Dual citizenship means precisely what the term implies: a person simultaneously is a citizen of two distinct countries.
Individuals obtain dual citizenship either automatically or voluntarily. A child born in the United States, for example, automatically qualifies to becomes a U.S. citizen, though the child might already be a citizen of another country because of the nationalities of the birth parents.
Similarly, a child born in another country to U.S. citizen parents may be both an American citizen and a citizen of the country of birth.
This was the circumstance surrounding the birth of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who was born in 1970 to American parents who were working in the oil business in Calgary, Alberta.
A favorite of the Tea Party, Cruz's dual citizenship raised questions in 2013 about whether he would be eligible to run for the presidency. In August 2013, Cruz said he considered himself only a U.S. citizen and would renounce any claim to Canadian citizenship.
“Because I was a U.S. citizen at birth, because I left Calgary when I was 4 and have lived my entire life since then in the U.S., and because I have never taken affirmative steps to claim Canadian citizenship, I assumed that was the end of the matter,” Cruz said in a statement. “Nothing against Canada, but I'm an American by birth and as a U.S. senator, I believe I should be only an American.”
Most legal analysts have said that Cruz meets the constitutional requirement of being a “natural born citizen” an could in fact run for president.
Though the overwhelming majority of governments in the world recognize the concept of dual citizenship, they do not encourage it because of the legal and practical complications it can cause. The Ted Cruz matter is a case in point.
According to the U.S. State Department, “U.S. law does not mention dual nationality or require a person to choose one citizenship or another.”
A U.S. citizen who automatically receives citizenship from another country does not lose is American citizenship. But, a person who acquires foreign citizenship by applying for it may in fact lose U.S. citizenship.
In order to lose the American citizenship, according to U.S. law the individual must apply for the foreign citizenship voluntarily and then express the intention to give up his or her U.S. citizenship.
The State Department puts it this way: “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. citizens may conflict with U.S. law, and dual nationality may limit U.S. Government efforts to assist citizens abroad. The country where a dual national is located generally has a stronger claim to that person's allegiance.”
The U.S. government considers dual nationals to owe allegiance to both the United States and their other foreign country and they are required to obey the laws of both nations, particularly when visiting that nation. Passport use can raise issues. The United States requires that dual nationals use a U.S. passport to enter and leave the United States. Many other countries have the same requirement. An American citizen who uses a foreign passport does not endanger the status of his or her U.S. citizenship.
The United States considers renouncing U.S. citizenship a serious matter that must be done in person, either within the United States or at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.
For information on dual citizenship, a good place to start is the U.S. State Department's Services dual nationality website. For information on using passports abroad, try the State Department's travel site.