’s parents or grandparents (even the US has a limited law of this kind). I personally knew someone, some years ago, who got into trouble in South Korea because his father was born in Korea. Even though my friend was born in the US and had never claimed or believed himself to be a Korean citizen, he had to cut short his visit to his ancestral homeland in order to avoid being drafted into the South Korean army.

In general, before visiting any country which might possibly have any reason to claim you as its citizen (due to circumstances of your birth or naturalization, or that of any of your relatives), it is a good idea to check both with that country’s consular officials and the US State Department. And don’t accept any travel documents identifying you as a citizen of the other country, unless it is your true intent to accept such status.

While we’re on the subject of getting into legal trouble in another country, it should probably be noted that even if your old country no longer considers you one of its citizens, you could still encounter problems if you left “illegally” and then return. In such a situation, you obviously should not assume that all will be forgiven simply because you are no longer a citizen of your old country. Before making a visit under such circumstances, by all means check with US State Department officials.

If you left your old country under less than friendly circumstances, you should probably also exercise caution when travelling near that country, over its airspace, or through its territorial waters. If your plane, train, or ship were diverted by weather or accident and had to make an unscheduled stop, you could find yourself starring in a real-life version of the 1985 movie White Nights. Travel to (or near) a third country which happens to have an extradition treaty with your country of origin might also be unwise; a third country might side with your old country in its refusal to accept your renunciation of its citizenship, or they might be willing to extradite you there regardless of any citizenship questions. The value of expert professional advice before planning travel under such circumstances cannot be overemphasized.

I’ve heard of people who became US citizens via naturalization but then claim they still have their old citizenship too. How is this possible?

There are several possible scenarios.

One is that the person’s old country may not recognize the renunciation of citizenship he made as part of US naturalization (see the previous question). Such a person could be a dual citizen, as it were, in spite of himself.

Or, the person might have become a US citizen as a child (i.e., naturalized along with his parents) — in which case he would never have had to take the oath and would not have had to renounce his old citizenship (even though his parents did). A person in this kind of situation can exercise his dual status freely, provided the other country’s laws do not stand in the way.

Finally, some people who become US citizens hope to take advantage of the fact that the US didn’t make them actually go to their old country’s consulate and get their citizenship revoked (all they were required to do was make a renunciatory statement as part of the US naturalization oath) — and so they continue to exercise rights of citizenship in the old country as though nothing had happened. The US State Department used to take a dim view of such behavior if they found out about it, and people acting in this way were known to lose their US citizenship on the grounds that their pledge to renounce their prior status had evidently not been made in good faith. Now, though, the State Department almost never pursues such cases.

  • If I am a dual US/other citizen, is there any way I can lose my US citizenship?
  • Although current US law forbids the government from taking your citizenship from you against your will, it does permit you to give it up voluntarily. This has placed the US State Department in the complex position of determining whether someone who claims to be a US citizen has, in fact, given up that citizenship by his voluntary statements or actions.
  • In the early days of court-mandated acceptance of dual citizenship, State Department officials (hostile as most of them were to the whole idea of dual citizenship) tended to play hardball with people who claimed dual status, looking for almost any excuse to revoke US citizenship, and frequently ruling that a person had voluntarily forsaken his US ties despite steadfast protestations or even convincing evidence to the contrary.
  • On 16 April 1990, though, the State Department adopted a new set of guidelines for handling dual citizenship cases which are much more streamlined and liberal than before.
  • The State Department now says that it will assume that a US citizen intends to retain (not give up) his US citizenship if he:
    • is naturalized in a foreign country;
    • takes a routine oath of allegiance to a foreign country; or
    • accepts foreign government employment that is of a “non-policy-level” nature.
  • Apparently, a “routine oath of allegiance” to another country is no longer taken as firm evidence of intent to give up US citizenship, even if said oath includes a renunciation of US citizenship. This represents a dramatic reversal of previous US policy; it used to be that any such statement was taken rigidly at face value (as in the Supreme Court’s 1980 Terrazas decision).
  • This presumption that someone intends to keep US citizenship does not apply to a person who:
    • takes a “policy-level” position in a foreign country;
    • is convicted of treason against the US; or
    • engages in “conduct which is so inconsistent with retention of U.S. citizenship that it compels a conclusion that [he] intended to relinquish U.S. citizenship.”
  • The State Department says that cases of these kinds will be examined carefully to determine the person’s intent. They also say that cases falling under the last criterion mentioned above (conduct wholly inconsistent with intent to keep US citizenship) are presumed to be “very rare.”

So if I’m a dual US/other citizen, I don’t need to worry at all any more about whether something I do or say might come back to haunt me?

Possibly, but you still might want to act carefully.

Even though the US government’s attitude on this subject has improved dramatically in recent years, it is probably still a good idea to keep a few things in mind if you are a dual citizen or are contemplating becoming one.

One reason for such caution is that the new State Department guidelines are the result of an administrative policy, and not an act of Congress. In theory, a future administration could revoke the new policy at any time by the stroke of a pen — though I am not aware of any suggestion that this is likely to happen.

Still, I would propose the following safety measures for your consideration in order to stay as far away from the edge of the figurative cliff as possible.

* If you haven’t acquired the second citizenship yet, double-check with officials of the other country to make sure they are not going to require you to renounce prior citizenships in general, or your US citizenship in particular. If they are, then you might not be able to get away with keeping your US status if the State Department changes its new policy in the future.

* If the other country forbids you to have both one of its passports and a US passport at the same time, you might have problems travelling between the US and the other country, since US law generally requires US citizens to identify themselves using US (not foreign) passports when entering the US.

* The State Department now says that you don’t need to inform them before or right after becoming a citizen of another country; that they will presume you intended to keep your US citizenship; and that, if you tell them later on that you intended to keep your US status, they will usually take you at your word.

Still, it might be wise to put your intentions clearly on record. For example, you might consider making out a written declaration on the subject; sign it in the presence of two or three witnesses; have it notarized; and then keep it in your safe deposit box or other secure place. Should the US consulate express doubt later on as to your intentions, this statement can’t hurt and might possibly help. For guidance on what points you may wish to cover in such a declaration, the obsolete US citizenship questionnaire included elsewhere in this FAQ may prove helpful.

In some cases, it might be advisable to inform the State Department of your actions and intentions, even though they say this is not necessary. Many countries routinely notify their new citizens’ “old countries” of their naturalization. In some cases, your “new country” might even confiscate your US passport and return it to the State Department with a note claiming (incorrectly and without consulting you) that you have renounced your US citizenship. In such a situation, you would probably do well to draft a carefully worded letter to the State Department — in consultation with a lawyer — to make your true intentions crystal clear.

* Keep your US passport renewed. When you apply for a new passport, the proper way to deal with the part of the application that starts with “I have not, since acquiring United States citizenship” is to line out whatever part does not apply to you and attach a letter of explanation. (For example, you might line out the part claiming you have not been naturalized in or taken an oath of allegiance to a foreign country, and include a letter explaining when and where you in fact did this.) I believe you’ll have to do this each and every time you subsequently renew your passport for the rest of your life; but at least you’ll only have to do it once every ten years.

The first time you do this, you should expect to be asked about your intentions regarding US citizens. At one time, a standard questionnaire was used; more recently, I have been told that dual citizens are simply asked whether they intended to keep, or relinquish, their US citizenship.

* Whenever you enter the US, always identify yourself only as a US citizen, and always show your US (not any other) passport to US border officials. You may have to carry both passports with you when you travel between the US and your other country of citizenship, but don’t mention your other citizenship or offer to show your other passport unless you are explicitly asked about it by a US official.

The point here is not to try to hide your dual citizenship. Rather, if you have US citizenship, you have a right to enter the US, and there is no need to confuse things by bringing up any other citizenship you may have.

Note that a US citizen is generally required by US law and State Department regulations to be in possession of a US passport when leaving or entering the US. This requirement does not apply when entering the US from Canada, Mexico, or Caribbean countries (other than Cuba); however, even in those cases, proof of one’s identity and one’s US citizenship is still required, and a passport is probably the best such proof.

* When you leave the US by air, the airline officials will want to see your passport (or proof of citizenship) when you check in — plus any relevant visas — in order to assure themselves that you will be admitted to the next country on your trip (and that they will not be fined for failing to verify this if you turn out to be inadmissible). No matter what you do, there is a possibility that you will generate some confusion at the checkin desk, if the airline people are not aware that dual US/other citizenship exists.

* If you show them your US passport, you may be asked why you don’t have a visa to enter the next country on your trip. Of course, you don’t need a visa, because you are a citizen of that country, but you’ll have to show your other passport to prove this.

* If you show them your other passport, there is a good chance you will then be asked to hand in your I-94 (US temporary visa record, which airlines are supposed to collect from aliens leaving the US) or show your resident alien ID (“green card”). At this point, you may have to pull out your US passport in order to show why you don’t have (or need) an I-94 or a green card.

It is probably best to start out by showing the airline people the same travel documents you intend to show to the immigration officials at your next stop — i.e., your other passport, or proof of your other citizenship, if your next stop is your other country of citizenship. In some cases — e.g., if you are a dual US/Canadian citizen flying from the US to Canada — you might not have to show anything else (I-94’s are not normally issued to Canadians visiting the US). If you are asked to show a green card or I-94, then explain that you are a dual citizen of the US and the other country. Show your US passport if (and only if) you are asked to do so, and hope the airline employee (or his or her supervisor) is familiar with the concept of dual citizenship and doesn’t ignorantly decide to make you miss your flight by trying to nail you for some sort of immigration fraud.

At one time, showing a non-US passport to airline officials in the US might have been interpreted by zealous US officials as evidence of intent to relinquish one’s US citizenship. However, given current State Department policy, this is no longer a cause for concern.

Although — as mentioned previously — US law requires US citizens to be in possession of a US passport (or, in certain cases, other proof of US citizenship) when leaving the US, you are not required to show your US passport when leaving the US, as long as you do have it with you.

* Always remember to mention your US citizenship on any form from the other country (e.g., passport application) which asks if you are a dual citizen, hold any other citizenship, etc. Back in the early 1980’s, there was at least one case in which a woman with dual US/Canadian citizenship ended up losing her US status in part because she had applied for a Canadian passport and answered “no” to a question about being a citizen of any country other than Canada.

* Do other things a US citizen living abroad is expected to do — such as filing a US tax return every year (even if the various exclusions for foreign income and/or foreign tax mean you don’t owe Uncle Sam anything); reporting your address to the nearest US embassy or consulate; and registering your children born abroad with the US embassy or consulate (since in most cases they will automatically have US citizenship because of you; see below for more info on this).

Again, the above things are not “legal requirements” for retaining dual citizenship. However, if you do these things conscientiously, the chances are probably much less that you’ll ever find the State Department seriously pursuing a loss-of-citizenship proceeding against you, even if their current liberal policies should change for the worse in the future.

But it’s against the law to have more than one passport, isn’t it?

There is nothing in US law forbidding a US citizen to possess both a US passport and a foreign passport — provided, of course, that the person really is a citizen of both countries.

Now, of course, it is possible that the other country in question may have objections to multiple passports. This is especially likely in cases where the other country does not permit dual citizenship — and sometimes it could result in intractable situations, especially when children are involved (owing in part to the fact that US law makes no specific provisions for renunciation of US citizenship by young children).

India, for example, does not permit dual Indian/other citizenship and forbids an Indian citizen (even a child) to possess, be listed in, or use a passport from any other country but India. Since a child born in the US to Indian parents is automatically a US citizen under US law, an impossible situation could result if the parents wanted to get their child an Indian passport (or list him/her in a parent’s passport) — since current US passport regulations require the child to have a US passport in order to enter the US after he/she reaches age 12.

In practice, as I am told, Indian parents generally deal with this situation by not registering their US-born children as Indian citizens until and unless the child is going to be moving permanently back to India.

Even when possession of multiple passports is technically legal, it should be kept in mind that the border officials of some countries may not understand this fact and might even conclude that a traveler found to be carrying more than one passport is “obviously” planning to engage in some sort of criminal activity. Even US officials, in recent years, have been known to harass legitimate dual US/other citizens when they travel with multiple passports.

Hence, it is probably advisable not to travel with more than one passport at a time if at all possible. And if you are a dual US/other citizen living in the US, and your trip will start and finish in the US, it is almost certainly best to bring along only your US passport; you’ll need it in any case when you return.

Of course, if your itinerary involves stops in both of your countries of citizenship, and each country happens to require you to present one of its own passports when you enter, you may not have a choice. If one or the other country permits some sort of alternative documentation as proof of citizenship at the border, it might be preferable to carry this in place of a passport from that country. For example, Canada offers a wallet-sized “Certificate of Canadian Citizenship” photo ID card, which can be used in place of a Canadian passport when travelling between Canada and the US.

I was recently told by a US customs official that the US doesn’t “recognize” dual citizenship. What gives?

It depends on exactly what is meant by “recognizing” dual citizenship. If the official meant to say that dual US/other citizenship violates US law, he was, simply put, wrong. If he meant that foreign citizenship makes no difference under US law if one is also a US citizen, he was right.

US citizenship law is primarily concerned with whether or not a given person holds US citizenship. If a person is a US citizen and is currently within the jurisdiction of the US, any other citizenship(s) he or she may hold are really not relevant in US law.

A “dual citizen” has no special status in the US by virtue of holding citizenship in some other country too. In particular, if you are a dual citizen and get into some kind of legal trouble while in the US, you should not expect the US to acknowledge any efforts by consular officials of your other country of citizenship to intervene in your behalf.

Also, when a “dual citizen” enters the US, he/she is expected to identify himself to US immigration and customs officials as a US citizen (not as a citizen of some other country) — and in cases where a passport is required to enter the US, a dual US/other citizen is expected to enter on a US passport, just like any other US citizen.

I’ve heard of recent cases where dual US/other citizens briefly got into sticky situations while entering the US, when they attempted to identify themselves either as “dual” citizens or as citizens of another country. In former times (before the latest round of State Department policy reforms), attempting to enter the US on a foreign passport could even be used as “evidence” of intent to relinquish US citizenship. Although this apparently isn’t a danger any more, the best thing to do is probably to make life simple and assert only your US citizenship rights when entering the US.

Remember that US immigration officers are primarily interested in determining whether a person wishing to enter the US should be let in. If you hold US citizenship, then you have a legal right to enter, remain in, and work in the US. Holding some other citizenship as well as US citizenship is completely irrelevant in this case, and if you make an issue of holding a second citizenship, you’re just making it more likely that US officials will think something is amiss.

I am engaged to a US citizen. When we get married, will I automatically get dual citizenship?

No. Marriage to a US citizen does not automatically confer US citizenship under current US law.

At one time, it was common practice that a woman who married a foreigner, and set up residence with her new husband in his country, automatically acquired his citizenship (and frequently lost her native citizenship too). However, this has not been the case in US law for many years.

What marriage (or engagement) to a US citizen does generally do is to allow the alien spouse or fiancé(e) an opportunity to apply for immigration to the US as a permanent resident (what is commonly referred to as getting a “green card”). The alien spouse can then apply for US citizenship after living in the US for three years (note that most “green card” holders must wait five years before becoming eligible for citizenship).

Unfortunately, immigration via marriage is often trickier than it might seem. Totally sincere spouses or fiancé(e)s may find themselves subjected to skeptical inquiries by US officials on the lookout for people seeking a fast, fraudulent way into the US through a “sham” marriage (as portrayed, albeit in jest, by the 1990 movie Green Card). Couples may find themselves separated for months while the non-citizen’s application is being processed by the U.S. of Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly known as the INS) — since US law prohibits most aliens seeking permanent residence in the US from entering the US in any sort of non-permanent status while their immigration application is pending.

Anyone contemplating immigration to the US by virtue of marriage or engagement to a US citizen would be well advised to seek competent advice from a lawyer who is experienced in handling such cases. (Sorry, but I am not in a position to offer referrals to immigration lawyers; please don’t ask.)

Once a non-citizen spouse is ready to apply for US citizenship — normally after three years of lawful permanent residence (so-called “green card” status) — his or her situation is basically the same as anyone else seeking US naturalization. Whether or not he/she will end up with “dual” citizenship depends on the other country’s attitude toward naturalization in the US. The US naturalization oath contains a mandatory renunciatory clause, but the new citizen’s “old country” may or may not recognize it, and under current policies, the US doesn’t care or mind if a naturalized US citizen’s country of origin insists on hanging on.

I am a dual US/Canadian citizen by birth. I was once told that if I ever voted in either an American or a Canadian election, I would lose citizenship in the other country. Is this true?

No. Neither US nor Canadian citizenship law says anything about losing citizenship as a result of voting in an election in another country.

Note that US law used to mandate loss of US citizenship for voting in a foreign election. However, this provision was struck down by the Supreme Court in Afroyim v. Rusk and was repealed by Congress in 1978.

Canada’s current Citizenship Act (in force since 1977) says nothing at all about voting in foreign elections and loss of citizenship. If you are a citizen of some country other than Canada, of course, you will need to check the laws of that country in order to find out if you could endanger your citizenship in that country by voting in a US election.

Incidentally, US citizens living abroad (whether or not they happen to be dual citizens) should be aware that they may be legally entitled to vote in US federal elections. Even if you have not had any residential ties to the US for years and have no plans to return, you may still vote in federal elections based on your last place of residence before moving away from the US. In such cases, federal law prohibits your former state from declaring you a resident for state tax purposes simply because you have exercised this right to vote in a federal election. For more information on how to register and vote from outside the US, contact the nearest US embassy or consulate, or visit the Web site of the Federal Voting Assistance Program at www.fvap.ncr.gov.

I lost my US citizenship some years ago after I became a citizen of another country. I told the people at the US consulate that I intended to remain a dual citizen, but they wouldn’t listen. I think I got a raw deal. Is there any way I can get my US citizenship back now?

Yes. The State Department info on dual citizenship cases says that the current guidelines for ascertaining intent to keep US citizenship are applicable retroactively to past cases, and it explicitly says that “persons who previously lost US citizenship may wish to have their cases reconsidered in light of this policy.”

To initiate such reconsideration, contact the nearest US embassy or consulate, or write the State Department at the following address:

Office of Citizens Consular Services (CA/OCS/CCS)
Room 4811 NS
Department of State
Washington, DC 20520-4818

If your situation is not straightforward, you may wish to consult a lawyer before doing this. But if the other country didn’t require you to swear or sign away your US citizenship, and if you told the State Department you intended to keep it, and if they revoked your US status anyway, my impression is that all you need to do is write them and ask them to reconsider.

Given the lax attitude the State Department is taking nowadays toward renunciatory declarations in foreign naturalization oaths, you might even be in luck if you can convince them that you would rather not have made that declaration, but saw no way out of it because (1) you felt circumstances required you to get a foreign country’s citizenship and (2) taking a renunciatory oath was the only way you could get it.

A similar line of argument might also work if you asked a US consulate if dual citizenship was possible, were told it was not, but decided to go ahead and become a citizen of some other country anyway because you felt you “needed” to. But in such cases, a consultation with a lawyer before approaching US officials would probably be a wise move. Make sure your case is stronger than that put forth unsuccessfully by William Richards (Richards v. Secretary of State et al.).

If you had previously appealed a loss of citizenship to the State Department’s administrative review board, and lost your case there, it is my understanding that State will not restore your US citizenship simply upon request; their position in such cases is that the matter went out of their jurisdiction when it was appealed. In such a case, it would probably be advisable to see a lawyer.

I have personally exchanged e-mail with two people who successfully regained their US citizenship via this new procedure.

One (whose US citizenship had been revoked in the late 1970’s after he had become a Canadian citizen) requested reinstatement in late 1992, and the State Department notified him that his US status had been restored in early 1994.

The other (also an American who had obtained Canadian citizenship) requested reinstatement in 1993 and got it back in a matter of weeks. This person had made a renunciatory statement as part of his Canadian naturalization (required by Canada in the early 1970’s, but not now). One likely reason he was able to get his US citizenship reinstated was that he had previously told US consular officials that he did not want to give up his US citizenship but needed to become a Canadian citizen in order to work in his chosen profession.

On the other hand, I have corresponded with one person who was not able to regain her US citizenship in this manner. After she became a Canadian citizen in the 1970’s, she signed a form at a US consulate stating that she had voluntarily relinquished her US citizenship. She claimed that a US consular official had pressured her to sign this declaration, telling her that she had no choice but to sign it — but when she asked for her US citizenship back, she was told she could not have it because of the form she had signed. I do not know if this woman has taken her case to the courts or not.

I really did intend to give up my US citizenship when I became a citizen of another country some years ago. Am I in danger of being declared a US citizen once again, against my wishes, because of the State Department’s new policy?

Probably not. The State Department’s offer to readjudicate old loss-of-citizenship cases requires the affected person to initiate the review process. If you decide not to ask for a review, State will not reopen your case.

However, if you were never informed in writing (via a Certificate of Loss of Nationality) that you were judged to have lost your US citizenship, it is quite likely that the US still considers you to be a citizen. In this case, a person who really did intend to renounce his ties to the US should contact a US consulate for information on how to make his intentions known.

A former US citizen may wish to consider carrying a photocopy of his Certificate of Loss of Nationality with him, along with his (non-US) passport. This may help dispel confusion that might otherwise result if a border official takes note of your US birthplace in your non-US passport and concludes (incorrectly) that you are still a US citizen.

Note, incidentally, that former US citizens who are deemed to have renounced their US citizenship in order to avoid paying US taxes are barred from entering the US, under a 1996 act of Congress [Public Law 104-208, § 352; INA § 212(a)(10)(E); 8 USC § 1182(a)(10)(E)].

I was told recently that I am a US citizen. I have lived outside the US all my life and never imagined I had US citizenship. What are my options?

This kind of situation would most often result if someone born outside the US has an American parent or parents. As explained earlier, US law considers the children of Americans born abroad to be US citizens under certain circumstances. US citizenship in such cases is automatic and does not require any sort of application or registration. Foreign-born children of US citizens are supposed to be registered with a US embassy or consulate soon after their birth, but the American parent(s) might have neglected to do this.

Unnoticed US citizenship could also result if someone’s parents were in the US on some kind of temporary basis (such as a student visa, or a premature birth while the mother was visiting the US). In this case, the person’s first realization that he has US citizenship might well come when he visits the US and a border official comments on the US birthplace indicated in his non-US passport.

If you discover that you are (or may be) a US citizen and wish to document or take advantage of this status, you should contact a US embassy or consulate and apply for a US passport. If your claim to US citizenship is based on the citizenship of a parent or parents, you will need to submit proof of his/her/their US citizenship, such as:

* parent’s most recent US passport;
* parent’s birth certificate showing birth in the US;
* evidence of parent’s having resided in the US prior to your birth — you could use school, employment, or census records, or a foreign immigration record showing when he/she moved abroad;
* evidence of parent’s foreign naturalization (if any) — so that if the parent lost US citizenship thereby, it can be established that this happened after you were born.

Keep in mind that if you do take steps to claim US citizenship, you will be expected to obey various US laws applying to Americans living abroad. For example, if you work (even if not in the US), you will need to get a US Social Security Number and file a US federal tax return (Form 1040) every year — even if you do not owe any US tax on account of the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion and/or the Foreign Tax Credit. Technically, you may be required to file Form 1040’s for all previous years; however, if you were not born in the US and never realized you were a US citizen until recently, it is my understanding that the IRS will usually be satisfied with about six years’ worth of back returns.

Also, you need to abide by travel restrictions imposed on US citizens. For example, if you plan to claim US citizenship, you should not take a vacation trip to Cuba, even if you use a non-US passport.

You don’t necessarily need to acknowledge or claim your US citizenship, of course. If you really want to get rid of it, you could go to a US consulate and renounce it. However, you could decide to simply ignore it. Although, technically, a US citizen can enter the US only on a US passport (or proof of US citizenship if entering from an adjacent country), my understanding is that this requirement is not normally enforced in the case of a tourist entering the US on a foreign passport who happens to have US citizenship but has never sought to exercise it.

Isn’t there something inherently unethical about being a dual citizen? I mean, how can you be a loyal American and at the same time owe allegiance to another country? “No man can serve two masters”, and all that.

This is a question of political philosophy, which I won’t presume to argue. The fact remains, though, that the Supreme Court has ruled dual citizenship is legal — and Congress has amended the Immigration and Nationality Act to reflect that reality — and the State Department now finally appears to be at peace with the concept as well — so it’s now a firmly entrenched part of the law of the land.

How likely is it that the Supreme Court will reverse its earlier decisions and once again ban dual citizenship? Or that the State Department will backtrack on its recent liberalization of the guidelines for dual citizenship and loss of citizenship?

There are a few plausible scenarios, but none of them are too likely.

Congress could decide to act in blatant defiance of the Supreme Court’s Afroyim and Terrazas rulings, repealing the various changes made over the years to Section 349 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, in the hope that a case would eventually be accepted for review by the Supreme Court and used by the court as an opportunity to repudiate the earlier rulings. Keep in mind, though, that the court in Terrazas upheld unanimously the principle that US citizenship cannot be involuntarily taken away; hence, such a reversal would probably be unlikely.

Congress, or the State Department, could reverse the 1990 policy under which Americans are presumed to have intended to keep their US citizenship in the absence of definitive evidence to the contrary. The Supreme Court, in Terrazas, required only a preponderance of evidence (that is, more likely than not) in order to find an intent to relinquish citizenship. However, the current State Department policy came about after several years’ worth of loss-of-citizenship rulings (under the older, more stringent rules) that were subsequently reversed on administrative appeal. A change in the current policy would probably precipitate a new flurry of admininstrative and judicial appeals, and the end result would be difficult to predict.

The current situation could change via an amendment to the Constitution. While an amendment addressing solely the dual citizenship issue might not incite enough public interest to get very far, a constitutional ban on dual citizenship could gain momentum if it were attached to the more popular issue of restricting the right to citizenship of children born in the US to illegal alien parents. Even the chances of this latter sort of measure are unclear, though.

How do I give up my U.S. Citizenship?

A person wishing to give up or renounce his or her U.S. citizenship must voluntarily and with intent to relinquish U.S. citizenship:

appear in person before a U.S. consular or diplomatic officer,

in a foreign country (normally at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate); and

sign an oath of renunciationRenunciations that do not meet the conditions described above have no legal effect. Americans cannot effectively renounce their citizenship by mail, through an agent, or while in the United States. In fact, U.S. courts have held certain attempts to renounce U.S. citizenship to be ineffective.