Dual citizenship

Definition: Simultaneous possession of two or more citizenships

Significance: Since its founding, the United States has declared itself to be a country whose greatest strengths lie in its open-armed acceptance of immigrants; however, it has traditionally discouraged its citizens from forming or retaining ties to other nations, including the holding of dual citizenship.

National governments tend to bestow citizenship in two ways. The first is recognizing citizenship by right of birth—provided certain conditions have been met relating to place of birth and the possession of citizenship by one’s parents. The second way is by acquiring citizenship through a naturalization process that begins with stating one’s intention of becoming a permanent resident. In the first case, citizenship is obtained automatically at an eligible child’s birth. In the second case, citizenship is finally obtained by taking an oath of loyalty to the nation, sometimes with the added requirement of formally renouncing any ties to other nations.

In some countries, merely being born in the country automatically confers citizenship through the principle of jus soli, a Latin phrase meaning “right of the soil.” This is the case within the United States, where the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution clearly spells out this guarantee:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States . . .

Dual citizenship cases may arise when noncitizens give birth to children in the United States or its territories. Because of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees, the children may be entitled to U.S. citizenship; at the same time they possess the citizenship of their parents that is conferred by right of descent. In many countries, being born to citizens may automatically confer citizenship in the parents’ country, regardless of their place of birth. The United States recognizes a limited formof this method, which called jus sanguinis (right of blood). The United States permits citizenship to be conferred on children provided that their citizen parents have, at some time, resided in the United States.

Dual citizenship may be acquired by alien adults who wish to naturalize in the country in which they reside and either can not or choose not to renounce their existing citizenship. The United States requires immigrants who naturalize as citizens to swear an oath in which they renounce their former national ties. However, many other countries do not consider such an oath to be legally binding and therefore continue to recognize the naturalized Americans as their own citizens, too.

Historical Treatment of Dual Citizens

The U.S. State Department has historically regarded dual citizenship as an undesirable status. In the past, the federal government sometimes vigorously punished dual citizens by expelling them, even though such policies were unconstitutional. The case of United States v.Wong Kim Ark (1898) was an early example of U.S. policy in such circumstances.

The child of Chinese immigrants working in California, Wong Kim Ark was born in San Francisco around 1870. After a visit to China in 1895, he was refused reentry to the United States by U.S. customs officials on the grounds that he was a subject of the emperor of China by the principle of descent, and the Chinese exclusion laws prevented Chinese subjects from becoming naturalized American citizens. Hence, Wong was not really a U.S. citizen. Fortunately for Wong, however, his case found its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that the citizenship clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, although originally intended to secure citizenship for freed African American slaves, applied to all persons born in the United States, regardless of their race or national origin.

Similarly, naturalized U.S. citizens’ actions were scrutinized for behavior contrary to the U.S. State Department’s expectations of loyalty. In the case of Afroyim v. Rusk (1967), for example, a man named Beys Afroyim discovered that he had been stripped of his U.S. citizenship when he was unable to renew his U.S. passport. A naturalized U.S. citizen since 1926, Afroyim traveled to Israel in 1950. There, he apparently obtained Israeli citizenship, as he voted in a 1951 Israeli election. Although the U.S. State Department’s case against Afroyim did not state that Afroyim intended to renounce U.S. citizenship when he acquired Israeli citizenship, the fact of his voting in an Israeli election in 1951 was apparently enough to demonstrate that intent. Afroyim sued to retain his U.S. citizenship. After a lengthy legal battle, the Supreme Court ruled that he was still a U.S. citizen because the citizenship clause made citizenship a constitutionally protected right regardless of how it was obtained.

Dual Citizenship After 1965

According to a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, demonstrating loyalty to another country might cause one to lose U.S. citizenship. Ways in which a person might demonstrate loyalty to another country include seeking naturalization, reciting an oath of loyalty, or serving as an officer in a foreign army. Nevertheless, these conditions have been specified to the point that naturalization by itself (with or without a loyalty oath) may not be sufficient evidence to prove “intent” to renounce U.S. citizenship. This means that citizenship can only be lost when the person in question “intends” to give up his or her citizenship— that is, declares before consulate witnesses that one wishes to renounce U.S. citizenship.

Julia M. Meyers

Further Reading

  • Bauman, Robert E. The Complete Guide to Offshore Residency, Dual Citizenship and Second Passports. New York: Sovereign Society, 2000. A former member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Maryland, Bauman discusses the procedures for obtaining dual citizenship. 
  • Faist, Thomas. Dual Citizenship in Global Perspective: From Unitary to Multiple Citizenship. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Faist explains that while national loyalty used to be the foundation for citizenship, dual and multiple citizenship have increasingly challenged such exclusivity. 
  • Hansen, Randall, and Patrick Weil. Dual Nationality, Social Rights and Federal Citizenship in the U.S. and Europe: The Reinvention of Citizenship. Oxford, England: Berghahn Books, 2002. Comparison of the politics and migration policies of Germany and the United States. 
  • Kymlicka, Will. Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Discusses dual citizenship in light of multicultural pressures on political and cultural policy. 
  • Spiro, Peter J. Beyond Citizenship: American Identity After Globalization. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Investigation into the changing nature of American identity that touches on the changing nature of citizenship and nationality in an increasingly globalized culture. 

See also: Afroyim v. Rusk; Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882; Chinese Exclusion Cases; Citizenship; Green Card; Green cards; Naturalization; United States v. Wong Kim Ark.

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