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Can You Lose U.S. Citizenship?

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By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on June 07, 2012 9:25 AM

As the 2012 presidential election nears, there's little doubt that some members of the populace will begin making plans to leave the country should their preferred candidate lose. These threats -- or jokes -- have become common election fodder over the past decade, yet few understand just what is involved in abandoning one's U.S. citizenship.

Though you can't involuntarily be stripped of your citizenship, you can still lose citizenship should you engage in specific types of behavior. And for those who choose to renounce their U.S. citizenship, it's irrevocable and very difficult to resume. Let us explain.

Can you lose citizenship?

The Constitution prevents the U.S. government from involuntarily stripping individuals of their citizenship. However, a person will no longer be a U.S. citizen if, by a preponderance of the evidence, officials can prove that  the individual intended to renounce his U.S. citizenship.

Federal law lists a number of "potentially expatriating acts." If done voluntarily and with the intent to relinquish citizenship, the following acts will cause you to lose citizenship:

  • Serving in the armed forces of a foreign country engaged in hostilities against the U.S.
  • Taking an officer position in the armed forces of a foreign state
  • Being convicted of treason
  • Taking an oath or affirmation to a foreign state
  • Working for a foreign government when you are of that nationality

Can you renounce U.S. citizenship?

You can, but to be valid, you must (1) sign an oath of renunciation (2) in front of a U.S. consular or diplomatic officer (3) while in a foreign country. You're also not allowed to renounce your child's citizenship, although he or she may do so if old enough to understand the consequences of doing so.

Minors may revoke their renunciation if done within six months of turning 18. Adults who renounce U.S. citizenship lose citizenship for life.

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