People born within U.S. territory have U.S. citizenship automatically by operation of law. This is known as “birthright citizenship.” Those born to one or both parents who are U.S. citizens also have birthright citizenship, even if they are born outside of the territory of the U.S. Individuals who do not have birthright citizenship can become citizens by going through the legal process of naturalization if they meet the legal requirements.

Birthright citizenship is guaranteed to people born within U.S. territory by the first part of the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 provides that Native Americans have full U.S. citizenship..

United States law permits a person to have multiple citizenship. Citizens of other countries who are naturalized as United States citizens may retain their citizenship in their native country, but they must renounce allegiance, or loyalty, to the other country.

U. S. citizens keep their U.S. citizenship when they become citizens of other countries, if that other country’s laws allow dual citizenship.

U.S. citizenship can be renounced by American citizens who are citizens of other nations through a formal procedure that is conducted at a U.S. embassy. Some people renounce U.S. citizenship if they plan to live permanently in another country and wish to escape the obligation to pay U.S. federal and state income taxes.

Renouncing U.S. citizenship involves requesting a Certificate of Loss of Nationality from a U.S. Consulate. Renunciation is not the same as relinquishment of citizenship and the two should not be confused. Relinquishment requires that a citizen perform an act of expatriation, for example, joining the army of another country while that country is engaged in active hostilities against the U.S.. Renunciation is voluntarily giving up one’s citizenship. Renouncing one’s U.S. citizenship was once free of charge, but there is now a fee of $2,350 to complete the procedure.

A dual citizen of the U.S. and another nation will generally not lose their U.S. citizenship. However, it can be intentionally renounced, as mentioned above. In addition, military service in the other country by a U.S. citizen with dual citizenship is discouraged by the United States. However, if military service is mandatory for citizens of that other country, it is accepted by the U.S..

A person might lose their U.S. citizenship in other specific cases, if they should do any of the following:

  • Seek election to public office in a foreign country under certain conditions;
  • Become a member of the military service in a foreign country under certain conditions;
  • Apply for citizenship in a foreign country with the intention of giving up U.S. citizenship;
  • Commit an act of treason against the U.S.

Giving up U.S. citizenship has consequences. Of course, a person should never make this decision lightly, as it can only be undone under very limited circumstances. If a person renounces their U.S. citizenship, it means that the person:

  • Has given up all of the rights and responsibilities of a U.S. citizen;
  • Must become a citizen of another nation, or run the risk of becoming “stateless,” i.e. a person without citizenship in any nation;
  • Might need a travel visa to visit the United States, depending on the nation of which the person becomes a citizen;
  • May find it difficult to reinstate one’s citizenship.

A person who wishes to renounce their U.S. citizenship should contact the U.S. Embassy or consulate in the country where the person intends to live.

What Does the Law Say About Citizenship?

U.S. law provides that foreign military service will result in loss of U.S. citizenship if the following conditions apply:

  • A person serves as as either a commissioned or non-commissioned officer in the foreign military; or
  • The foreign military force in which the U.S. citizen serves is engaged in active hostilities against the United States; and
  • The service was voluntary and the person intends to give up his U.S. citizenship.

Oddly enough, it is not a crime under U.S. law for a person to go abroad for the purpose of enlisting in a foreign army; however, if a person has been recruited or hired in the U.S. it could possibly be a criminal violation of federal law.

Technically, a presumption of a person’s intent to retain their citizenship does not apply to voluntary service in the armed forces of a foreign country that is engaged in hostilities against the United States. So, this action can be viewed as showing an intention to relinquish U.S. citizenship, although the totality of the circumstances is examined in each case.

Military service in a foreign country is not an act that shows an intent to relinquish U.S. citizenship, if service is as a soldier who is not an officer, unless the foreign military is engaged in hostilities with the United States. Further, foreign military service usually does not cause loss of nationality since an intention to relinquish nationality is usually absent.

As for a U.S. citizen’s employment with the government of a foreign country, it can potentially lead to expatriation, or loss of U.S. citizenship, if the person is a citizen of that foreign country or takes an oath of allegiance to that country in connection with the employment. The employment, however, will result in loss of citizenship only if the person accepts the employment voluntarily with the intention of relinquishing their U.S. citizenship.

Seeking elective office in a foreign country, even the office of a foreign head of state, such as president, is not a potentially expatriating act. However, accepting, serving in, or performing the duties of a foreign head of state could potentially lead to renunciation of citizenship as described above.

The U.S. State Department presumes that U.S. nationals intend to retain their U.S. citizenship when they naturalize as nationals of a foreign state, declare their allegiance to a foreign state, or accept non-policy level employment with a foreign government. Questions concerning whether a foreign government position is a policy level position should be referred to the Office of Legal Affairs for Overseas Citizens Services.

In cases where U.S. nationals are employed in policy-level positions in a foreign government, the U.S. State Department works to ascertain the person’s intent to retain or relinquish their U.S. citizenship when they accept the policy-level position with the foreign government. A U.S. citizen who takes such a position who wants to retain U.S. nationality should state clearly to the U.S. State Department that they intend to retain U.S. citizenship and do not wish to relinquish their citizenship.

A person who has assumed a policy-level position in a foreign government who wants to relinquish U.S. nationality should follow the steps to complete the Certificate of Loss of Nationality and apply for relinquishment of their citizenship. Of course, as a practical matter, such cases are quite rare.

What Does U.S. Policy Say about Citizenship?

U.S. policy is quite accommodating of a person’s activities in foreign countries. Generally speaking, unless a dual citizen acts in the following ways, the State Department is unlikely to act and take away their citizenship:

  • The person is serving in a “policy level position” in a foreign government and indicates their wish to give up their U.S. citizenship;
  • The person has committed treason against the United States by for example, fighting against the U.S. voluntarily during wartime;
  • The person acts in a manner considered totally inconsistent with any possible intent to keep their U.S. citizenship;
  • The person pursues relinquishment of their U.S. citizenship through the method made available for this purpose by the U.S. State Department.

Should I Consult an Immigration Lawyer?

You should talk to an immigration lawyer about your specific situation to make sure you are not endangering your U.S. citizenship. You should also check with the other country of which you are a citizen or want to become a citizen, because it might have policies about serving in its army while having another country’s citizenship.

An immigration lawyer can help you with all questions connected with U.S. citizenship and how you can put it at risk or relinquish it intentionally if that should be your goal.