Maybe, after being disappointed in a big election or disagreeing with the government's policy on some foreign policy issue, you've heard someone say, "I give up my American citizenship and I'm leaving the country!" Maybe you've said it. We normally don't take anyone seriously, though, especially if he's a naturalized citizen.
As a naturalized citizen, you worked hard through a long process to become a US citizen. Do you really want to give up all of the rights and privileges that you've worked so hard for? It's possible to abandon or renounce your US citizenship. Although it's not as easy as simply announcing to the world that you're "giving it up," there are several things that, if done by you intentionally, will automatically cancel your US citizenship.
The US immigration laws are very specific about what it takes to abandon or give up your US citizenship. You have to perform or do any one of several listed things, and you have to do it voluntarily and with the intention of giving up your US citizenship. In other words, it's nearly impossible to lose your US citizenship accidentally.
Whoever claims that a US citizen has renounced her citizenship has the burden of proving it. If you do one of the acts specified in the law, it'll be presumed that you did it voluntarily. That is, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or the US Department of State, which are in charge of these citizenship issues, will assume that you meant to give up your US citizenship. You can rebut or disprove that presumption, though, by giving evidence that you didn't intend to lose your citizenship or that you didn't perform one of the specified acts.
Your citizenship is lost automatically if you :
- Formally renounce your citizenship
- Become a naturalized citizen in another country after you turn 18 years old
- Take some jobs with a foreign government after you turn 18
- Serve in the armed forces of a foreign country, under certain circumstances
- Commit treason against the US
Formally Renouncing Citizenship
This is the surest way to give up your citizenship. Generally, you have to go before a US consular or diplomatic officer in a foreign country, usually at the US Embassy or Consulate in the country where you want to live, and sign an oath of renunciation. The oath of renunciation is then forwarded to the US State Department, along with a certificate of loss of nationality.
With one exception, you can't renounce your US citizenship while you're in the US or one its territories, such as Puerto Rico.
If the US is at war, you can formally renounce your citizenship while you're still in the US, or one its territories, by putting your renunciation in writing and sending it to the US Attorney General.
In most cases, once you've renounced your US citizenship you can't change your mind and you can't become a US citizen ever again. There's one important exception, however. If you renounced your US citizenship before your 18th birthday, you may have your citizenship reinstated if you inform the State Department of your desire and you do so within six months after turning 18 years old.
If, after your 18th birthday, you become a naturalized citizen of a foreign country (or take an oath of allegiance to that country), your US citizenship may be lost. Under the old immigration laws, your act of becoming a citizen of another country was considered to be an act contrary to being a US citizen, and so citizenship was automatically lost. The law today is different.
If you become a naturalized citizen of another country, it'll be presumed that you don't want to lose your US citizenship. If the US embassy or consular officer finds out about your naturalization, you'll be asked to complete a questionnaire about your intentions. Unless you make an affirmative, direct statement that you intended to give up your citizenship, you'll still be considered a US citizen.
If you become a publicly elected official or hold some other policy-level position in a foreign country, you may lose your US citizenship. These are high-ranking positions where government decisions on foreign and domestic policy are made or enforced. Examples include a cabinet member or an ambassador. Low-level jobs that don't involve government policies aren't included, such as working as clerk or typist in a government office of your native country.
In certain cases, you may lose your US citizenship if you join or serve in the armed forces of a foreign country:
- As a commissioned or non-commissioned officer, or
- At a time when that country is at war with the US. Here it doesn't matter what rank you hold in the foreign country's armed forces
Because it's possible for a US naturalized citizen to be citizen of his native country at the same time, and because it's understood that another country may require its citizens to serve in its military, the State Department's stance on this issue is generous. It'll be presumed that you don't have the intention of losing your US citizenship by serving in a foreign country's armed forces if that country isn't engaged in hostilities against the US.
You may lose your US citizenship if you get convicted of treason. Treason involves serious crimes that show disloyalty towards the US. Treason can take many forms, such as:
- Participating with a foreign government or organization that's waging war against the US
- Attempting to overthrow the US government
- Giving aid or comfort to the enemies of the US
Questions for Your Attorney
- My father's a naturalized citizen, and I was born in the US. He intends to renounce his US citizenship. If he does, will I lose my citizenship?
- Before I immigrated to the US and became a naturalized citizen, I was an officer in my native country's armed forces. That government has asked me to work as a translator in its embassy in Washington, DC. Can I take the job without jeopardizing my citizenship?
- As a man under the age of 25, I'm required to serve 2 years in my native country's army. I fled that country and became a US citizen to avoid having to fight in their army. Is there anyway I can avoid having to serve? Can the US government force me to return to my native country to serve?