Does the United States Allow Dual Citizenship?

By Attorneys Michael Bhotiwihok and Nancy E. Miller

There are many reasons why one might want to be a citizen of more than one country.  However, if one becomes a United States citizen (USC), will he have to give up any other citizenship?  And if a USC takes on citizenship of another country, will she lose her U.S. citizenship? 

Every country has their own laws on how an individual acquires citizenship.  So, there is no uniform law in the international community for how one acquires or loses citizenship.  Not all countries allow dual citizenship.  Applicants for naturalization in the United States who want to keep their former citizenship should determine whether that is allowed in their native land.
One who is born in the United States automatically becomes a citizen of the United States.  If one or both of the child’s parents are citizens of another country, they may also be citizens of that country.  But that depends on the laws of that country.

One who is born in a foreign country to United States citizen parents is a United States citizen but may also be a citizen of the country in which he is born. 

While United States immigration law does not expressly mention dual citizenship, the Supreme Court in Kawakita v. United States stated that dual nationality is “a status long recognized in the law” and that “a person may have and exercise rights of nationality in two countries and be subject to responsibilities of both. The mere fact that he asserts rights of one citizenship does not, without more, mean than he renounces the other…”

A foreign national can generally receive United States citizenship without abandoning their other citizenship.  Even though the United States naturalization oath requires renunciation of prior allegiances to all foreign states, individuals are allowed to retain their foreign nationality. The United States Department of State presumes an individual acquiring U.S. citizenship intends to retain their original citizenship. 

The presumption is the same for United States citizens who renounce United States citizenship in a foreign country when acquiring citizenship.  However, there is a caveat here.  The presumption of intent to maintain United States citizenship does not apply to individuals who formally renounce citizenship before a consular officer, serve in armed forces of a foreign state engaged in hostilities with the United States, occupy a policy level position in a foreign state, or are convicted of treason.

Because dual citizens owe allegiance to the United States and a foreign country, the United States, as a matter of public policy, does not favor dual citizenship.  Dual citizenship may cause problems when the obligations to one country are in conflict with the laws of another country.  Additionally, diplomatic and consular protections to citizens abroad can be hindered as result of dual citizenship.

Dual citizens must obey the laws and regulations of both countries and issues arise with international travel.  Dual citizens may be required to use a foreign passport for travel into and out of the foreign country.  Use of a foreign passport for this purpose will not jeopardize a person’s United States citizenship.

United States citizens are required to use a United States passport when entering or leaving the country unless an exception applies.  Notable exceptions include United States Armed Forces on active duty and cruise ship travel entirely within the Western Hemisphere. Also, children under 16 years old and children under 19 years old who are travelling as a member of a group are not required to use a United States passport for travel in and out of the country.  Qualified groups include public and private schools, religious groups, social or cultural organizations, and sport team associations.

In Vance v. Terrazas, the Supreme Court confirmed that citizenship cannot be lost without the government first proving the intent to relinquish United States citizenship.  Renouncing United States citizenship must be voluntary and with the intent to relinquish citizenship which requires appearing before a United States consular officer in a foreign country and signing an oath of renunciation. Renunciation of United States citizenship is serious, generally irrevocable, and requires that all rights and privileges of citizenship be renounced for legal effect.  Unless the individual renouncing United States citizenship possesses dual nationality, he or she may become stateless, thereby lacking any governmental protection or a passport for international travel.  Renouncing United States citizenship neither avoids prosecution for crimes committed in the United States nor repayment of financial obligations incurred.

Foreign citizens considering United States citizenship and United States citizens contemplating renunciation should consult with an experienced and knowledgeable immigration attorney before they take any steps in this regard.