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Dual Citizenship Laws

Tam was wondering how two Americans, recently killed in the hostilities in Gaza, were legally serving in the IDF while retaining citizenship. I am far from an expert in this, but there have been a number of Supreme Court cases involving this topic of dual-citizenship for those of you interested. But my understanding boils down to this: you generally won’t lose your citizenship unless you renounce it or take some action in a manner that shows intent to give up citizenship. US law and policy is generally favorable for people holding dual-citizenship, residing abroad, and serving compulsory military service, which Israel requires. I also think you can even join a foreign military voluntarily, since routine oaths are generally not sufficient to cause the loss of citizenship.

What’s interesting is that the State Department policy that allows one to keep citizenship as a result of a “routine oath” is just that — State Department policy. The case law is less clear as to when one renounces one’s US citizenship or not. Take the case of Vance v. Terrazas, where a dual-US/Mexican national lost his US citizenship when he signed a form having to reaffirm his Mexican citizenship when he went to college there.

What does this have to do with guns? I direct you to question 11(j) on ATF Form 4473, “Have you ever renounced your United States citizenship?” I’m not sure there’s much case law on prosecutions for lying on 11(j), but I could be wrong. I think serving compulsory military service of your dual country is probably fine, but if you voluntarily joined a foreign military, or took any action that could be interpreted, through preponderance of the evidence, that you had intent to give up your citizenship, you could find yourself facing a long time in federal prison if you answer that question incorrectly on 4473. It’s a good idea for dual citizens to be cognizant of any oaths or actions that may have been taken that could be interpreted as intent to surrender citizenship.

10 Responses to “Dual Citizenship Laws”

  1. Dano says:

    My kid is a dual citizen and my wife is going through the naturalization process now. She’ll retain her original citizenship and become a U.S. citizen.

  2. Tam says:

    I think serving compulsory military service of your dual country is probably fine, but if you voluntarily joined a foreign military, or took any action that could be interpreted, through preponderance of the evidence, that you had intent to give up your citizenship…

    Check out this case: Afroyim v. Rusk.

  3. KevinC says:

    Don’t. Get. Me. Started.

    The correct answer for me on Question 11 (l.) is a double negative.

    Are you an alien admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa?

    No, I am an alien admitted under an immigrant visa, so the answer to that question causes me no end of frizzled neurons.

  4. Thirdpower says:

    I’m no expert on the SCOTUS cases but I know there were a lot of issues w/ US Citizens serving in Rhodesia and other African forces during the 1960′s and 70′s.

  5. Asus says:

    The FBI definition of “renounced citizenship” is very narrow, and since they’re the guys who run NICS (the database where gun dealers check your Form 4473 answers) I’m guessing that their interpretation is the one to follow. Go here to the NICS regulations on gpo.gov and scroll down the page until you see “Persons Who Have Renounced Their United States Citizenship”.

    Translation from legalese to English: to the FBI, “renunciant” only means people who go phone the State Department and make an appointment to swear an Oath of Renunciation in front of the guys at the U.S. Embassy (that’s what 8 USC 1481(a)(5) is) or the Attorney General during time of war (8 USC 1481(a)(6))). It doesn’t mean people who did any of the other acts in 8 USC 1481, like serving in a foreign military, swearing an oath of allegiance to a foreign government, applying for citizenship in a foreign country, etc. (It also doesn’t mean people who try to get out of taxes or parking tickets by saying they’re Alabama/Montana/etc. citizens and not U.S. citizens.)

    Here’s the full text of 8 USC 1481.

    • Sebastian says:

      Thanks for pointing that out! ATF seems to offer no guidance on that question, but the FBI certainly does.

      • Sigivald says:

        Yup.

        And this is also why it’s not just State Department policy, but statute law.

        (Vance is thus outdated, since the law was changed in 1986.)

  6. KM says:

    You don’t have to be a US citizen to serve in our armed forces.
    I don’t see why it would make any difference to the US if someone did it the other way around.

  7. Jim Jones says:

    The U.S. makes you renounce your previous citizenship, but it is more of a symbolic gesture than an actual legal event. If you were born in another country, that country (barring any laws to the contrary) will always recognize you as a citizen, even is the U.S. does not. The U.S. is fine with Americans holding more than one passport, you just can’t exit and enter the country using your foreign passport. As long as U.S. citizen pay income tax on all of their worldwide income and assets (the only country on the PLANET that does this), they won’t care if you carry another passport.

    As far as Jews are concerned, if you want to make Aliyah and do your military service, Israel will be happy to have you. I have many friends who made Aliyah, and they are all are proud Americans. Isreal is very cognizant of U.S. law, and serving in the IDF will not cause one to lose his or her U.S. citizenship.

  8. borekfk says:

    I think you can volunteer to serve in the military of a friendly or allied nation. Which explains how Americans can serve in the IDF or the French Foreign Legion, without giving up their citizenship.

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