Pitfalls of renouncing citizenship
It is is not often I meet a person who wants to renounce
United States citizenship, at least within the US. People
generally renounce citizenship outside the US where they
can attend an embassy. United States embassies have des-
ignated departments handling such matters regularly.
Recently, I was sitting at my desk when a call came in. The
caller had received US citizenship the day before, but
immediately regretted the decision because in doing so, she
lost citizenship in her home country. I somewhat under-
stood her emotions, though.
When I became a US citizen last year, I remember my ears
perking up when I was invited to the stage as ‘Tahmina
Watson, former citizen of the United Kingdom.’ Former citizen – a powerful phrase I would say, particularly in the
solemn atmosphere and setting of an oath ceremony.
However, the difference for me is that the United Kingdom
allows dual citizenship. Therefore, I was not concerned by
this announcement, and could proudly become a US citizen.
But when my client heard the same announcement echoing
throughout the large room, the reality of her situation sank
in. The Indian Citizenship Act of 1955 does not allow dual
citizenship. Under Indian law, persons of Indian origin who
acquire foreign citizenship are required to surrender their
Indian passports to the nearest Indian Mission/Post within
three months, and should obtain a Surrender Certificate.
Under the Indian Passport Act of 1967, it is a punishable
offense to obtain or hold an Indian passport or travel document, or suppress information about nationality, after
acquiring foreign citizenship.
As a former Indian citizen, my client’s concerns were now
rather serious. She cannot own certain property in India,
and her dependent children cannot remain Indian citizens,
because now both she and her husband are US citizens.
Although she could apply for an Overseas Citizenship of
India Card, the rights under that status are significantly
While I did wonder why she would not research the practical implications of acquiring US citizenship, I agreed that
her concerns were quite legitimate. It seems she didn’t
appreciate the enormity of her actions until it was too late.
The question now is, what can she do? It turns out that the
matter is not at all simple. One cannot in fact renounce US
citizenship from within the United States, except in certain
circumstances. In addition, while the United States
Citizenship and Immigration Service is responsible for the
naturalization process, it does not have jurisdiction to
accept renunciations. That responsibility falls within the
purview of the US Department of State.
There are additional problems. If she were to renounce US
citizenship, she does not automatically revert back to being
a legal permanent resident, a status she held with great
pride for many years. She would now have to reapply for
legal permanent residence status, which may or may not
come with some challenges.
In sum, it is extremely important to understand the citizen-
ship laws of your home country before applying for United
States citizenship, as the situation you may find yourself in
may not be what you had anticipated. Usually, your home
country embassy will have important information in this
regard that can help you make a decision.
In the event that you do want to renounce US citizenship, it
is important you consult with both an immigration attorney
and tax attorney to navigate you through the various issues
that will affect your status.
H-4 visa holders – have your voice heard: The bill for
Comprehensive Immigration Reform is an overall positive
bill and the Gang of Eight senators and all involved must be
applauded for their efforts. The bill covers a lot of details.
Some of it was fought with much negotiation. With that
background, it is easy to see that some sacrifice and com-
promise is inevitable for the greater good.
Having said that, there are some provisions in the bill that
really need a little tweaking. Let’s take the provision that
will allow spouses of H-1B visa holders (H-4 visa holders)
work authorization. At first glance, it seems that they will
all get permission to work. Hooray, I hear you say! But wait.
Reading the details actually states the following:
At Section 4102 of the bill, it is stated regarding spouses of
H-1B visa holders, (provisions) ‘authorize the alien spouse
to engage in employment in the United States only if such
spouse is a national of a foreign country that permits recip-
rocal employment; and provide such a spouse with an
‘employment authorized’ endorsement or other appropriate
work permit, if appropriate.’
Well, in my opinion it will be hard to find many countries
that allow the spouse of a US citizen worker in that country
work permission automatically. So, the vast majority of H-4
visa holders will be excluded from getting work permission.
Many employment-based visas already allow spouses work
permission; for example, L-1 and E-2 visas. The bill will
allow (the newly created) W visa spouses work permission.
Then why exclude such an important group? More often
than not, this group is highly educated and productive. If
the bill goes as far as stating spouses will get a work visa,
then why not go that much further and actually allow them
to get a work visa. I recommend that the caveat that the for-
eign country must permit reciprical employment is deleted.
I urge Congress to review this provision and make the
above amendment. I also urge any people interested or
affected to call their senator’s office and voice their con-
cern. Now is the time to do it. Please call them. It is now or
Tahmina Watson is an immigration attorney and founder
of Watson Immigration Law in Seattle Washington. She
was a practicing barrister in London, United Kingdom,
before immigrating to the United States herself. While her
practice includes family-based and employment-based
immigration, she has a strong focus on immigrant entre-
preneurs and start-up companies. She can be contacted at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Readers can visit
www.watsonimmigrationlaw.com to learn about
Tahmina and her practice.
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