Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

The Problem with Dual Citizenship

By Andres LoretdemolaPublished November 2, 2017

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Written by Andres Loretdemola, 11/02/2017 The concept of dual citizenship is antiquated. It creates myriad problems for governments around the world, such as making tax evasion easier, complicating bilateral relations, threatening to destabilize governments, and has even led to the wrongful imprisonment of American citizens. It's time to reconsider its usefulness.


Written by Andres Loretdemola, 11/02/2017

The concept of dual citizenship is antiquated. It creates myriad problems for governments around the world, such as making tax evasion easier, complicating bilateral relations, threatening to destabilize governments, and has even led to the wrongful imprisonment of American citizens. It's time to reconsider its usefulness.






The concept of dual citizenship is a postmodern one. It owes its existence to a combination of two factors: the rise of the nation-state with well-established borders, and the mass migration of people due to globalization. At first unique to the Americas, it was a mechanism by which countries in the New World could attract more immigrants, who were needed to boost populations. This is why many countries on this continent have historically observed jus soli, i.e. birthright citizenship: it served as an incentive to convince people to make the trip across the pond without forcing them to severe ties to their ancestral homelands. In the U.S., the Supreme Court upheld the right to dual citizenship in the 1967 case of Afroyim v. Rusk,  which was about a man who had been charged with treason for voting in an Israeli election. Dual citizenship has made it harder for government to perform its basic duties, complicated diplomatic relations, caused the wrongful imprisonment of individuals, and threatened to destabilize democratically-elected governments.

Tax evasion is a major problem when it comes to dual citizens. Americans who hold foreign citizenship can easily transfer any wealth earned in the United States to an overseas account under which they are listed as a citizen of that country. This prevents the IRS from being to effectively tax the populace. As a response, Congress passed the Foreign Account Transaction Compliance Act (FATCA) in 2010 that would cut off any foreign financial institutions from the American banking system that refused to hand over data belonging to their American clients. Despite heavy protests from governments all over the world, no country failed to comply. This forces the US government to strong-arm other countries in order to be able to successfully fulfill one of its basic obligations: tax collection.

Then there is also the problem of which government has sovereignty over an individual. Imagine that John Doe is Canadian-American. He murders a man in Chicago, goes to Toronto and robs a bank, and then promptly escapes to Mexico, where he is apprehended. Both the American and Canadian governments demand that he be extradited to their territory. Who has the stronger claim? Although this is an extreme example, there other cases which affect a far greater number of people and pose a more serious potential danger. For example, under current US law, any person that works in a federal agency, such as the State Department, must renounce his or her second citizenship in order to receive security clearance after a certain level. Obviously, the government can and should make sure that no potential spies can get their hands on sensitive information relating to national security. However, this practice effectively creates a second class of citizens who are discriminated by virtue of their political status. One salient example that happened within living memory is the internment of 110,000 Japanese-Americans during WWII, who were suspected of being foreign spies. Another example, unfolding as of the writing of this blog post, is a constitutional crisis in Australia. Recently, the Australian High Court ruled that five MPs, including the President of the Senate, are ineligible to serve because of their status as dual citizens. This cost the Liberal Party its majority in the upper house and forced Prime Minister Turnbull to form a shaky coalition with several independents. Even presidential candidates like Ted Cruz have taken steps to renounce their dual citizenship, lest it be used as political ammunition against them. More recently, Trump's attempts to establish a travel ban have posed a problem for dual nationals. The various versions of the travel ban have made clear that if, say a French-Yemeni man attempts to enter the United States, he will be denied entry even if he presents himself as a French citizen. This also complicates attempts by the government to sanction officials of certain countries, many of whom are dual citizens themselves.

It is true that there are benefits to having two nationalities. It can promote transnational cultural ties, make travel easier, and bring job opportunities. However, dual citizens benefit at the expense of most people. They should not abandon and forget their countries of origin, but from the point of view of government and society, the costs outweigh the benefits. Dual citizenship makes tax evasion easier, strains bilateral relation, led to the wrongful imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of Americans, and threatens the stability of countries like Australia. If the United Nations has adopted a resolution against statelessness, then it should also adopt a resolution against dual citizenship.