Loss of United States Citizenship

Though rare, it is possible to lose one’s United States citizenship, voluntarily or involuntarily. Some individuals elect to “renounce” their United States citizenship, which is known as “expatriation.” In order to do so, an individual must appear in person before a United States consular or diplomatic officer in a foreign country, at a United States embassy or consulate, and sign an “oath of renunciation” of his United States citizenship. Parents cannot renounce their children’s citizenship on their children’s behalf, nor can parents or guardians renounce the citizenship of an individual who lacks the capacity to do so himself (e.g. an individual with a disability that renders him unable to make such a decision on his own). While minors between 16 and 18 years old may renounce their citizenship, if they can demonstrate that they are acting voluntarily and not under the undue influence of their parent(s), minors under 16 are presumed to not have the capacity to make this important decision.

Renunciation of United States citizenship is generally irrevocable, except for individuals who renounced their citizenship as minors. It is important to note that even if an individual renounces his United States citizenship, he may still be prosecuted in the United States for any crimes he has committed or for financial obligations such as unpaid child support. An individual who has renounced his United States citizenship may still have tax obligations in the United States and may still have military service obligations.

Various acts may lead to both naturalized and native-born citizens losing their citizenship. These include naturalization in a foreign jurisdiction after attaining 18 years of age; taking an oath of allegiance to a foreign state after 18 years of age; serving in the armed forces of a foreign state if that state is engaged in hostilities with the United States or if he serves as a commissioned or non-commissioned officer; serving in a foreign government after 18 years of age if he is a citizen of that state or if an oath of allegiance is required; making a written renunciation of United States citizenship within the United States, approved by the Attorney General, when the United States is in a state of war; or committing treason. With the exception of the latter two acts, an individual cannot lose United States citizenship while within the United States or its territories or possessions, but the individual can lose United States citizenship if he commits any of the acts above while in the United States or its territories or possessions and subsequently takes up residence outside of the United States, its territories, and possessions. Individuals who are under 18 when they serve in the armed forces of a foreign state or renounce their citizenship may regain that citizenship in certain instances, if they assert their claim to citizenship within six (6) months of their eighteenth birthday.

For naturalized citizens, their naturalization can be revoked by the United States government in certain circumstances. Obtaining naturalization illegally may result in the loss of naturalization, if the government discovers that an individual did not actually meet all of the criteria for naturalization at the time they were naturalized. This is true regardless of whether the individual knew that they were not eligible, or if they were innocent of any knowledge of their ineligibility. 

Individuals who concealed a material fact or made a willful misrepresentation during the naturalization process, and were naturalized as a result of such concealment or misrepresentation, may also lose their citizenship. This is true even if the fact that they concealed or misrepresented would not have barred them from being naturalized; if the concealment or misrepresentation had a tendency to affect the naturalization decision (e.g. it would have made naturalization less likely, but not impossible), then that is enough.

Membership or affiliation with certain organizations within five (5) years of one’s naturalization may also lead to a revocation of citizenship. Such organizations include the Communist party, totalitarian parties, and terrorist organizations.

Finally, individuals who were naturalized as a result of honorable service in the United States armed forces, but subsequently separate from the armed forces under other than honorable conditions prior to having served honorably for a period or periods totaling at least five (5) years, may have their naturalization revoked.

If you would like to learn more about the loss of United States citizenship, contact Tanner Law Offices at 717-731-8114 to schedule a consultation.