According to Department of Homeland Security statistics, from 1986 to 2013, more than three thousand people born in the U.S. obtained U.S. green cards, with the level in the past five years rising to roughly 230 per year after a long decline in the 1980s and 1990s.
Some of these (at least a few hundred, and possibly many more) are U.S.-born children of diplomats, who don’t receive U.S. citizenship at birth, but can apply for green cards fairly easily. However, it’s certain that former U.S. citizens by jus soli are also present in these statistics — there have been a few cases documented in the media, though the total number is unclear.
In any case, given that tens of thousands of American emigrants gave up their citizenship during that same period, it seems the “reverse migration” rate from among that group is not very high (though of course, some ex-U.S. citizens obtaining green cards may have been born in other countries, and so wouldn’t show up in these green card statistics).
|Source of data: Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Table 3, for years 1998, 2003, and 2013|
- Ex-citizens vs. diplomats’ kids
- Green cards for 1907–1945 ex-citizens
- U.S.-born green card recipients by age
- And by broad class of admission
- Adjustment of status
- Refugees and asylees
Although the State Department produces a detailed Report of the Visa Office each year giving by-country breakdowns of the types of green cards granted, it does not include the United States in its country of birth statistics for visa issuance. (Note that “country of birth” is distinct from “country of chargeability”; of course the U.S. would not appear as a country of chargeability, but many of State’s visa statistics are explicitly tabulated on the basis of country of birth and not country of chargeability.) This might be another limb of State’s efforts not to maintain (or at least not to release) any statistical records relating to former U.S. citizens, or mere laziness.
The Department of Homeland Security, however, is much more thorough, and includes the United States as a country/region of birth in its annual Profiles on Legal Permanent Residents. (For 2003 and 2004 DHS even listed the statistics for American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands separately from the rest of the United States. Then they stopped, at least for Puerto Rico. Maybe someone in State yelled at them. In any case, I did not add the numbers from those three territories into the above statistics; I’m not sure if DHS did for some years.)
Note that not all U.S.-born people who receive green cards are former U.S. citizens who gave up U.S. citizenship. Some people born in the U.S. — the children of diplomats — are not entitled to U.S. citizenship at birth; however, they can apply for a green card if they have resided continuously in the U.S. since birth. The regulations for this category of green card are at 8 CFR 101.3 and 264.2, and were first issued in 1982 (47 FR 940). As stated in Nikoi v. Attorney General, 939 F.2d 1065 (DC Cir., 1991), even prior to the issuance of those regulations the Immigration & Naturalization Service had been treating U.S.-born children of diplomats as permanent residents since the 1940s; the judge there cited two relevant INS decisions, namely Matter of Huang, 11 I&N Dec. 190 (R.C. 1965) and Matter of Chu, 14 I&N Dec. 241 (R.C. 1972). Of course, diplomats’ U.S.-born kids can also obtain any other category of green card for which they qualify by reason of close relatives living in the U.S., job skills, etc.
Mark Krikorian and John Feere of the Center for Immigration Studies, a U.S. immigration-restrictionist organisation, have claimed the U.S. government is doing a very poor job at preventing diplomats’ kids from fraudulently applying for U.S. passports, which would bypass the need for them to obtain green cards.
One trend in the above statistics was probably driven by ex-U.S. citizens rather than diplomats’ kids: the mild decrease from 1986 to 1990, followed by an immediate sharp drop of 43% in green card issuances to U.S.-born people in 1991, and an even further decline to less than a quarter of the late 1980s level by 1999. Terrazas v. Vance, 444 U.S. 252 (1980), which established the principle that a statutorily-expatriating act must be accompanied by intent to give up citizenship in order for it to actually result in relinquishment, probably contributed to a decline throughout the 1980s as the State Department and emigrants alike began to understand its impact. Then, 1990 was the year in which the Bureau of Consular Affairs adopted its present assumption of intent to retain citizenship in most cases.
These changes meant that many ex-citizens seeking to move back to the U.S. could have applied for a review of the previous findings of loss of nationality rather than seek green cards. See 7 FAM 1230 for the State Department’s standards for such reviews. Revenue Ruling 92-109 protects people who earlier received a formal finding of loss of nationality and later reclaim U.S. citizenship from having to pay back taxes for any year in which they were deemed to be non-citizens up until 1993. However, it does not protect those who assumed they lost U.S. citizenship after discussing the matter informally with a lawyer or consular officer but did not obtain formal U.S. documentation of that fact.
Individuals who lost their United States citizenship and had (or have) it retroactively restored before January 1, 1993, will not be held liable for federal income taxes as United States citizens between the date they lost their United States citizenship and the beginning of the taxable year when their citizenship was (or is) restored, and will not be held liable for federal gift taxes as United States citizens between the date they lost their United States citizenship and January 1 of the calendar year when their citizenship was (or is) restored …
Individuals who lost their United States citizenship and have it retroactively restored after December 31, 1992, will not be held liable for federal income taxes as United States citizens between the date they lost their United States citizenship and the beginning of their first taxable year beginning after December 31, 1992, and will not be held liable for federal gift taxes as United States citizens between the date they lost their United States citizenship and January 1, 1993.
Unfortunately, I don’t know of any evidence which would help decide whether the sharp growth in applicants for such green cards after 2005 was driven by diplomats’ kids or by ex-U.S. citizens.
Countries as varied as Denmark, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the Philippines allow former citizens or their descendants to apply for special “diaspora visas” or to resume their citizenship easily after having renounced it. This is a simple humanitarian gesture to allow emigrants to come back to attend their high school reunions, see their nephews grow up, attend a higher education course in the language of their childhood, and care for their parents in their dying days. These policies also ensure that parents’ decisions about their nationality don’t limit their children’s opportunities. In contrast, the U.S.’ Immigration and Nationality Act provides special immigrant visas — SC-1 and SC-2 visas — for only two narrow categories of former U.S. citizens.
SC-1 visas can be granted to “certain persons who lost U.S. citizenship by marriage”. Under the Expatriation Act of 1907, a woman could lose U.S. citizenship by marrying any foreigner; the Cable Act of 1922 restricted this to marriages in which the husband was not “eligible to naturalization”, i.e. marriages with Asian men, or in theory marriages with draft evaders (though I’ve never heard of the Cable Act provision actually being applied that way). This persisted until the Nationality Act of 1940.
SC-2 visas are for “certain persons who lost U.S. citizenship by serving in foreign armed forces”. For the first time in the history of U.S. nationality law, the Nationality Act of 1940 named foreign military service as grounds for loss of citizenship, but a few years later Congress created simplified procedures for those who had served in the military of allied states during World War II to re-immigrate to the U.S. and regain citizenship.
According to the Report of the Visa Office — specifically, Table IX, “Special Immigrant Visas Issued (by Area of Birth)” for each year — no SC visas have been issued since 2000. Anyone who was old enough to have served in World War II or get married before 1940 was at least in their mid-70s by the turn of the millennium, and is now closer to their 90s. Those who wanted to move back to the U.S. already did so decades ago, and the remainder are not likely at their age to be interested in picking themselves up and moving halfway around the world to a foreign country. The only possible exception I can think of is if they are unable to care for themselves and all of their surviving dependents have moved to the United States, which should be a rather rare situation. Furthermore, as mentioned above, many people in those two categories of ex-citizens probably could have skipped the step of getting a green card and applied instead for a review of the previous finding of loss of nationality.
Note: in this and all following tables, “D” means that the Department of Homeland Security did not disclose the exact number for that category of data for that particular year. I believe they do this for privacy reasons in the event that a person is the only green card recipient in a particular category or one of only a very small number. (The original tables were broken down by gender, and sometimes they gave a number for men but a “D” for women, or vice-versa; those are the ones I’ve listed as “greater than or equal to” in the table below.)
|Year||< 18||18–24||25–34||35–44||45–54||55–64||≥ 65||Total|
For two reasons, it’s likely that all the U.S.-born people under age 18 who received green cards are diplomats’ kids; however, the older ones might be either diplomats’ kids who’d moved away and are now coming back, or they might be ex-citizens.
As Phil Hodgen has discussed, the State Department apparently makes it very difficult for minors to relinquish U.S. citizenship. (This contrasts with the practice in many other countries.) A minor born in the U.S. to a non-diplomat parent is almost certain to remain ineligible for a green card before reaching the age of majority; the Foreign Affairs Manual (specifically, 7 FAM 085(c)) instructs consular officers that potential claims to U.S. citizenship must be resolved before an applicant can receive a green card. Unlike jus sanguinis cases, jus soli cases are easily resolved: all State has to do is to check the applicant’s parents’ names against the “Blue List”, and if the names do not appear and the applicant does not prove a later expatriating act, the State Department concludes that the applicant is a U.S. citizen.
Furthermore, in order to be eligible for the “diplomat’s kid” green card, the applicant must prove continuous residence in the U.S. since birth. As 8 CFR 101.3(d) puts it:
To be eligible for lawful permanent resident status under paragraph (a) of this section, an alien must establish that he/she has not abandoned his/her residence in the United States. One of the tests for retention of lawful permanent resident status is continuous residence, not continuous physical presence, in the United States. Such a person will not be considered to have abandoned his/her residence in the United States solely by having been admitted to the United States in a nonimmigrant classification under paragraph (15)(A) or (15)(G) of section 101(a) of the Act after a temporary stay in a foreign country or countries on one or several occasions.”
In other words, diplomat’s kids need not have been under diplomatic visas for their entire lives prior to applying for their green cards; they could have remained in the U.S. under student visas after their parents’ diplomatic assignment ended, or their parents might have left government service and stayed in the U.S. under non-diplomatic non-immigrant status (e.g. as treaty investors) with their kids as dependents. However, it’s more likely that if the kids were eligible and they or their parents wanted them to remain in the U.S., they’d apply sooner rather than later, in order to save themselves the trouble of ongoing non-immigrant visa renewals.
USCIS apparently classifies the green card granted to diplomats’ children as a family-based green card; it lists it on its page “Green Card Through Special Categories of Family”. I’m not sure whether that means they’d be under “family-sponsored preferences” or “other” in the above table. It’s not impossible that they even got put under “employment-based preferences”. Note that all of those categories are smaller than the number of underage green card recipients green cards in each given year. This might mean that there are actually some minors who successfully relinquish U.S. citizenship and later get green cards, or these might simply be diplomats’ kids returning to the U.S. under some other green card category.
The vast majority of U.S.-born green card recipients belong to none of those categories: instead they are immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, which is a non-numerically-limited category. (In U.S. immigration parlance, adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens are not “immediate relatives” but “family preference immigrants”.) A diplomat’s kid might also obtain a green card in this category, by marrying a U.S. citizen (certainly a possibility if they’ve grown up in the U.S. and thus speak English and are familiar with American culture), or if a parent remarried a U.S. citizen during the kid’s minority. The emigrants in this category are probably spouses rather than minor children since, as mentioned above, emigrant minors generally find it impossible to secure U.S. government recognition of their relinquishments of U.S. citizenship, and so they wouldn’t be obtaining green cards in the first place.
Most U.S.-born persons get their green cards by adjustment of status (i.e. applying within the United States to USCIS or the old INS) rather than at a consulate overseas. Up until 2002, Tables 10 and 11 provided detailed breakdowns of characteristics of people who gained permanent residence through adjustment of status.
First, based on Table 11, “Immigrants admitted in fiscal year 1998, by calendar year of entry, type of admission, and region and selected country of birth”:
|Adjustment of status (years since arrival)|
|< 1||< 2||< 3||< 4||< 5||< 6||< 7||< 8||< 9||< 10||≥ 10||Not
Second, based on Table 10, “Immigrants admitted who were adjusted to permanent resident status by selected status at entry and region and selected country of birth”. Diplomats’ kids were probably mostly in the “other/unknown” category, though I’m not quite sure if the table uses first entry or most recent entry to the United States (if it uses most recent entry, then diplomats’ kids might also be in the student visa category).
If you are wondering what all these visa abbreviations mean, the State Department used to include a complete list of abbreviations and their corresponding INA sections with the annual Report of the Visa Office; unfortunately, the last time they did so was in 2007, and the last time they actually bothered posting the table online was in 2003. I’ve included a legend below the table.
|B-1 or VWP||Visitor for business (including with advance visa or on Visa Waiver Program)||B-2 or VWP||Visitor for pleasure (including with advance visa or on Visa Waiver Program)|
|F, M||Student||H||Temporary worker|
|Other, unknown||“Other” and “unknown” were listed separately in the the 2001/2002 DHS tables, but I have combined them for all years in the above table. “Other” might include J-visa exchange visitors, who were broken out separately in the 1998–2000 DHS tables. There were no U.S.-born exchange visitors admitted to the U.S. in those years.|
Finally, in 2006 the overall by-country breakdowns started including information on the number of people adjusted to permanent residence status (though no detailed information on their earlier entry status or year). These continued to show that only a tiny number of people got their green cards before arriving in the U.S.: 13 in 2006, 10 in 2007, 12 in 2008, 16 in 2009, 11 in 2010, 5 in 2011, and 6 in 2012, for a total of 73 (4.4%) in those seven years.
As you can see from the above statistics, between 1998 and 2002 five U.S.-born people entered the U.S. without inspection and later obtained green cards. Homelanders on the Internet sometimes claim that they’re going to renounce U.S. citizenship and sneak back into the country as illegal immigrants in order to claim alleged benefits, but it’s more likely that these five U.S.-born border hoppers were diplomats’ kids who moved back to their parents’ country, fled back to the U.S. as asylum-seekers, but then found some other way to adjust status. These I discuss further in the following section.
A small proportion of U.S.-born people receiving green cards are refugees & asylees.
Previous editions of the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics included information on the country of birth of refugees & asylees who received green cards, though no breakdown on other classes of green card holders by country of birth. The 2004 data (Table 21) show that data was not available for U.S.-born refugees & asylees granted U.S. green cards from 1946 to 1970 and 1981 to 1990; in the years for which data was available, five were granted for 1971–1980, 20 for 1991–2000, four for 2001–2003, and nine in 2004 alone. Statistics for years 2003–2012 were presented in the table above, and showed a sharp increase in the number of refugees & asylees: at least sixty-five between 2006 and 2010, compared to less than half that many in the preceding three-and-a-half decades.
My guess is that it’s far more likely that these are children of diplomats than former U.S. citizens. When a government in an unstable country falls, élites associated with the old régime — such as former ambassadors to the United States and their families — often face persecution and seek asylum in other countries where they have connections. In contrast, most American emigrants who moved to unstable countries probably retained their U.S. citizenship; the ones who gave up U.S. citizenship probably were or became citizens of stable countries which have better track records on human rights, and so they would find it difficult to make a successful claim for refugee status abroad.
Although the number of U.S.-born people obtaining green cards has grown to about twice its level from three decades ago following a decline in the 1990s, the number of those naturalising as U.S. citizens does not seem to follow any particular trend. The below table is compiled from DHS’ statistics in in its 2004 and 2013 reports on naturalisation. Considering that all 867 U.S.-born people who got green cards in 2011–2013, as well as all the non-marital immigrants in 2009 and 2010, wouldn’t have yet met the residence requirements to naturalise in the U.S. by the end of 2013, this means that about half of the U.S.-born immigrants to the United States since 1986 who are eligible to naturalise have not yet done so.
It’s not unheard of for people who voluntarily gave up U.S. citizenship to later regain it by naturalisation; however, most examples I could find, such as Hope Cooke and Elizabeth Taylor, are from the 1980s or earlier. In more recent years, some ex-citizens have stated that re-naturalisation is quite difficult. This was discussed, for example, in a Korea Times article which I translated a couple of years ago here:
There’s also the case of Korean-American Federation of Los Angeles president Lee Young-tae, who gave up U.S. citizenship to run in the 18th general election in 2008.
After Lee lost out in his bid for a seat on the Grand National Party list, he obtained an E-2 investor visa through the nursing home which he had founded, and has now got his permanent residence back. Lee stated, “I received permanent residence, but getting citizenship back again is not so easy.” …
Lawyer Lee Seung-woo stated that “If you give up citizenship, you don’t become a permanent resident but instead you lose your residence status entirely” and that “in order to get citizenship again, you have to start the process all the way over from the beginning, but the fact that you were formerly a citizen can be a disadvantage”.
Similarly, Michael Oren, who renounced U.S. citizenship to become Israel’s ambassador in Washington, was also apparently told it would be impossible to become a U.S. citizen again, and that the best he could hope for was a green card (see here and here). So it’s likely that most of the people born in the U.S. who naturalise as U.S. citizens are the children of diplomats, rather than ex-citizens. There are a few people (Taiwanese politicians with family members in the U.S.) who stated that they were able to re-naturalise as U.S. citizens after renouncing, though as they were born in Taiwan rather than in the U.S., they’re not included in the above statistics.