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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Dangerous Assumptions about Dual Citizenship

Making assumptions is hardly a mortal sin but it can get us into real  trouble when when crossing cultures or national boundaries.  The consequences on a personal level are bad enough, but they are life-altering when they touch on legal matters - the kind that come about when the laws of different countries are different (even subtly so) or when they collide.

Citizenship law is one where making assumptions is downright deadly.  Most of us have only a broad understanding of what our citizenship law is that we've gleaned over the years from personal stories and news reports.  To add to the confusion, citizenship law changes - what might have been true a few years ago, may be not true today - and the interpretation of the law may or may not be the same from one year to the next.  Just ask the average American, Japanese, or French native about what his country's citizenship laws are and how they actually work right now in 2015, and I doubt they could give you an accurate answer.

It's pretty chaotic out there and a few days ago a friend on Facebook sent me a link to this case which I think is a very good (and horrible) example of the kind of life-altering trouble those matters can cause an individual and his or her family.

A bi-national couple where the wife is Norwegian and the husband is Australian, they have three girls:  one born in Australia and the other two in Norway.   So a reasonable (but dangerous) assumption might be that three girls could be dual citizens by either jus sanguinas (blood) or by jus soli (soil).  But to be safe, the couple asked when the eldest was born in Australia and it was confirmed by the Norwegian authorities that she could indeed be a dual Norwegian/Australian citizen. (Norway is a country that limits dual citizenship.)

So when the couple had twins, this time in Norway, they thought no more about it and they applied for and obtained Australian citizenship (by descent) for the younger girls.  To their utter shock this resulted in Norway stripping the two younger girls (the ones born in Norway to a Norwegian mother) of their Norwegian citizenship.  How did that happen?

The rule in Norway is that applying for and obtaining another citizenship means losing Norwegian citizenship (there are some exceptions to this but that is the general rule).  Their elder child didn't need to apply for Australian citizenship - she was born there to an Australian father.  But when that Australian father signed the papers to request citizenship by descent for the twins, the Norwegian authorities decided that this application for another citizenship by a parent on behalf of minors meant they could no longer be Norwegian.

The irony is that the child born in Australia could legally be a dual, no problem.  But her sisters born in Norway, couldn't because of the way the Norwegian authorities interpreted citizenship laws.

You can read more about the case here.    This citizenship case really rocked one of my assumptions;  under US law a parent cannot renounce or relinquish US citizenship on behalf of a minor child.  It appears that Norway will allow that and that really surprised me.  Depriving a child of a nationality because of the actions of a parent seems the antithesis of the "best interests of that child."

I also note that the consequences of that decision fell hardest on one of their own - the Norwegian citizen spouse.  It changed the balance of power in the bi-cultural marriage since it basically gave the non-Norwegian spouse effective veto power over whether or not the children can be Norwegians or not.  How interesting that under that ruling it was the non-Norwegian spouse who could make that decision unilaterally by simply applying for citizenship by descent in his or her home country.  A move that could be useful in the case of marital problems or custody battles.

In addition, the Norwegian wife could not return to Norway easily with all her children - she could move back with the eldest (provided her spouse agreed because that child's residence is in Australia) leaving the other two behind for a year, and then apply for family reunification to bring the other two to Norway.

And one had to ask: was the Norwegian citizenry OK with that?  Is losing citizens on a technicality the will of the people, or would the average Norwegian be just as shocked as I was?

I'm happy to report that they were shocked and the family received a lot of support.  In 2014 the Norwegian authorities changed their minds and reinstated the girls' Norwegian citizenship.

A happy ending but the lesson for me is crystal clear:   Never assume anything when it comes to citizenship law.


Christophe said...

Hi Victoria,

hope you're doing well. Very interesting article.
And I found this one reading the news on my lunch break, which is somewhat related, so I thought I'd share:

Have a good weekend!

Sally said...

It used to be for similar cases of US-German duals by birth that they had to decide which of the two citizenships they wanted when they reached 18. That seems reasonable.

I used to think it would be nice to have dual citizenship. No more, FATCA made that clear. Citizenship gives you rights, but it also gives you obligations. One set of obligations is quite enough, thank you!

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Christophe, thanks for link. I really enjoyed the article.

@Sally, Thank you for the comment. Depends on the combination but, yes, the obligations are there. Military service is another one that some countries require. So it's important to understand what those obligations are in order to make an informed decision.

Stratosphear said...

Ah yes, that one. Among the expat community here in Norway, we were pretty shocked, and we cite that case (to other expats who ask such questions in our Facebook groups) as an example of crazy Norwegian bureaucracy in action. Any time a person manages to contact the Foreign Department, she can expect to get different answers to her questions, depending on who she talks to, because the laws are unclear or depend on location (EU, etc). Far too much uncertainty.

There is a push to allow dual citizenship in Norway, and even Norwegians are very much for it, but I don't see a lot happening.

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