How does Dual Citizenship Work

Many immigrants often ask themselves whether they can retain citizenship in their home countries after being granted US citizenship, a status known as dual or double citizenship. (In the US, the term “dual citizenship” is more commonly used).

While acquiring dual citizenship is a complicated topic in US immigration law, it is theoretically possible to be an American citizen while retaining your previous nationality, provided you meet certain prerequisites.

But what exactly does it mean to have dual US citizenship? And just how does dual citizenship work when you become an American?

The Difference Between Citizenship and Dual Citizenship

Citizenship is defined as the act of being a legally recognized subject of a sovereign state or commonwealth. Generally speaking, you are a national of whatever country you were born in: people born in France are French nationals, those born in Kenya are Kenyan citizens, etc.

When a child is born abroad, however, the rules can be somewhat more complex: a child born to US citizens on holiday in a foreign country will be considered an American citizen, for example, in addition to possibly being considered a citizen of whatever country he or she was born in.

You can also become a citizen voluntarily through a process called naturalization. In the United States, the citizenship process has a lot of requirements and starts with the citizenship application (USCIS Form N-400) and culminates with the naturalization ceremony, after which you are officially considered an American.

It is also possible to retain the citizenship of two separate countries. The US State Department defines dual citizenship as the concept whereby a person is a national (ie, citizen) of two countries at the same time. Until 1967, the United States did not actually permit dual citizenship, and while it’s not encouraged (as it may cause problems at the bureaucratic level), it is legal and may thus be granted, provided that certain requirements are met.

US Law and Dual Citizenship

Every country or territory in the world is responsible for setting its own policies when it comes to administering dual citizenships. US law does not currently require you to choose one nationality over the other when you decide to become an American citizen, which means that in most cases you can retain the citizenship of your country of birth and still be a citizen of the United States at the same time.

US Dual Citizenship Allowed

During the US naturalization ceremony, you will recite the Oath of Allegiance, effectively renouncing your ties and allegiance “...to any foreign prince…[or] state.” But while you verbally renounce the citizenship you held in your former country, in practice you still technically retain it in addition to your acquired American citizenship. Plus, additional paperwork and fees are usually required to fully renounce one’s citizenship: simply reciting an oath or becoming a naturalized citizen of another country is generally not enough.

You should also be aware that becoming a citizen of the US and possessing double citizenship status may make different issues arise. American citizens, for example, need to be in possession of a valid passport issued by US immigration services; the other country that you’re a citizen of may also have a different passport requirement.

Males with dual US citizenship aged 18-25 are also required to register with the American Selective Service System regardless of the citizenship status you may have with another country.

Ways to Acquire Double US Citizenship

Dual US citizenship can be acquired in one of two ways. Under the legal concept of jus soli, American citizenship is automatically granted to anyone born within or subject to the jurisdiction of the United States regardless of the citizenship of the parents. (The US is not the only country with this policy, by the way. For example, a child born in Peru automatically becomes a Peruvian citizen regardless of whether or not his/her parents are Peruvian nationals.) This means that in most cases, a child born in the US to parents who are not American citizens acquires both US citizenship as well as the citizenship of the parents’ home country.

Dual citizenship also sometimes occurs as a result of naturalization, when you voluntarily become an American citizen. As mentioned above, even if you renounce your previous country when you take the Oath of Allegiance, in most cases you will still retain it unless you explicitly file formal paperwork in this regard. In these instances, you will then (generally, and in practice) retain two citizenships: your old one, as well as your newly-acquired American citizenship and all the rights and benefits that pertain to it.

Many immigrants considering becoming an American citizen oftentimes hesitate to begin the citizenship process because they mistakenly believe they need to renounce their previous nationality first. However, dual citizenship is indeed legal, and immigrants who wish to hang on to their previous citizenship are not obligated to renounce it once they become American citizens.

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