Expatriating acts

With all the kerfuffle over how Eduardo Saverin, one of the wealthy founders of Facebook, has abandoned his US citizenship on the eve of the IPO in an apparent bid to avoid taxes, on the heels of Michelle Bachman abandoning her Swiss citizenship, we have seen more discussion of dual citizenship in the past week than I can recall ever appearing in the American media.

I have no particular thoughts on the subject now, but I did learn one thing of significance from this “Room for Debate” feature in the NYT:

Active dual citizenship, on the other hand, means acknowledging or applying such a status by, for instance, voting in a foreign election or registering with the foreign government as a citizen. Such actions used to be called “expatriating acts” — engaging in them meant you renounced your U.S. citizenship. The Supreme Court in the 1960s ruled that such acts can no longer automatically lead to the loss of citizenship. But they can still be prohibited by law, as Chief Justice Earl Warren himself wrote.

I had not realized that the Supreme Court has ruled that there are no longer any automatic expatriating acts. That is, that to lose your US citizenship, you must now either formally renounce it, and have that renunciation accepted, or have a court rule that your citizenship was never valid in the first place, for example due to a fraudulent application.

For the curious, here is the actual form that one actually fills out when voluntarily renouncing US citizenship. While I am not qualified to give legal advice in any capacity, as a practical matter I strongly advise against completing this form in a flight of idle whimsy and leaving it around where a prankster might find it.

Incidentally, Saverin was born in Brazil, so presumably retains his Brazilian citizenship. My understanding is that if he was only a citizen of the US, they would reject his application to renounce his citizenship, as it is widely considered illegal for an individual to voluntarily become stateless.

5 thoughts on “Expatriating acts”

  1. Wish there were such a thing as automatically expatriating acts still. I’m not looking forward to paying the 50,000 yen or whatever it is later this year just for the privilege of wasting a day at the embassy.

  2. I actually know of a total of four ex-Americans who became stateless after renouncing: Garry Davis (the creator of the World Passport), Joel Slater, Thomas Jolley, and Mike Gogulski. (I wrote three of their Wikipedia articles). Slater eventually gave up and got his citizenship back. I’m not very clear on Davis’ citizenship status; he lives in Maine now. Jolley dropped off the historical record entirely after the Supreme Court decided not to hear his deportation case. Gogulski is still stateless and living in Slovakia.

    The U.S. is one of the very few countries from which it is NOT illegal to renounce and become stateless. In other countries it is indeed illegal, I think mostly because of the terms of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (to which the U.S. is not a signatory). Like the State Department says: “In making all these points clear to potentially stateless renunciants, the Department of State will, nevertheless, afford them their right to expatriate. We will accept and approve renunciations of persons who do not already possess another nationality. It should be noted, however, that if a foreign state deports such individuals, he or she may find themselves deported to the United States, the country of their former nationality” (this is in fact what happened to Slater).

    That quote is from the Foreign Affairs Manual (7 FAM 1210). Not sure if my previous comment got caught in the spam filter or something because of the link, so I’m reposting it.

  3. Actually, the form you linked to is (one of two) worksheets that the consular officer goes over with you to determine your eligibility for renouncing/relinquishment. The actual CLN (certificate of loss of nationality) is also filled out by you, the consular officer, and goes to D.C. before being notarized, approved, and affixed with a big State Department stamp on it that gets sent to you, along with your cancelled U.S. passport book/card, in the mail to you. I should know — I have one and have done the process.

    There is actually two events (not counting having your naturalized citizenship annulled due to fraud that you mentioned) that cause you to lose U.S. citizenship: renouncing and relinquishing. You use the same forms for both. What’s the difference?

    1. Renouncing costs $450. The Reed Amendment may kick in* in this case. Renouncing does not necessarily mean “becoming stateless.”
    2. Relinquishing is free. Reed doesn’t apply. This is what happens to people that have to give up their U.S. citizenship for another purpose (i.e. naturalization to a country that doesn’t recognize dual citizenship) You can not “relinquish” by becoming stateless.

    Japan intentionally designs their naturalization process so that unlike most other nationalities (China, Korea, U.K.), Americans get rid of their U.S. nationality AFTER getting Japanese citizenship. This unusual case is done just for a few countries so like the U.S. so it legally sets up/creates the criteria for “relinquishment” as opposed to “renouncing”. That is, you go to the embassy to SELF REPORT that you WILLFULLY committed an EXPATRIATING act with the INTENT of losing citizenship. (this is what it says on my CLN, minus the caps). You need to fulfill all the capped words to get around what the Supreme Court has ruled re Vance v. Terrazas on the 14th amendment.

    So, legally speaking, I, as well as most (there are exceptions, who shall remain nameless) other former U.S. naturalized Japanese, did not “renounce” our U.S. citizenship. We “relinquished” it by performing the act stated above.

    * Whether Reed is enforceable or not is a separate debate. Many argue that it’s impossible to enforce. No former American has ever been barred from entering the U.S. due to tax expatriation reasons.

  4. The manual sections mentioned above are available online at the following link:


    Regarding the distinction which Eido noted:

    “h. Relinquish v. renounce: INA 349(a)(5) prescribes how renunciation of U.S. citizenship must occur. This is explained in detail in 7 FAM 1280. A citizen may also voluntarily relinquish U.S. citizenship upon committing voluntarily one of the other potentially expatriating acts enumerated in INA 349 and possessing the requisite intent to relinquish. The distinction becomes meaningful when a person who has been found to have lost U.S. citizenship later requests an appeal or administrative review of that decision. It is much more difficult to establish a lack of intent or duress for renunciation of U.S. citizenship.”

    A full list of these expatriating acts appears farther down in the file.

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