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Immigration Law Blog

Exploring the ins and outs of immigration.

New Year, New Citizenship Too?

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The start of a new year brings to mind lots of different goals. Perhaps one of yours is to receive U.S. citizenship. In today’s blog post, we discuss a common question we get about applying for U.S. citizenship. That is, whether it is possible to have dual citizenship or dual nationality. In other words, can you be a citizen of two countries? Read on to learn more.

Can I Keep My Old Passport?

Some of our clients cannot wait to get rid of their old country’s passport. For them, they either have lost a connection to their country of citizenship or it only bring to mind sad memories. However, some of our clients are reluctant to let go of their old passports. This can be for sentimental reasons or practical ones. For example, a return trip to the home country on an American passport could mean needing a visa or going through a longer customs line than nationals.

Therefore, we are often asked if a person can keep their old passport after they become a U.S. citizen. The answer is yes, but with some important reservations. U.S. law does not explicitly prohibit dual citizenship. However, they strongly discourage it. U.S. law and policy has also in the past worked to limit it. 

Thus, the official U.S. policy is of reluctance acceptance. Why is this? Here are the main reasons as quoted in the Foreign Affairs Manual:

  1. Dual nationality may hamper efforts by the U.S. government to provide diplomatic and consular protection abroad;
  2. When a U.S. citizen is in the other country of dual nationality, that country has the predominant claim on the person and that country has the right to assert its claim without interference from the U.S. government;
  3. When a U.S. citizen is in the other country of dual nationality, the person owes paramount allegiance to that country.

As you can see, the main points of concern are about what to do when a U.S. citizen is overseas and gets into trouble. One particularly striking example is that of the fate of dual U.S. citizens in Iran. You can read about them here and the issues the U.S. has had in trying to protect them. Keep in mind that what other countries have to say on dual citizenship may be different. You can read about those laws here

But What About the Oath?

You may be remembering at this point that you are required to take an oath of citizenship when you naturalize. It is a good idea to make sure you understand the oath requirement before applying for U.S. citizenship. It requires that you “renounce” your allegiance to other countries. This can require some explanation if you intend to keep your old passport. Namely, that you understand that your primary allegiance will be to the U.S. 

Things to Keep in Mind About Dual Citizenship

Even if you have another passport, U.S. citizens are required to enter and leave the U.S. using their American passports. You can chose to present another passport upon entering a new country but bear in the mind the points above.

The U.S. has also signed a number of agreements with other countries that may limit the protection you can receive overseas. Do your homework before traveling overseas and start with the State Department’s fact sheet on dual citizenship. 

For U.S. citizens born in the U.S. who are eligible for citizenship elsewhere, the good news is that simply applying for proof of that citizenship will not lead to the loss of your citizenship. It bears mentioning a few examples of what will lead to the lost of U.S. citizenship. The most straightforward is going to an Embassy and formally renouncing it. Also serving in the armed forces of a country at war with the U.S. Another example is accepting a policy level job with a foreign government. You can read a more complete explanation about the loss of U.S. citizenship here

Conclusion

Traveling the world can be a lot easier when you hold more than one citizenship. Yet, it is important to consider the limited risks involved when presenting a non-American passport overseas. We hope this information has been helpful. For further questions, please contact us at admin@whitlockgray.com or reach out to one of our attorneys through their bio pages.