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Home>> Articles

Dual Citizenship - A Case of Polygamy
By Sudhir Shah

This article was published in the Economic Times on Sunday dated June 13, 1999 under the heading: Double Trouble over Loyalty

When more than one country recognizes a person as its citizen, then that person is said to possess dual citizenship. A dual citizen is a person who owes allegiance to more than one country at the same time. A claim to allegiance may be based on facts of birth, marriage, parentage or naturalization. A dual citizen may, while in the jurisdiction of either country, that considers that person as its citizen, be subject to all of its laws, including being forced for military service. There is no internationally agreed upon principle governing dual citizenship. Each country is free to determine how it will treat an individual who is a citizen of both, that country and of another.

A dual citizenship may carry with it a few benefits, but it is also likely to bring unexpected difficulties. Dual citizenship offers to some people practical advantages in the form of social security or employment. At times dual citizenship also increases people's feeling of belonging because they have strong personal ties to more than one country. It also gives opportunity to people to "shop around" for a country with lower taxes. At the same time there may be laws in a country in which a foreign traveler is not subjected to but which apply to a person as a citizen of that country. For example, restrictions on exit, compulsory military service, special taxes or financial compensation for services received in the past including educational cost. A dual citizen may also be affected if countries of which he is a citizen are involved in political upheavals or military conflicts. Some countries allow dual citizenship, whilst others take away the citizenship of the person who acquires another citizenship. Each country has its own citizenship laws based on its polity.

At times a person may acquire dual citizenship by automatic operation of different laws rather than by his own choice. For example, a child born in a foreign country to Indian citizen parents may be both an Indian citizen as well as a citizen of the country of birth. However, as per the Indian laws, on attaining majority, that person will have to choose between the citizenship of that foreign country or India. The Constitution of India does not permit dual citizenship and if any of its citizens acquire citizenship of any other country, that person loses his Indian citizenship. Likewise, for the United States to allow naturalized citizens also to hold citizenship in a foreign country is against its laws.

However, the number of countries that recognize and even promote dual status is rising. Albania, Barbados, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, Central African Republic, Columbia, Croatia, Cyprus, Dominica, Ecuador, France, Ghana, Greece, Greneda, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Liechtenstien, Maldives, Morocco, New Zealand, Nigeria, Panama, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Syria, Turkey and United Kingdom are amongst the countries who recognize dual citizenship. Last year, Mexico also joined this list. Refusal by the country of birth to release its natural born citizen from its citizenship upon that individual naturalizing in another country probably caused the concept of dual citizenship. The common law doctrines that `no man may abandon his country' and `once a subject always a subject' could not prevent the fact of global mobility. Many countries aggressively asserted these doctrines. They made their citizens, who had acquired citizenship of another country, undergo rigours of their law upon visiting their home country. France, Prussia and Spain were counted amongst countries that attempted to extract military service from naturalised Americans on mere visits to their countries of birth. International law posed few restraints on a state's treatment of its own nationals. Countries extracting duties from its citizens also afforded protection to them. This also gave rise to dual citizenship as alternate citizenships could be wielded as shields against one another. On account of increase in international migration, the acquisition of citizenship by birth is the third cause of the origin of dual nationality. Children in such cases enjoy nationality by both parentage and by place of birth.

It is believed that persons who voluntarily maintain dual citizenship pose a threat to the protection of the community. In many cases they do not make any contribution to either of the country of which they maintain citizenship. They do not have real attachments to the State whose protection they seek. They merely create trouble and are of no value to either of the country to whom they belong. This characteristic of dual nationality was recognized by US President Grant as far back as the year 1874 when in his annual message to the Congress he observed to the effect that:

"Persons who claim the benefit of citizenship, while living in a foreign country, contribute in no manner to the performance of the duties of a citizen of the United States, and without intention at any time to return and undertake those duties they use the claims to citizenship of the United States simply as a shield from the performance of the obligations of a citizen elsewhere".

The country that winks at dual status plays a dangerous game of Russian roulette. When it comes to core loyalties to which country a person possessing dual citizenship belong to? If dual nationality is to be tolerated, polygamy should not be objected to and a man with two wives should also be patronized.

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