Section 101(a)(22) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) states that “the term ‘national of the United States’ means (A) a citizen of the United States, or (B) a person who, though not a citizen of the United States, owes permanent allegiance to the United States.” Therefore, U.S. citizens are also U.S. nationals. Non-citizen nationality status refers only individuals who were born either in American Samoa or on Swains Island to parents who are not citizens of the United States. The concept of dual nationality means that a person is a national of two countries at the same time. Each country has its own nationality laws based on its own policy. Persons may have dual nationality by automatic operation of different laws rather than by choice. For example, a child born in a foreign country to U.S. national parents may be both a U.S. national and a national of the country of birth.
A U.S. national may acquire foreign nationality by marriage, or a person naturalized as a U.S. national may not lose the nationality of the country of birth. U.S. law does not mention dual nationality or require a person to choose one nationality or another. Also, a person who is automatically granted another nationality does not risk losing U.S. nationality. However, a person who acquires a foreign nationality by applying for it may lose U.S. nationality. In order to lose U.S. nationality, the law requires that the person must apply for the foreign nationality voluntarily, by free choice, and with the intention to give up U.S. nationality.
Intent can be shown by the person’s statements or conduct. The U.S. Government recognizes that dual nationality exists but does not encourage it as a matter of policy because of the problems it may cause. Claims of other countries on dual national U.S. nationals may conflict with U.S. law, and dual nationality may limit U.S. Government efforts to assist nationals abroad. The country where a dual national is located generally has a stronger claim to that person’s allegiance.
However, dual nationals owe allegiance to both the United States and the foreign country. They are required to obey the laws of both countries. Either country has the right to enforce its laws, particularly if the person later travels there. Most U.S. nationals, including dual nationals, must use a U.S. passport to enter and leave the United States. Dual nationals may also be required by the foreign country to use its passport to enter and leave that country. Use of the foreign passport does not endanger U.S. nationality. Most countries permit a person to renounce or otherwise lose nationality.
Information on losing foreign nationality can be obtained from the foreign country’s embassy and consulates in the United States. Americans can renounce U.S. nationality in the proper form at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.