Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell - US Dual Citizenship
Anyone who has lived abroad knows that the favorite past time of all expatriates1 is accumulating official paperwork. The first major document to acquire when living overseas is generally called a “residency permit”. In the US, this is known as the famous “green card”2 and allows foreigners to legally stay and work in the country for a long term basis. In France, it’s called ”la carte de séjour” and every expatriate has a hellish story to tell about the lengthy, unwieldy process of obtaining it (and renewing it). Without this official identification card, which proves your long term residency is legal, you will have great difficulty opening a bank account, signing a lease, finding a job or even subscribing to cellular phone service.
In France, once you acquire “la carte de séjour”, it marks the start of a glorious, never-ending scavenger hunt for other official documents including foreign credit cards, insurance contracts, a driver’s license, a social security card and even library cards just to name a few. And if you’re a long term expat, the ultimate goal may be to collect the holy grail of all foreign documents by acquiring citizenship in your adopted country and finally obtaining a passport!
C’est Mieux à Deux
Before embarking on your quest, be sure to check your native country’s dual nationality laws. If you are from a country that requires renunciation of your citizenship to acquire another nationality then it’s officially game over. However, because of rampant globalization, international relationships, children born abroad and the basic fact that foreign governments have a hard time communicating with each other, many countries turn a blind eye to dual nationals.
The United States has an ambiguous approach towards dual citizenship. The basic policy is that “U.S. law does not mention dual nationality or require a person to choose one citizenship or another” - US State Department Website. Loosely translated, this means the US government implicitly acknowledges an individual’s right to dual citizenship but would rather avoid it if possible.
There are a number of Supreme Court cases concerning the rights of US dual nationals. In the 1967 case of Afroyim v. Rusk it was determined that the 14th amendment, originally intended to guarantee citizenship to freed slaves and their descendants, also forbids Congress from making any law depriving an individual of their US citizenship without consent.
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. - 14th amendment of the US constitution
In fact, the only way to lose US citizenship - barring treason or joining a hostile foreign army - is if you explicitly renounce with intent to give it up. The key word is intent- if you acquire a foreign nationality but would never dream of relinquishing your US citizenship, this is clearly not an intent to renounce3. And the only way to legally relinquish US citizenship is to leave the country, sign an “oath of renunciation” in front of a US consular officer or diplomat, and then stick your passport down his throat (the last part is optional, but it probably counts as “intent”).
Death and Taxes - The IRS is Watching You!
Congress has also passed laws to discourage wealthy US citizens from relinquishing their citizenship. Unlike most civilized countries where only locally generated income is declared to tax authorities, US citizens are required to declare their global income to the IRS and many of the richest ones are actually subject to double taxation (once in the foreign country and once again to the IRS). In the past, this was incentive enough to renounce their US citizenship to avoid taxes. However, under current laws, even if the wealthiest expats relinquish their US citizenship, they are still liable to the IRS for taxes on their global income for the next ten years…
Please Remember to Forget
Ironically, when US green card holders finally become citizens, they are required to say the following oath during their official citizenship “swearing in” ceremony:
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform non-combatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.
Despite the fact that new citizens officially renounce all allegiance to another foreign country, constitutionally they cannot be forced to give up their native nationality. An INS4 official once mentioned that to reduce any complications due to double nationality, new citizens should remember to “forget” to bring their foreign passport to the ceremony, otherwise they may have to hand it in. As a side note, how many immigrants actually understand what the words “abjure” and “potentate” mean (doesn’t one require Viagra…)?
Just Say “Oui”
Acquiring French nationality is not that difficult if you’re used to dealing with the administration. The procedure is actually nothing more than simply signing a legal document declaring your French nationality in front of a judge. A completed application can be submitted to the local “tribunal d’instance”5 after fulfilling a minimum residency requirement depending on your current situation. In fact, the hardest part of the whole process is gathering all of the required paperwork and translations to show you’re an honest, well-integrated immigrant who is preferably already employed.
After signing your “declaration of French nationality”, the local police department will then conduct a small investigation, meet with you in person and sometimes even interview your neighbors, to ensure that everything is in order. A local immigrations official will also verify that you are culturally assimilated and speak a good level of French (sacrebleu!). If all goes well, you’re called back to the judge one last time and are then officially handed your signed declaration and also your new “French birth certificate” (this is really what it’s called!). You are now officially “reborn” into the French state. With your new birth certificate in hand, you can then complete the final application for a French voting card and passport.
An International Heartache
Dual nationality is not for everyone, but if you have lived abroad long enough to become fully integrated into your adopted country, started a family, purchased property, made many friends, plan on retiring there and can’t imagine ever moving back to your native country, then it is definitely worth considering. Remember that until you are a citizen, it is still possible to get kicked out of your host country due to a new immigrations statute or some unforseen technicality (such as inadvertently violating a law, not renewing your residency permit on time, divorce, etc). With the ease of travel and global interdependence, there are so many immigrants who are split between love towards their native homeland and the profound link to their adopted countries, that not allowing the possibility of dual citizenship in modern times seems like a cruel anachronism.
And one last word of advice for all US dual citizens - for the love of common sense, please remember to always use your American passport when going through US immigrations (or you may risk several hours of INS interrogation to prove you really didn’t ”intend” to give it up…)!
How to Acquire French Nationality - This link gives all of the different scenarios, prerequisites and administrative hoops for acquiring French nationality depending on your own personal situation. If you can’t understand the French on this site, it’s probably not worth applying!
Official French Position on Dual Nationality - Basically, it’s fine with the French if you have another passport.
Global Citzenship Laws - Click here to see if your native country accepts dual nationality - the list is a bit old, but still very useful.
Official US State Department approach to dual citizenship (details) - More boring mumbo-jumbo
Official US State Department procedure for renouncing US Citizenship - If you’re really crazy, here’s how to give up US citizenship. Not to be taken lightly!
Richard Wales.Org - I don’t know who this guy is, but his site has links to just about everything imaginable concerning dual citizenship. It hasn’t been updated in a while and the bare-bones HTML is painful to look at, but it’s a great start for any dual citizenship legal data mining.
Green Card Movie Trailer - This is the trailer to the cheesy film “Green Card” starring Gérard Depardieu and Andie MacDowell. I’m not sure if US immigrations officials really ask couples about whether their partner wears briefs or boxers, but the film is not too bad for a chick-flick.
Links to the two major US Supreme Court decisions concerning dual nationality, fairly well explained on wikipedia.org:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afroyim_v._Rusk - Concerns the right of the US Congress to revoke US citizenship without consent.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vance_v._Terrazas - Concerns the question of defining what is ”proven intent” to relinquish US citizenship
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- a term for someone who is currently living outside of his native country [↩]
- a “green card” is not actually green - it is basically a high-tech ID card for foreigners [↩]
- The 1980 Supreme Court case of Vance v. Terraza attempts to define what is “proved intent” [↩]
- immigration and naturalization service [↩]
- regional high court [↩]