Dual Citizenship: The Facts

by Gherson Solicitors on August 11, 2012

Dual citizenship occurs when a person holds two or more nationalities and it can be legally complex. A factual situation resulting in dual citizenship involves the coming together of public international law and at least two sets of nationality laws. In some States citizenship is acquired automatically via marriage.

The dual nationality of some of the Olympics athletes in Team GB has caused a lot of controversy among sports enthusiasts and they are not alone. Recent research carried out by The Daily Telegraph revealed that 60 (i.e. almost 11%) of the 542 members of Team GB were born abroad. A good proportion of these foreign-born athletes hold dual nationality. This has caused a lot of frustration for some Brits who argue that these ‘Plastic Brits’, come here because it’s easier to compete for Britain.

This issue of dual national athletes came into the spotlight when Tiffany Porter – an American-born hurdler representing Great Britain in the Olympics – was made the British captain of the athletics indoor world championships. The debate got fiercer when Porter was challenged by a reporter to prove her British credentials by reciting the national anthem.

The hurdler, who gets her dual nationality from her British mother, insisted that she did know the first lines to the anthem and 5,000m and 10,000m runner Mo Farah described the Daily Mail’s question as “unacceptable”. UK Athletics subsequently withdrew team access from the Daily Mail.

Another Olympic athlete criticised for switching teams and playing the nationality card was Becky Hammon, an American born athlete, honoured as one of the best WNBA players of all time in 2011. Becky, who plays for Rapid City, South Dakota, became a naturalised Russian in 2008 to play in the Beijing Summer Games. Her decision was widely criticised in the world of sport, especially since Becky had no Russian ancestry or familial ties with Russia. Other top-notch WNBA players that were born in the US also now play for other countries.

In most circumstances since 1948, regardless of how many nationalities they have subsequently acquired, British citizens have been able to retain their citizenship.  The government who drafted and passed the British Nationality Act 1948 felt that dual nationality was not undesirable and did not cause many practical problems historically. Many British citizens based abroad showed considerable loyalty and bravery during the war and politicians did not want a British government to divest these men and women of their British nationality.

Other countries do not have such a liberal regime and their laws prevent citizens from becoming or remaining dual nationals. Certain countries will regard their citizens as having implicitly renounced their nationality should they naturalise in another state. Other states will refuse to recognise that their nationals hold any other nationality. Their law overlooks acts of naturalisation and registration by citizens. Dual nationality can also be ‘time limited’ as certain countries require citizens born as dual nationals to renounce their other nationality within a certain timeframe or face the prospect of being divested of their citizenship.

Dual nationals may return to holding a single nationality by electing to renounce one or more nationalities. There are many reasons why a person may choose to renounce a nationality; it may be for taxation purposes, or for practical or political reasons. There is also the question of an appearance of allegiance.

In 2006 Boris Johnson renounced his American citizenship after apparently being troubled by US immigration officials because of it. He was then a Member of the British Parliament and went on to become Mayor of London. He renounced the US citizenship he had acquired by being born in New York. He declared: “After 42 happy years I am getting a divorce from America. It is not just that I no longer want an American passport. In fact, what I want is the right not to have an American passport”. His renunciation was prompted by US laws that require a US citizen entering the United States to use a US passport, rather than any other passport.

Another key figure, Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin may save hundreds of millions of dollars in taxation as a result of giving up his American citizenship.

However, some States see dual citizenship as increasing opportunities for their citizens to compete globally, and/or have taken active steps towards permitting multiple citizenship in recent years. Even where a decision is taken to renounce a nationality most States regulate renunciation to prevent statelessness occurring.

Anyone wishing to naturalise or register as a British citizen is strongly advised to seek professional advice.

Previous post:

Next post: