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Monday, October 17, 2011

Renouncing Citizenship

I've been following the comments posted in reaction to Arthur Cockfield's article about the tax and reporting issues between the U.S. and Canada (to be more accurate between the U.S. and the rest of the world) and I was shocked by some of the contributions which basically said to U.S. citizens, "If you don't care for this, just renounce your American citizenship."

I have no opinion about renunciation being a good or bad idea for expatriates but I do think it is a bit presumptuous for anyone to make that kind of suggestion to someone who has a genuine issue with his government.  Last time I looked citizens of democratic nation-states have the right to disagree with their "powers that be" and to express their opinions about what their government is up to.

But it did make me wonder about the overall issue of renouncing citizenship.  According to international law a citizen has the right to leave his country and come back but, assuming that a citizen leaves and no longer wishes to be part of a particular political community, what are the rules and procedures for severing one's ties with a state?    Is it easy or hard?  Is it encouraged or discouraged?  In some cases, is it impossible?  How do different countries manage this?  Here is what I was able to find out.  If there are any errors in my information, please feel free to correct me.

Here is the text of the German Nationality Act of 1913 (amended 2009).  In addition to ll the rules about how citizenship is conferred under German Law, Section 26 says that, yes, a German can renounce German citizenship if he or she already has another citizenship, makes the request in writing and has the approval of the "competent authority" which appears to be the German Consulate in a foreign state.  The  approval can be waived if the person renouncing has lived abroad for over ten years or has served in a foreign military.

I went looking for the actual procedure and found it here at the website for the German Consulate in the U.S.  It's pretty clear and you can even download the forms directly from the site.

The relevant legislation seems to be here:  Décret n°93-1362 du 30 décembre 1993 relatif aux déclarations de nationalité, aux décisions de naturalisation, de réintégration, de perte, de déchéance et de retrait de la nationalité française.  See the section "Titre III."

It's a bit complicated because it depends on the situation:  a child born abroad to a French parent, a child born in France to foreign parents, a Frenchman or woman married to a foreigner, or just a French person who has reached his/her majority who wishes to renounce.  In all cases however (and this is similar to German law) having another nationality is a pre-requisite.

How to go about it depends on whether the person is in France or abroad.  In the former case, it appears that the person must make a request  to the Minister of Naturalizations.  If abroad, the person must go to the local French Consulate.

Saudi Arabia
Here are the citizenship rules for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  I don't see anything specifically for people who wish to renounce but it seems that simply taking on another citizenship without permission will result in a Saudi's citizenship being withdrawn.  So one would assume that taking another citizenship is basically renunciation of Saudi citizenship.

Japan is similar to Saudi Arabia.  They do not allow dual citizenship (there may be some exceptions to this) so, after acquiring another citizenship, the person simply notifies the Minister of Justice and Japanese citizenship will be withdrawn.

Section 349(a)(5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) (8 U.S.C. 1481(a)(5)) allows for renunciation of American citizenship under the following conditions:  the citizen must appear in person at a U.S. Consulate in a foreign country (can't do it in the U.S.) and must sign an oath of renunciation.  Interestingly enough (and unlike all the other countries I looked at) the U.S. does not require that the U.S. citizen has acquired another nationality before renouncing though they do issue a stern warning that such persons may become stateless and encounter real problems as a result.

For the actual procedure (and a firsthand account) this site written by two Americans who did renounce is quite informative.  From their experience the process is not precisely the same from one U.S. Consulate to another but they say that the consulate personnel was very helpful in all cases.

Canada has the clearest and least ambiguous process that I could find in my search.  This government site gives the entire procedure from A to Z and it seems very straightforward and easy to follow.  Canada, like all the other countries here with the exception of the U.S., does require that you have either acquired or are in the process of acquiring another nationality before they allow you to renounce.

I'm going to stop there but I think we can already make some generalizations:

1.  Almost all the countries I looked at have legislation and a process for renouncing citizenship.  In most cases, a citizen must make a formal explicit request and follow a procedure.  In some cases a kind of implicit renunciation occurs when that citizen takes on another citizenship and the original citizenship is automatically revoked as a result.  I did not find any state that did not allow renunciation at all but I am sure one (or more) exists.  If you know of such a state, please say so in the comments section.

2.  The process does not seem to be overly complicated in most places.  It's simply a matter of asking the right people and then following a pre-defined procedure (papers, oaths and so on).

3.  That said, it doesn't seem to be actively encouraged by any nation-state.  For a few of the countries listed above I really had to look to find the relevant information.  On the other hand, countries seem to recognize that there are legitimate reasons for renouncing citizenship and they make it possible one way or another.  Given that citizenship is a pact between an individual and a nation-state and involves duties and responsibilities as well as rights, states don't really have an interest in holding people captive.

4.  The main concern of most countries is statelessness.  Almost every country (except the US) requires that the renouncing citizen show that he or she has acquired citizenship somewhere else.  They do not allow people to deliberately become stateless without passports and a place to call "home."

Interesting stuff and worth knowing.  I contend that citizenship in a democratic nation-state is consensual or it is nothing.  The fact that citizenship is conferred upon someone because of an accident of birth (jus soli or jus sanguinis) does not necessarily mean that he or she is obliged to remain a citizen of that state for the rest of his life. In the early 21st century most of us are no longer bound by "perpetual allegiance" and, with the acceptance of the receiving state, we can actively choose what political community we wish to be a part of.  

And that's what freedom is really all about.

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