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Dual Citizenship: A Primer

The concept of dual citizenship or dual nationality refers to an individual who is a national of two countries at the same time. Being a citizen of two countries comes with its own benefits but also raises certain unique disadvantages that nationals of single country do not experience.


Does the U.S. recognize dual citizenship?


At the outset, it is important to note that under U.S. law, there is no mention of dual citizenship or a requirement that a person choose one nationality over another. Indeed, a U.S. Citizen may naturalize in a foreign country without any fear or risk to their status as Citizens. Conversely, individuals who become naturalized U.S. Citizens do not automatically lose their status as nationals of their home countries as there is no requirement that a naturalized citizen relinquish citizenship in their country of origin.


Advantages of Dual Citizenship


  • A benefit of having dual citizenship lies in the immigration and visa policies of the country you intend on traveling to. Some of these policies affect individuals of certain nationalities different from others. For example, U.S. Citizens can enter Brazil freely, with their U.S. passport, without need to apply for a visa. On the other hand, a Cuban citizen would need to apply for a visa to enter Brazil.

  • Dual citizens are eligible to receive the benefits and perks they are entitled to by virtue of being citizens. This includes the right to live, work, and vote in each country they hold citizenship in.

  • Property ownership is another benefit of dual citizenship in countries that restrict land ownership to citizens.


Drawbacks of Dual Citizenship


  • Dual nationals are required to obey the laws of both countries and owe allegiance to each country they are a national of. While following the law is not ordinarily something I would classify as a disadvantage, it can arise to that level where complying with the law jeopardizes one’s nationality in another country. For example, if you are a citizen of the United States and a citizen of a country that has mandatory military service, there is a risk of losing your U.S. citizenship if you serve as an officer for a foreign country that is engaged in war with the U.S. While this is a narrow risk, it still exists and thus is a potential disadvantage for dual nationals.

  • Double taxation is another disadvantage that can come into play for dual nationals. The U.S. government imposes taxes on its citizens for any income their earn worldwide. A dual national living in their country of dual residence may be required to pay taxes to both the United States and their respective country as a result of their dual national status. While there are some income tax treaties in effect which may reduce or eliminate this risk of double taxation, it is still a disadvantage to being a dual national.

  • Dual national status can also raise a barrier to certain employment opportunities in the United States government. Many U.S. governmental positions require security clearances which a dual national may be unable to obtain by virtue of their allegiance to a foreign country.

  • An additional consequence of being a U.S. national and a national of a foreign state lies in the use of a U.S. passport to enter or leave the United States.

  • Finally, certain countries may not recognize the dual citizenship of their citizens and individuals who have become U.S. citizens may lose their citizenship in their home countries.

Applying for Citizenship in the United States


Section 101(a)(22) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides that “the term ‘national of the United States’ means (A) a citizen of the United States, or (B) a person who, though not a citizen of the United States, owes permanent allegiance to the United States.”


Non-citizens lawful permanent residents who meet all citizenship requirements may apply for naturalization. Generally speaking, most individuals are eligible within three to five years after being admitted as a lawful permanent resident. Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, is the USCIS form used to apply for citizenship.


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