What are Some Issues with Dual Citizenship?

With the increase in globalization around the world, issues of diplomacy naturally arise as citizens of different countries travel, work, and otherwise interact with the people and governments of other countries.  Each country has its own laws and policies on citizenship which can conflict with those of another country. Although the United States and several other countries allow and recognize dual citizenship, a majority of countries do not.  Dual citizenship can be gained in a variety of ways, including:

  1. By Birth – Some countries grant automatic citizenship to children born there.  Relatedly, children born in the United States to parents originally from another country may gain both U.S. citizenship and the citizenship of the parents.  Exceptions to this rule are the children of diplomats born in the country in which their parents work.
  2. By Naturalization – Some countries allow their citizens to gain citizenship in another country and still keep their original citizenship, though some countries force naturalized citizens to renounce their previous citizenship.
  3. By Marriage – Dual citizenship can be acquired by marrying the citizen of another country.  In this case, most countries do not consider the dual citizenship voluntary and will allow the dual citizenship even if their normal policy disallows it.
  4. By Treaty – Certain countries have agreements that grant dual citizenship between the signatories.
  5. By Default –If a person’s original country of citizenship is unaware of a person’s dual citizenship, it is possible to keep the citizenship from both countries.

With conflicting rules and policies, dual citizenship can sometimes be allowed but undesirable in terms of diplomatic policy, which is the outlook of the United States government.  A dual citizen, for example, may present a problem if one country’s claims on a citizen conflict with those of the United States. Additionally, dual citizens are required to obey both the laws of the United States and their second country of citizenship and both countries have the right to enforce their laws and policies, especially while the dual citizen is present there.  Generally speaking, a dual citizen is considered a citizen of whichever country in which he or she is currently present. 

For example:

Josh is a citizen of the United States through birth and also a citizen of El Salvador by descent on his mother’s side.  While in the United States, Josh must follow the rules of the U.S. El Salvador will have very little claim over Josh if any issues arise.  Likewise, when Josh is in El Salvador, he will be treated as a Salvadoran citizen and the U.S. may be limited in its effort to assist Josh if he encounters problems while in El Salvador.

In the example above, each country had the right over Josh while he was present in their country.  However, a problem arises if, for example, Josh goes on a vacation to Brazil and gets arrested while there.  Which country has the right to intervene in this situation? Generally, the country in which Josh has more ties will have more of a claim to provide Josh with consular protection in this case.  To determine stronger ties of nationality, the United Nations, under the 1930 Hague Convention on Nationality, will evaluate factors such as: habitual residence, family ties, participation of public life, center of interests, education of their children, etc.  These sorts of diplomatic issues are often dealt with on a case by case basis and it is possible that the United States and the other country of citizenship both provide protection for their common citizen.

Military Obligations

In the United States, military service in another country does not exempt you from military obligations in the United States.  Conflicting military obligations can be threaten U.S. citizenship if, for example, a person’s second country of citizenship goes to war with the United States.  Under U.S. law, anyone with U.S. citizenship who serves for an enemy country’s military during wartime will automatically lose his or her U.S. citizenship.


Dual citizens often times hold passports from both of his or her countries of citizenship.  The United States requires that its citizens use a U.S. passport to both leave and enter the United States.  Other countries may also have similar rules in place for their citizens. Using a foreign passport does not endanger U.S. citizenship.

Security Clearance for Federal Employment

For positions within the federal government that involve access to classified information, dual citizenship may present a security issue.  Cases involving classified information will always side with the interests of national security. While having U.S. citizenship is required to have access to classified information, having U.S. citizenship does not mean you will automatically be granted that access.  The Department of State (DOS) takes a “whole person” approach when determining access to classified information, meaning they look at a person’s background and weigh the good and bad on a case by case basis. The possible danger to the Department of State is that of divided loyalty.  The DOS must ensure that the U.S. citizen does not have a preference for another country since he or she could be more likely to divulge information to the preferred country. Some factors that might raise concern are:

  1. Having dual citizenship, possessing a foreign passport
  2. Using another country’s passport
  3. Military service for another country
  4. Accepting benefits from another country (medical, educational, retirement, welfare, etc.)
  5. Prolonged residence in a foreign country
  6. Seeking or holding office in another country
  7. Voting in another country’s elections
  8. Otherwise serving in the interests of another country over those of the United States

However, other factors can work to alleviate any security concerns the DOS may have:

  1. Dual citizenship not voluntary but based on birth or marriage
  2. Signs of preference for a foreign country took place before the person became a U.S. citizen
  3. The activities in question were sanctioned by the U.S.
  4. The person has shown or expressed a willingness to renounce his or her dual citizenship

Resolving Dual Citizenship

Since most countries do not recognize dual citizenship, there are several ways countries might resolve dual citizenship:

  1. Majority Divestiture – Dual citizen must decide which citizenship to keep when a certain age is reached
  2. Generational Requirement – Citizenship by descent limited to first or second generations of individuals born and residing abroad
  3. Registration – Not registering a child after birth can make it very hard for the child to later acquire the citizenship of that or possibly another country
  4. Delayed Conferment of Citizenship – Persons not born in the country of their parent’s citizenship may gain that citizenship as soon as they denounce any other citizenship
  5. Diplomatic Restrictions – Children of diplomats prevented from acquiring citizenship through birth in the country in which their parents are working due to international law
  6. Restriction By Law – Forbidden to become naturalized in a foreign state except without the original country’s permission.  Upon permission, the person loses citizenship of the original country
  7. Administrative Option – A country may grant conditional freedom of expatriation and automatically release from its allegiance person who become naturalized citizens of another country.

Dual citizenship carries several advantages and disadvantages with it.  It also carries with it a complexity of diplomatic issues that could put your U.S. citizenship at risk.  Before deciding to become a dual or multiple citizen, investigate the citizenship laws of the other country and understand the implications involved when adopting or maintaining another country’s citizenship.