November 6, 2001
By: Kevin E. McCarthy, Principal Analyst
You were interested in the process by which a citizen of another country can obtain U.S. citizenship without losing his original citizenship. You were specifically interested in how a British citizen, currently residing in the U.S., could obtain dual citizenship. This memo describes the process by which an adult other than someone born outside of the U.S. to American parents can obtain duel citizenship. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) form M-476 (available on-line at http://www.ins.usdoj.gov/graphics/services/natz/English.pdf) describes the naturalization procedure for adults and minors in greater detail.
A foreign citizen living in the U.S. can become a naturalized U.S. citizen. In most cases, the person must have resided legally in the U.S. for five years. As part of the naturalization process, the person must provide detailed information about himself to INS, undergo a criminal records check, and interview. In most cases, the applicant must demonstrate competence in English and pass a civics test. Successful application must swear an oath in which they renounce their allegiance to other countries. However, in practice, INS does not require that the person take steps to actually renounce his foreign citizenship, although the federal government does not encourage dual citizenship. Some countries, but not Great Britain, require a person to renounce his original citizenship when he becomes a naturalized U.S. citizen.
BECOMING A NATURALIZED U.S. CITIZEN
A citizen of a foreign country who resides in the U.S. can become, under certain circumstances, a naturalized U.S. citizen. In most cases, the person must have been (1) a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. for five years or (2) have been a lawful permanent resident for at least three years and have been married to U.S. citizen for the last three years, with the spouse having been a citizen during this period. Approximately 90% of all naturalization applicants fall into the first category. Most applicants are required to have lived in the INS district or state in which they are applying for at least three months before making an application.
The person must apply to INS and provide detailed information about his personal, marital, and children's history; criminal record; employment; and travel outside of the U.S. (A copy of the application form is enclosed.) The applicant must submit his fingerprints and two recent photographs and undergo an interview. The person must demonstrate:
1. an ability to read, write and speak English;
2. a knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and government;
3. good moral character;
4. attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution; and,
5. a favorable disposition toward the United States.
The first two conditions can be waived for certain applicants, such as elderly people who have lived in the U.S. for extended periods. A person can be denied naturalization on a wide variety of grounds, ranging from failure to file a required U.S. tax return to having committed murder
The time it takes for naturalization varies by INS office. INS hopes to eventually reduce the average time to six months, but it many offices it currently takes substantially longer.
Successful applicants must swear an oath of allegiance promising to give up his allegiance to other countries. The applicant must swear to "renounce and abjure absolutely and entirely all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty. . . ." He also must renounce any hereditary titles or positions of nobility.
However, the INS does not require applicants to take steps to renounce their foreign citizenship when they become U.S. citizens, e.g., they do not have to file a renunciation of citizenship at the consulate of their native country. According to State Department officials cited in a November 15, 1999 Washington Times article, the oath is not enforced and is likely unenforceable. The article quotes a department spokesman as saying that: "The U.S. allows dual nationality. It doesn't keep track of persons who are something else besides a U.S. citizen. And there is no such thing as being less than a full U.S. citizen with all the rights. We have no interest in a person's dual nationality or whether he votes in a foreign election -- that's not an expatriating act."
The State Department's current formal position is that the U.S. government recognizes that duel citizenship exists but does not encourage it as a matter of policy because of the problems it may cause. For example, claims of the other country on the individual may conflict with U.S. law, and dual citizenship may limit the U.S. government's ability to assist the citizen abroad. Further information on this issue is available on-line at http://travel.state.gov/dualnationality.html.
Each country has its own citizenship laws and some bar the retention of their citizenship if a person becomes a naturalized U.S. citizen. Before 1948, a Briton could lose his British citizenship by becoming a naturalized citizen of another country. The British Nationality Act of 1948 eliminated restrictions on holding dual citizenship. Other countries that allow dual citizenship include India, Israel, Italy, and Mexico. Some countries encourage dual citizenship. For example, Ireland allows Americans whose parent or grandparent was an Irish citizen to become Irish citizens themselves.