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Dual Citizenship

Dual citizenship means that a person is a citizen of two countries at the same time, having legal rights and obligations in connection with both countries. While dual citizenship gives certain advantages, such as easy residency in multiple countries and access to government programs, dual citizenship can also make life more complicated. The dual citizen may have tax obligations in more than one nation, or may need to fulfill residency requirements between two homelands. Following is a discussion of dual citizenship and related legal issues.

Acquiring Dual Citizenship

A person in the United States may acquire dual citizenship in one of several ways, including:

  • Being born in the United States to immigrant parents.
  • Being born outside the United States to one parent who is a U.S. citizen, and another parent who is a citizen of another country.
  • Becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen while maintaining citizenship in another country.
  • Regaining citizenship in a country of origin after having become a naturalized U.S. citizen.

If you hold multiple passports, it is important to keep those documents current and to use them appropriately in each country. You should also keep yourself apprised of citizenship requirements, such as tax obligations. If you do not fulfill your duties as a citizen to each country, you may be legally liable for those omissions.

Recognition of Dual Citizenship in the U.S.

The United States does not formally recognize dual citizenship. However, it also does not taken any stand against it, either legally or politically. Typically, no American will forfeit his or her citizenship by undertaking the responsibilities of citizenship in another country. This is true even if the responsibilities include traveling with a foreign passport, voting in another country's election, or running for and/or serving in public office of another country. In most cases, it is unimportant to the United States whether another country also claims you as a citizen.

The loss of U.S. citizenship can only occur if a person's actions demonstrate intent to give up his or her citizenship. Such actions might include:

  • Serving in the armed forces of a country which is engaged in hostilities against the United States.
  • Formally renouncing one's U.S. citizenship in front of a duly authorized U.S. official.
  • Committing an act of treason against the United States, or attempting or conspiring to overthrow the U.S. government.

Dual Citizenship - Getting Legal Help

If you hold a dual citizenship with the United States and another country, it is important that you understand the legal rights and obligations that you may have as a result. To learn more, and to discuss the specifics of your situation, contact an experienced immigration attorney near you.

The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that U.S. citizenship is a constitutional right that cannot be taken away from a citizen who does not intend to relinquish it. Therefore, such actions as naturalization in a foreign country, travel on a foreign passport, employment with a foreign government, and voting in a foreign election do not automatically jeopardize American citizenship.

Which Passport to Use

U.S. law requires U.S. citizens, including those with citizenship of another country, to enter and depart the United States on U.S. passports. Dual nationals may be required by the other country of which they are citizens to enter and leave that country using its passport, but they do not endanger their U.S. citizenship by doing so.

Obligations to Your Other Country of Citizenship

Dual nationality has no affect on your rights or your responsibilities as an American citizen, or on your obligations to the United States (i.e., payment of U.S. taxes if required to do so; registration with Selective Service). The dual national may also have obligations to his or her other country of citizenship. Failure to fulfill any such obligations may have little adverse effect on the dual national as long as he or she is in the United States. However, if the dual national travels to his or her other country of citizenship, he or she may be forced to comply with those obligations. In addition, if the dual national encounters difficulties in his or her other country of citizenship, the ability of the U.S. Embassy to assist the person may be very limited since the other country may not recognize the dual national's claim to U.S. citizenship.

The concept of dual nationality means that a person is a citizen of two countries at the same time. Each country has its own citizenship laws based on its own policy. Persons may have dual nationality by automatic operation of different laws rather than by choice. For example, a child born in a foreign country to U.S. citizen parents may be both a U.S. citizen and a citizen of the country of birth.

A U.S. citizen may acquire foreign citizenship by marriage, or a person naturalized as a U.S. citizen may not lose the citizenship of the country of birth. U.S. law does not mention dual nationality or require a person to choose one citizenship or another. Also, a person who is automatically granted another citizenship does not risk losing U.S. citizenship. However, a person who acquires a foreign citizenship by applying for it may lose U.S. citizenship. In order to lose U.S. citizenship, the law requires that the person must apply for the foreign citizenship voluntarily, by free choice, and with the intention to give up U.S. citizenship.

Intent can be shown by the person's statements or conduct. The U.S. Government recognizes that dual nationality exists but does not encourage it as a matter of policy because of the problems it may cause. Claims of other countries on dual national U.S. citizens may conflict with U.S. law, and dual nationality may limit U.S. Government efforts to assist citizens abroad. The country where a dual national is located generally has a stronger claim to that person's allegiance.

However, dual nationals 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. Most U.S. citizens, including dual nationals, must use a U.S. passport to enter and leave the United States. Dual nationals may also be required by the foreign country to use its passport to enter and leave that country. Use of the foreign passport does not endanger U.S. citizenship. Most countries permit a person to renounce or otherwise lose citizenship.

Information on losing foreign citizenship can be obtained from the foreign country's embassy and consulates in the United States. Americans can renounce U.S. citizenship in the proper form at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.