About Dual Citizenship



<<This excellent article entitled Today's World Smaller Place Multiple Citizenships Blurring Sense of Nation Across the Globe" was written by T.T. Nhu in San Jose Mercury News on April 20, 1998.>>


Louise Prynne of Menlo Park leads a double life. A dual citizen of the United States and Great Britain, she holds passports from both nations.


''Why give up something you don't have to?'' Prynne said. She always travels with both passports. She uses her U.S. version to leave the United States. Once she's landed in Europe, out come the British papers. ''It's the least hassle, and the lines are shorter,'' she said.


The most emotional part of the swearing-in ceremony to become a U.S. citizen is when the applicant must recite an oath that begins: ''I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state orsovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen.'' As boundaries blur in a global economy, the words don't mean what they used to. Even though millions of people have taken the oath, it doesn't mean they have renounced their former nationality. More new Americans are hanging on to their origins by keeping their former nationality and passport.


One of every 100 people on Earth lives outside the country of birth. Transmigration in recent decades has reached an unprecedented scale. With the shrinking of the world through cheap travel and telecommunications, governments are beginning to catch up with an unstoppable trend -- dual or even multi-citizenship.


A second or even a third passport has become not just a link to a homeland but also a glorified travel visa, a license to do business, a stake in a second economy, an escape hatch, even a status symbol.


In the past seven years, Colombia, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic and, most recently, Mexico -- the suppliers of some of the fastest-growing immigrant groups in the United States -- have allowed their nationals to become citizens elsewhere without losing their original nationality. New leaderships in South Korea and India have expressed support for the same idea. The government of Vietnam recently invited former citizens to renew ties.


Upscale Australians in the United States have been pressuring their government to allow dual citizenship so they can become Americans without losing their native status. The main motivation? Avoiding the stiff estate taxes that the U.S. government imposes on foreigners who work here.


The swing toward dual citizenship in the past decade has coincided with the enormous political changes triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of international trade alliances such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the European Union. Globalization has led to a blurring of boundaries that is unique to this era. People working for U.N. organizations already have passports that transcend national origins. Executives glide effortlessly from one country to another in the rarefied atmosphere of multinational corporate trade.  U.S. takes tolerant view


Recognizing the trend, the United States is tolerant of dual citizenship despite the stern wording in the naturalization oath. According to a memorandum from the State Department Consular Service, ''a person (from a country that does not accept dual citizenship) and who is naturalized in the United States keeps the nationality of the country of origin despite the fact that one of the requirements for U.S. naturalization is a renunciation of other nationalities.''


In other words, the United States looks the other way. Now that the two countries bordering it recognize dual citizenship, the United States is merely accepting a growing reality.


Under a Mexican law that took effect March 21, Mexicans abroad, most of them in the United States, will be able to retain Mexican citizenship even if they seek U.S. citizenship. Previously naturalized Americans of Mexican descent will be able to reclaim their original citizenship. The Mexican government stopped short of giving expatriates the right to vote.


Since 1977, dual citizenship has been a fact of life in Canada, a top destination for people seeking an alternative citizenship. One reason, according to Guidy Mamann, a Toronto immigration lawyer: ''Canada, a nation of immigrants, does not see wanting to maintain birth links and being Canadian citizens as a conflict. Everyone gets to keep their nationality. No one has to relinquish it.''


Analysts fear the trend of multiple nationalities is undermining the notion of nationhood, particularly in the place with the most diverse citizenry on Earth: the United States.  Allowed by many nations


More than half the countries in the world allow people to keep their citizenship after acquiring another one or more. According to Carmen di Placido, a retired U.S. State Department official and an expert on naturalization issues, the number of those in the United States seeking to retain or obtain extra citizenship is growing.


At the same time, dual nationality is not without its problems, di Placido cautioned.


''A person is subject to military service in the other country,'' he said. ''And if he's arrested in a country where dual citizenship is not recognized, the American consul could be inhibited from assisting him.''


Once you are an American citizen, however, it's almost impossible to divest yourself of citizenship. The only way you can lose it is to present yourself to an Embassy outside the United States and make a written renunciation. You must wait a couple of days -- in case you change your mind -- and even then, Uncle Sam may refuse.


In 1996, the most recent year for which there are complete records, 612 people either renounced their citizenship or had it taken away, according to the INS.


The question of cutting ties can be the hardest issue for the first generation of immigrants. Dual citizenship allows new immigrants the option to go back home, a desire that is always present in the first phase of any migration. Half of the Italians who emigrated to the United States at the turn of the century returned home rather than face permanent exile.


Now, second-generation immigrants often have the choice of nationalities.  ''The world has changed,'' Mamann said. ''If you have an Italian or Irish parent, you are eligible for citizenship of that country and have access to all of Europe. It enables you to become a more competitive individual working for an international company.''


Yoko Yoshikawa of Oakland was born in the United States to Japanese citizens. Yoshikawa automatically became an American at birth, but her parents registered her as Japanese. Even though she rarely uses her Japanese passport, it has enabled her to live and work in Japan.


''After all this time, I think of myself as an American,'' Yoshikawa said. ''But I keep my Japanese passport out of a sense of dual identities -- plus my mother wants me to. Besides, it's nice to have this versatility validated.''


Unlike Japan, which vigorously restricts immigration, Israel is a country where dual citizenship is common. The law of return -- that is, conferring citizenship to emigres -- is applied the moment a Jew arrives in Israel.


Israeli, American Jonathan Cohen of Alameda became an Israeli when he moved to Israel from New Jersey when he was 10. Like many other Israelis who were born elsewhere and work for multinational companies, Cohen, 31, has kept his original nationality. He recently moved back to the United States to work for a global telecommunications company.


A frequent traveler, he rarely experiences difficulty using his Israeli passport, but out of caution, he does not use it in Islamic countries.


''I use my passport depending on the situation,'' he said. ''Sometimes I say that I'm an Israeli, and sometimes I'm an American.''