A Brief Look at Dual Citizenship

By James Lomonosoff, Class of 2021

Recently during our seminar, we discussed the process of naturalization: the means by which a legal permanent resident (LPR, also known as a “green card holder”) can become an American citizen. We brought up the many and various reasons people may choose to become a United States citizen. Some may want to participate further in the democratic process. Others may need greater access to economic benefits without fear that this assistance will jeopardize their ability to stay in the United States. Still others may want to make the country where they have lived for so long their permanent home.

I know that voting was particularly important to my mother when she was naturalized in 2000. What shocked her afterward was that, in swearing the oath of allegiance to the United States, she had lost her status as a Dutch citizen. She was mortified, and, though that matter has since been happily resolved, the frequently interchangeable issues of dual citizenship and dual nationality have continued to interest me.

Surprisingly, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) has little to say on the subject of nationality (as distinct from citizenship). INA 101(a)(22) defines as “nationals” “citizen[s] of the United States” and non-citizens who “[owe] permanent allegiance the United States.”1 Thus in the United States, dual nationality becomes largely synonymous with dual citizenship. Despite an initial national aversion to dual citizens (made manifest in the Bancroft Treaties, which defined an array of circumstances which could indicate the renunciation of one’s US citizenship2), the Supreme Court ruled in support of dual citizens’ right to retain US citizenship in Afroyim v. Rusk.3 There are still means to be stripped of US citizenship, but they now mostly require an explicit effort on the part of the person whose citizenship will be stripped.4 For example, one can lose one’s citizenship by being naturalized elsewhere “with the intention of relinquishing United States nationality.”5 Other nations, meanwhile, retain their own means of designating nationals. In the Netherlands, by way of example, nationality is governed by the Netherlands Nationality Act, where it is treated in much the same way as it is in the INA. However, unlike the INA, it is far easier to lose one’s Dutch nationality. Under Article 15 of the Act, “A person who is of full age shall lose his or her Netherlands nationality . . . by acquiring another nationality of his or her own free will.”6 What this means is that those who wish to remain citizens of their home countries should exercise caution when applying to become an American citizen.

Why go through the bother of trying to maintain two citizenships? There is, of course, the more emotional reason of wishing to retain ties to one’s home country, but there are also practical advantages: the ability to access state services in the home country; to seek employment there (or in a wider economic zone, as in the European Union); and, in some cases, to travel more widely. As this piece is being written, US citizens are still being turned away by a number of nations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Someone retaining their home country’s passport can, more often than not, bypass such restrictions. Finally, one may wish to continue participating in the elections of one’s home country, as did the appellee in Afroyim v. Rusk, though the right to do so may be restricted by law depending on the country.7 In the Netherlands, to continue using that example, non-resident citizens are not permitted to vote in provincial or municipal elections, even though they retain the right to vote for European Parliament members.8

However, dual citizenship comes with its share of challenges. Perhaps the most prominent of these are situations where one’s non-US citizenship requires one to complete compulsory military service. Israel, where a term of service in the Israeli Defense Force is mandatory, has had as many as 1,000 American-Israeli dual citizens in its ranks.9 For those who consider a career in the State Department (the author of this blog entry included), dual citizens will not be granted security clearance beyond a certain level.10 From the perspective of states, dual citizenship can have problematic implications in the realms of tax evasion, jurisdiction, and national security.11 As one skeptic writes, “dual citizens benefit at the expense of most people.”12

I would say that this critique seems unduly harsh, but, as a dual citizen myself, I may be somewhat biased. I have always felt strongly that dual citizenship can contribute to the world being a more integrated and understanding place, and I cannot imagine a realistic circumstance under which I would voluntarily relinquish mine. Nevertheless, I have always admired those who so desire to integrate themselves into the fabric of the United States that they would do precisely that. Despite the criticism some skeptics have levied at the notion, there has been a trend upward in the number of nations that accept dual citizenship for expatriates, with only 47 countries continuing to automatically strip citizens of their status should they naturalize abroad.13 This trend is particularly evident in Oceania and the Americas, where immigration has historically been perceived as a strong boon to both the economy and to the national fabric.14 Overall, it seems that dual citizenship is becoming a more and more accepted phenomenon and one which, despite some initial difficulties gaining acceptance here in the United States, is here to stay.

[1] INA 101(a)(22)

[2] See, e.g., 35 Stat. 2082 [Treaty with Portugal governing naturalization which entered into force in 1908]. “If a Portuguese subject naturalized in America, renews his residence in Portugal, without intent to return to America, he shall be held to have renounced his naturalization in the United States.” Id.

[3] Afroyim v. Rusk, 387 US 253 (1967).

[4] INA 349(a).

[5] INA 349(a). Emphasis added.

[6] Kingdom Act on Dutch Citizenship of December 19, 1984, Art. 15(1)(a) [unofficial translation accessed at https://www.refworld.org/docid/4d3838932.html%5D.

[7] Afroyim v. Rusk, 387 US 253 (1967).

[8] Elections Act of 28 September 1989, §§ B 3(2), Y 3(a).

[9] Chris Allbritton, 1,000 Americans Are Serving in the Israeli Army and They Aren’t Alone, Daily Beast (Apr. 14, 2017), https://www.thedailybeast.com/1000-americans-are-serving-in-the-israeli-army-and-they-arent-alone.

[10] Andres Loretdemola, The Problem with Dual Citizenship, Roosevelt Institute (Nov. 2, 2017), https://www.cornellrooseveltinstitute.org/intl/the-problem-with-dual-citizenship#:~:text=Dual%20citizenship%20has%20made%20it,to%20destabilize%20democratically%2Delected%20governments.&text=Then%20there%20is%20also%20the,has%20sovereignty%20over%20an%20individual.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Dual Citizenship Trends in 2019, Best Citizenships (Jan. 9, 2020), https://best-citizenships.com/2020/01/09/automatic-citizenship-loss-with-dual-citizenship/.

[14] Id.