Loss of Citizenship for U.S. Born Citizens

People born in the United States are automatically U.S. citizens by the fact of their birth in the United States. Some people later become citizens, and this process of gaining citizenship through a method other than birth is called “naturalization.” The two main distinctions between citizens at birth and naturalized citizens is that: 1) naturalized citizens are not eligible to be the President or Vice President of the United States and 2) a naturalized citizen’s citizenship may be revoked for more improprieties than can a U.S.-born person’s citizenship. For citizens born in the United States, the only ways that citizenship can be lost are through an affirmative action on the part of the citizen to renounce his or her citizenship or through the committing of several actions listed in § 349 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA). U.S. citizens who lose their citizenship are said to be “expatriated.”

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INA § 349 states that a citizen, whether a U.S. citizen by birth or naturalization, shall lose his nationality by voluntarily performing certain acts with the intention of relinquishing United States nationality. The fact of intention is critical; it is not the mere performance of the actions mentioned in § 349. Seven types of conduct are currently listed in the INA as expatriate. The potentially expatriating acts are: (1) applying for and obtaining naturalization in a foreign country, provided the person is at least 18 years old; (2) making an oath of allegiance to a foreign country, provided the person is at least 18 years old; (3) serving in the military of a foreign country as a commissioned or noncommissioned officer or when the foreign state is engaged in hostilities against the United States; (4) serving in a foreign government position that requires an oath of allegiance to or the nationality of that foreign country, provided the person is at least 18 years old; (5) making a formal renunciation of U.S. citizenship to a consular officer outside of the United States; (6) making a formal renunciation of citizenship while in the United States and during time that the United States is involved in a war; and (7) conviction for treason or attempting by force to overthrow the U.S. government, including conspiracy convictions.


The fifth reason, voluntary renunciation, involves giving up U.S. citizenship for the purpose of avoiding U.S. taxation or for another reason. A citizen may do this by going to a foreign consulate to and then by expressing an intention to renounce citizenship. If the consular officer is satisfied that the citizen understands the ramifications of such a decision, the individual is given an oath and a certificate evidencing loss of nationality is executed. The individual loses his or her citizenship as of that date.


Section 349(b) provides that any person who performs, with intention to relinquish his or her citizenship, any of the above actions is presumed to have done so voluntarily. The person may rebut the presumption of voluntariness with a showing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the actions he or she performed were not done voluntarily.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.