“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’s the end of the story, right?
Not really. U.S. law does not apply in the other 190-odd countries and territories on the planet; other legal systems have no obligation to take notice of an oath to U.S. authorities unless their own laws tell them to. And the U.S. government, in practice, does not care if resident U.S. citizens hold other citizenships. (It cares very much whether non-resident citizens hold other citizenships, and demonises it as a method of evading taxes, but that’s another story entirely.) However, some countries of origin do care: their nationality laws prohibit dual citizenship, and require emigrants to report when they have acquired another citizenship so that the loss of their original citizenship can be formalised and recorded. Up until the 1980s, the U.S. also prohibited emigrants who naturalised elsewhere from retaining U.S. citizenship.
What’s the rate of compliance with these single-citizenship laws? Not very high; perhaps half at most, judging from Japanese and South Korean data. In a minority of cases, failure to report your new citizenship to the government of your country of origin may indeed represent an attempt to game the system. However, in most cases, it’s simply due to benign neglect: you are no longer under the jurisdiction of the “old country”, and have no future intention of exercising any rights there, so you don’t bother with the rules of their system. And of course, civilised countries do not presume guilt in such cases, nor impose life-altering fines on emigrants for failure to comply with obscure paperwork.
Rate of compliance with home-country single-citizenship laws
In the below table, I compare the number of naturalisations reported by the U.S. for immigrants from two countries which prohibit dual citizenship and which maintain very good statistics on losses of citizenship: South Korea and Japan. Along with Germany (whose government does not seem to publish renunciation statistics, and which has broader exceptions to its general prohibition of dual citizenship), these are the three single-citizenship OECD countries with the largest number of citizens naturalising in the U.S.
“Naturalisations reported by U.S.” are from the Department of Homeland Security’s 2012 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics. Sources for “losses of citizenship reported by former country” are given individually in each row; South Korea breaks down loss-of-citizenship statistics by other citizenship, while Japan (at least in the statistics which I could find) does not. The percentages are the second number divided by the first number; roughly speaking, this is the percentage of naturalisations of which the country of origin was notified. Note that in the South Korea Immigration Service yearbooks linked, nationality figures for 2010 and earlier are given in cumulative rather than annual form; I have converted them to annual numbers for the below table.
Table 1: U.S. naturalisations vs. Japanese & South Korean loss-of-citizenship figures
reported by U.S.
|Losses of citizenship
reported by former country
|South Korea||Japan||South Korea
|2005||19,223||2,154||567||KR: Tbl. 3.3
|2006||17,668||2,192||6,733||506||KR: Tbl. 3.2
|2007||17,628||1,934||8,541||608||KR: Tbl. 4.2
|2008||22,759||2,712||7,671||619||KR: Tbl. 4.2
|2009||17,576||2,192||8,397||628||KR: p. 717
|2010||11,170||1,622||8,971||583||KR: p. 607
|2011||12,664||1,744||9,561||712||KR: p. 603
|2012||13,790||1,663||9,800||711||KR: p. 617
Unlike with the notoriously-incomplete list of U.S. “expatriates” that the IRS publishes in the Federal Register, we have no a priori reason to distrust the DHS figures on naturalisation; among other factors, their statistics on green card abandonments have previously proven to be pretty sensible. Rather, discrepancies between DHS data on naturalisations and other countries’ data on losses of citizenship are probably due to those countries’ inability to enforce their laws against dual citizenship.
Between 2008 and 2010, the South Korean consulates seem to have improved their enforcement procedures somewhat. (Even then, they remains far from perfect; the dual citizenship of someone as high-profile as Chris Nam only came to light because he tried going into politics in South Korea.) You’ll notice that there was no massive spike in the South Korean reports of losses of citizenship as a result; rather, there was a sharp drop of more than 50% in the number of naturalisations reported by DHS, and only minor recovery since then. An effect of similar size can be observed in the opposite direction: in 2008 Belgium began to allow dual citizenship, and the number of U.S. naturalisations by Belgians in the following five years jumped to 2,959, against just 1,332 in the preceding five years.
From this data we can make two tentative forecasts. First, roughly half of recently-naturalised immigrants in the U.S. from rich countries allowing dual citizenship would have been unwilling to naturalise if that involved giving up their former citizenship. Second, absent strong enforcement by countries of origin, at least two-thirds of immigrants from single-citizenship countries who naturalise in the U.S. still end up holding on to their original citizenship.
Reasons for non-compliance
It’s much harder for a country to enforce a prohibition on dual citizenship for emigrants than for immigrants. Bureaucrats can require that an immigrant bring a renunciation certificate from his “old country” to the naturalisation ceremony, or that he submit one within a few months. But when it comes to emigrants, the only thing the consulate can do is to check whether they have valid residence visas in their passport for their country of residence, and these kinds of checks can often be evaded by renewing the passport during a visit to the “old country”. Bored consular officers could also perhaps dig through error-prone naturalisation lists in the public gazette or courthouse records to try to match up names, but who seriously has the motivation for that kind of effort? In the end, these systems rely on emigrants making self-reports of their new citizenship.
In some cases, lack of compliance with country-of-origin single-citizenship laws is indeed due to unwillingness to give up the old citizenship and its attendant benefits; there’s no hard data, only webforum anecdotes about how people transit through third countries during visits back to the “old country” in order to avoid the authorities back there from finding out about their new passport.
In other and perhaps most cases this is simply due to neglect: they never bother reporting their naturalisation to the consulate, but they also honestly avoid exercising any of the rights of their old citizenship, and when they go back home for a visit on their new passport, the authorities don’t match up the data and take official notice that a person they thought was their citizen is now someone else’s citizen. In short, they think of themselves as having lost their old citizenship while the government sees it very differently, but normally this discrepancy causes no problems for anyone.
Many Americans who naturalised in Canada, Australia, and other countries in the 1970s and 1980s took precisely this lackadaisical attitude towards what they thought of as their irrelevant former citizenship; they didn’t bother notifying Washington, but simply stopped voting in U.S. elections and started showing a Canadian driving licence when crossing the lightly-guarded border. This was back in the pre-Vance v. Terrazas days when the State Department interpreted applying for non-U.S. citizenship as nearly-irrefutable evidence of intent to relinquish U.S. citizenship, making the U.S. indeed a single-citizenship country with respect to its emigrants.
Those same emigrants are now scrambling to obtain documentation that they are no longer U.S. tax subjects so that they do not get thrown out of their banks and into the “Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program” where the IRS will try to confiscate their life’s savings as a penalty for freeloading on all those “great benefits” of U.S. citizenship abroad (like those mythical black helicopters come to rescue you from war zones).
Renunciation is a rare event. Very few people give up the citizenship of any first-world country, unless that country’s laws forbid dual citizenship. (And even then, many emigrants from such countries respond to those laws by holding on to their citizenship of origin and not naturalising in their new country, rather than renouncing their citizenship of origin; I’ll post more detailed statistics on that phenomenon next time.)
It’s also difficult for countries of origin to monitor compliance with their citizenship laws among people overseas. Many emigrants, after acquiring another citizenship, honestly no longer think of themselves as citizens of their countries of origin — even if they have not complied with the formal procedures for renunciation. Of course, civilised countries do not impose life-altering penalties for inadvertent non-fulfillment of obscure procedures, absent cases of outright fraud. The U.S., once again, proves to be “exceptional”.
It would be so much easier if the law stated that a person must take affirmative action to retain their previous citizenship when acquiring a new rather than the way it stands now. That way the burden is on those who wish to keep it rather than those who don’t want to, and those who do could be issued some sort of document stating their dual status. Lacking that would prove you are a single citizenship holder.
Of course, the USG couldn’t entrap as many potential funding donors that way.
@YogaGirl, I agree, but I finally understand that what happened was that the Supreme Court ruled that it was against the Constitution to strip a USC of their citizenship against their will. That caused the law changes, some of which were retroactive to un-do the constitutional “injustice”. Impossible to know, but I don’t imagine the Supreme Court had a tax and penalty grab in mind at the time. None of that really matters, as their attitude and behaviour now is nothing short of disgusting.
This is really tough to say, considering that some countries (e.g. Ireland) have it in their laws that Irish-born citizens who renounce their nationality have a legal right to reclaim it later upon and affirmation/declaration at an embassy. This is the case in other countries also.
Thus an individual can renounce, naturalize as a citizen of another country which demands all other citizenships and allegiances be severed, and then secretly reclaim that lost citizenship at any time.
why DC may not be asking the right questions:
Could Andrea be enticed to do an episode on CBT/RBT/FATCA ?
@Schweiz-Amerikaner Interesting what you say about Ireland. Essentially, Ireland and similar countries are saying that your citizenship is (subject to your qualifying for it in the first instance) entirely up to you, and not up to the declarations of government bureaucrats.
A logical extension of this position would be than any “accidental Irish person” is only a citizen of Ireland if, as an adult, he or she claims that citizenship actively. What a refreshing concept! The Irish are more humane and civilized than the Americans, on this dimension at least!
By extension, no “accidental American” should be considered an American unless they’ve actively claimed US citizenship as an adult.
Unfortunately, accidental Americans (duals at birth) often haven’t committed expatriating acts per se, they’ve “only” “neglected” to assert US citizenship. Until we hear of an accidental American who has succeeded in getting a relinquishment CLN without having sworn an oath of allegiance to a non-US government, we’ll have to assume the US is still holding accidental Americans in slavery. They can always renounce, but as we know that comes at significant costs compared with relinquishment pre-2004. Which is ironic — if they’d been born after 2004, they couldn’t relinquish or renounce because they aren’t yet old enough (nine years old or younger, at the moment). Some accidental Americans are probably older than some successful relinquishers (people born US-only but who took out non-USC or committed other expatriating acts with intent to relinquish) and have NOT been exercising USC for longer than some of the successful relinquishers have. But they can’t claim relinquishment.
I believe that until some time in the 1970s or 1980s, accidental Americans born of US parents outside the US had to reside in the US for at least two years between the ages of 18 and 24 or 25, in order to “activate” their USC, but it seem the courts struck that down somewhere along the way, or maybe the over-active do-gooders in organizations like American Citizens Abroad lobbied to get this changed, presuming that all American parents abroad actually want their foreign-born, technically-dual-citizen kids to be US citizens whether those kids want to be or not. Most Vietnam-war-era US immigrants to Canada who came here because of the war and registered their kids with a US consular office, did so believing the kids would have a choice in the matter when they turned 18, otherwise most of them would never have registered the kids. They didn’t want to make the choice for their kids, they wanted their kids to have the option and make their own choices. Which seemed a good and honourable position to take, at the time. Not in retrospect, alas.
What a dog’s breakfast of illogic and outrage the US and its Supreme Court have produced.
@YogaGirl Most countries–and the USA and Canada are certainly no exceptions–require a new citizen to take some kind of oath of allegiance upon naturalizing. If I had to guess, I would guess that the vast majority of people naturalizing would choose to keep their old citizenship. Yes, their primary national loyalty is now to the new country–but they still have some ties, especially family, to the old country. So given the choice, I’d say most would choose to keep the old citizenship as well. Not everyone gets that choice–but I think most would prefer to keep both.
Some Brockers may be an exception to this but I get the sense that even many Brockers would have preferred to keep US citizenship but it is simply becoming too difficult to do of late.
Also I think it worth point out that naturalizing in the new country–and then having to affirmatively reaffirm the old country’s citizenship–might be viewed differently (and less favorably) by the NEW country’s laws than just keeping the old citizenship by default. It might call into question the sincerity of the naturalization oath in a way that just retaining the old citizenship by default wouldn’t.
I think India–with its Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI)–may have got this figured out better than anyone else. It seems to me that OCI recognizes legally what the reality is in most cases: the person is mainly loyal to their new country, but they still have family in the old country and are reluctant to give up all ties to the old country. OCI allows former Indian citizens the right to move back to India for however long they need or want to–but without the full rights of ordinary Indian citizens.
@WhatAmI I think the new attitude is very similar to the old attitude actually–although I doubt the Supreme Court intended a tax grab. The attitude is that the USG simply isn’t very comfortable with the idea of dual citizenship. In the past this was done by claiming that a USC had relinquished citizenship. With the Supreme Court having closed the door on that, the USG has figured out a new way to discourage dual citizenship: through these burdensome tax issues. But it is ultimately more of the same old same old.
In many ways I DO think that the USG reflects the views of ordinary Americans at least in this regard. I never get the sense that born Americans are very comfortable with dual citizenship.
@Schweiz-Amerikaner Agreed. I’m not sure if I like Ireland’s laws in this regard, though. The reclamation appears to only be for those born in Ireland–thus suggesting a sort of second class status for those born outside Ireland. In the US and Canada there is–officially at least–no second class status for citizens born outside the country, except in the rare case of US citizens who might have a chance of becoming President.
@schubert1975 In the case of Irish citizens, it depends which generation born abroad we are talking about.
The children of someone born in Ireland are automatically Irish citizens without getting the chance to choose.
The grandchildren of someone born in Ireland only become Irish citizens by choosing to apply for it.
Thus, I–with an Irish born grandmother–am an Irish citizen by choice, although I never done anything with my Irish status. OTOH my father is an Irish citizen whether he likes it or not–and I get the sense he doesn’t particularly like it, although it doesn’t create any real problems so is not a big issue.
Dash1729, I know this but I am not convinced that requiring affirmative action to retain native citizenship when one naturalizes somewhere else is the wrong approach. You should have to think about the ramifications for yourself and your children that duality causes.
But I agree that people in North America are not cool with dual citizenship. Native Canadians are just as frowny-faced about duals as Americans are. It’s seen as bet-hedging and having one foot out the door. Hanging out for the good times but ready to bail like rats on a sinking ship if needs be.
The USA, however, has pretty much always viewed citizenship – even birth citizenship – as an active contract between citizens and the state. I think Thomas Jefferson wrote about it even. People are certainly indoctrinated via public schools to believe that being an American is a choice they made though that is laughable b/c only a handful of Americans ever get the chance to put that choice thing to the test by living outside the US.
We’ve talked here before about the importance of dominant nationality/citizenship and it’s too bad that the idea of where you plant your roots isn’t considered at all by the USG.
WhatAmI, the Supreme Court merely placed the spin of the day on that particular issue and at the time, taxes likely played no part at all, but like most things in the USA, someone always figures out a way to make money out of even the most unlikely things. The USG is no exception.
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@YogaGirl I agree that no one should consider dual citizenship without considering the ramifications, but I honestly think most people naturalizing (in whatever country) have thought through those ramifications and have made their decision. I’m not sure that it would really add much value to have a second process to retain the original citizenship unless the original citizenship is to be changed in some way–as, for example, is the case with former Indian citizens applying for Overseas Citizenship of India.
The thing is that I think most people understand the ramifications when they naturalize–but the problem is that sometimes those ramifications change years or decades later when citizenship issues are no longer on the person’s mind.
Decades ago, nobody thought about the idea that they might be keeping US citizenship, because they thought at the time that acquiring Canadian citizenship meant they were automatically relinquishing US citizenship. And they didn’t know anything about CBT because it was enforced very lightly if at all.
But I’m sure almost everyone moving from the US to Canada in the late sixties or early seventies was very, very aware of the fact that the US had a military draft and Canada did not.
My point is that most people, I think, are very aware of the current legal issues involving dual citizenship at the time they naturalize–so at a certain point having repeated hoop-jumping to ensure people are informed has diminishing returns. It’s years later when they are no longer thinking about dual citizenship that problems often come up.