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Citizen of Both Ireland and America

Updated on March 13, 2013

It is Possible to Be a Citizen of More than One Nation

It's St. Patrick's Day and practically everyone in America claims to be Irish – at least for the day. Just wear a bit of green and join the party!

However, according to Fact Monster, out of the 300+ million people in America today, 30+ million of us are of Irish descent, making Irish-Americans the second largest ethnic group in America (at 10.8% of the population) after German-Americans (at 15.2%).

Among the 10.8% of the population that is of Irish descent are number who, though born in America to American parents, are entitled to citizenship in both countries. How is this so? The laws in both the U.S. and Ireland are very similar with the result that, through the accident of birth, people can find themselves legally being citizens of both countries. What is more, both countries recognize this dual citizenship under certain circumstances. 

Dual Citizenship Has to be Granted and Cannot be Applied For

In the United States, a person risks losing their American citizenship if they apply for citizenship in another country. However, if the other nation grants citizenship, without a person having to request it, such persons can have duel citizenship and exercise many, but not all, of the rights that go with that citizenship.

Generally, voting in a foreign election, running for elective office or accepting an executive type position (such as an ambassadorship, a cabinet officer, officer in the armed forces, etc.) can result in having one's American citizenship revoked. Enforcing this provision is up to the authorities and they sometimes choose to look the other way as they did with Americans who joined Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) or the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) to fight Nazi Germany prior to America's entry into World War II.

Citizenship laws in both the U.S. and Ireland recognize as citizens anyone born within their borders (except for children born to members of foreign diplomatic missions and visiting heads of state) as well as children born to their respective citizens anywhere in the world. Both nations also generally don't recognize a person's renunciation of their citizenship and swearing of allegiance to another nation before an official of that nation as necessarily a legal renunciation of Irish or American citizenship. In order to officially give up their citizenship, Irish citizens have to send a letter of resignation of sorts to the proper office in Dublin. Americans have to formally renounce their citizenship and surrender their American passport to a Counselor Officer at a U.S. Embassy and, as I explained in a previous hub even this may not be sufficient if your motive is simply to escape having to pay U.S. taxes. As a result, a person emigrating from Ireland to the U.S. and taking U.S. citizenship, but who fails to officially inform the Irish government of this fact will continue to be considered an Irish citizen and that person's children and grandchildren will also be considered Irish citizens by Ireland. However, while the children and grandchildren can enjoy the benefits of dual American and Irish citizenship the parent, having renounced his or her Irish citizenship before a U.S. judge while taking the oath as an American citizen, cannot exercise their rights as Irish citizens (such as applying for an Irish passport) because, in the eyes of the Unites States government, that person formally renounced their Irish citizenship.

My Experience with Dual Citizenship

I first discovered this in a Wall Street Journal op ed piece while traveling on a business trip in late 1986. The article was actually about the tense political situation in South Africa at that time and how, as a result, Ireland had been pressured by her European Union partners to tighten up her citizenship law. As a member of the European Union, Ireland's citizens, like citizens of other member countries, have the right to freely travel, live and work anywhere within the EU just as Americans have the right to freely travel, live and work in any state in the U.S.

Under Ireland's previous, more liberal, citizenship law some 20% or more of the white population of South Africa at that time could qualify as Irish citizens with the right to move to any nation in the EU. Given that, at that time, there were serious concerns about a possible racial upheaval in South Africa combined with the fact that the Irish economy was still the poorest in Western Europe, the other member nations of the EU were not about to absorb millions of refugees from South Africa. Prior to Ireland amending its law in July of 1986, children, grandchildren and descendants of still living grandchildren could claim Irish citizenship. The amendment still granted citizenship to children and grandchildren of Irish citizens but it stopped with the grandchildren unless the grandchildren and succeeding generations registered their births with an Irish Consulate. From the grandchild onward only those children born after the grandchild (or parent for generations following the grandchild of the original citizen) registered would qualify.

Since our grandfather had come to the U.S. from Ireland with his family as a child, my sister and I went to work gathering the papers needed to register our births (we needed our grandfather's birth certificate, our father's birth certificate and our own birth certificates – since we were claiming descent from our paternal grandfather we did not need marriage certificates but these would have been required if our last name had been different from his).

It took a few letters back to Ireland to locate the exact town and year (our grandfather either didn't know or didn't want to admit his true age but every document in the U.S. listed him as 3 years younger than his actual age) in which he was born.

There was a small window and procedure under which great-grandchildren could still register but my two brothers and other sister (all of whom had children) didn't feel like paying the $70 fee per application so they passed.

A few years ago my niece took advantage of a study abroad opportunity and spent a year attending a college in England. If my brother had taken advantage of filing and making his children dual citizens she could have legally worked while there. Instead, the pub owner who hired her paid her cash under the table and Inland Revenue was the loser.

Some Advantages of Dual Citizenship

Before applying, I investigated and verified that Ireland had no military draft law and did not tax citizens living abroad, thereby making it safe to proceed.

What were the advantages beyond maintaining a link to our ancestral homeland being a conversation piece?

The idea of having an EU passport that allowed me to travel and work in the, now 27, nations of the EU without having to hassle with visas and work permits that are usually required to travel, live or work in a foreign nation was appealing.

Also, being familiar with the bloody history of the 20th century as well as having worked in both aviation and IT, two areas where backup systems are standard operating procedure, I felt that a costless backup citizenship might make sense for my descendants.

The biggest reason was probably the potential advantages it would offer to my children and me in the global economy which, even then was the apparent trend for the future.

Coinciding with starting the filing process, my then wife, announced that she was pregnant. This gave an urgency to completing the registration because my registration had to be on record prior to our son's birth.

At the same time I did not try to get in under the window for existing children as we had adopted our older son a couple of years before from Honduras and I was in the midst of obtaining American citizenship for him and feared that even if I could legally obtain dual citizenship for an adopted child it would probably be a wasted effort as, given the snail's pace at which the INS worked, we would probably get the Irish citizenship just before the American and then end up renouncing the Irish along with the Honduran when he became a U.S. citizen.

Things worked out, time wise, as I received confirmation of the registration on August 7th, a month before our son was born.

Ironically, except for once accidentally causing a plane I was navigating while in the Air Force to violate Irish airspace and a few years later spending 45 minutes in the coffee shop of the transient lounge at Shannon Airport during a refueling stop on a commercial flight from Chicago to Istanbul, I have yet to visit Ireland.

For another take on Irish Citizenship check out my Hub entitled How to Apply for Emigration to Ireland from india which I wrote in response to a Hubber's Request.on the Request section of HubPages.


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    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      8 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Grainne - you are correct that the European Union did not come into being until the signing of the Treaty of Maastrich in 1992. Prior to the Maastrich Treaty it was officially known as the European Economic Community (EEC) or, in English speaking countries referred to simply as the Common Market or sometimes as the European Community.

      As to Irish citizenship, Ireland considers people born in Ireland or their children and grandchildren born anywhere in the world as Irish citizens. Children and grandchildren born and living abroad are considered to be overseas born and to be officially recognized as Irish citizens and to qualify for an Irish passport these overseas Irish have to register their birth with the Irish embassy or nearest Irish consulate. When registering, a child born abroad has to provide evidence of at least one parent being an Irish citizen and a grandchild has to document the link of the parent to Irish grandparent. Once registered a grandchild whose link to Ireland is an Irish grandparent, can register offspring born after the date of their own registration. In my case, my claim was through my grandfather and, since my wife was pregnant at the time, I had to scramble to get a copy of my Irish born grandfather's birth certificate from Ireland along with my father's American birth certificate and send these along with the other paperwork to the consulate for registration. My name was entered into the Consulate's Registry of foreign births a few weeks before my son was born which enabled me to have him registered even though he is the fourth generation - if he has children they can also be registered after their birth.

      Under American law a person cannot apply for foreign citizenship without giving up their American citizenship. However, if a person is considered a citizen of another country under the laws of that country they are entitled to have dual citizenship and legally use the foreign passport when traveling abroad provided they use their American passport when exiting and entering the U.S.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      lol the 'European Union' did not exist in the 1980s .. secondly. you have to apply for Irish citzenship, unless you were born there.

    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      10 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Jennifer - you, or anyone else, can probably move to Ireland so long as you meet Ireland's requirements for temporary or permanent non-citizen residents.

      However, since your parents were born in Ireland, you are a citizen by birth but, as a citizen born overseas, you have to first establish that you are a citizen by having your birth recorded in the book of foreign births at the nearest Irish Consulate (which for you is probably the Irish Consulate in New York City).

      As I recall, to register, you will need to provide a certified copy of your birth certificate along with a certified copy of the Irish birth certificate of whichever parent you are claiming citizenship through. You may also need to provide a certified copy of your parent's marriage certificate.

      Once registered you will be able to apply for and receive an EU (European Union) passport which will allow you to move to as well as live and work in Ireland or any other member of the European Union.

      Since you are merely registering evidence citizenship given to you by a foreign nation and not applying for foreign citizenship you will not be (under current law) giving up your U.S. citizenship.

      However, as a U.S. citizen you will continue to be responsible for filing and paying Federal Income taxes on income earned anywhere in the world and may also continue to be subject to U.S. FICA and death taxes as well as possibly New York State (and New York City) income taxes if these are your U.S. city and state of residence. See your tax accountant for the city and state taxes as well as an explanation of potential actual Federal Tax liabilities as there are some exemptions that could reduce or eliminate those tax liabilities.

      Finally, while you will have full citizenship rights in Ireland, you may put your U.S. citizenship at risk if you vote, run for office or accept appointments to certain executive level decision making positions in government in Ireland.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      my parents (and all forefathers for that matter) are from Ireland, i was born in ny, grew up here...i know i am a citizen by decent, but can i just up and move to Ireland?

    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      10 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Anthony Cross - as far as I know an American green card is simply evidence that you are a legal United States resident and are legally entitled to live and work in the United States. To the best of my knowledge, only U.S. citizens, not legal residents, are issued U.S. passports.

      If your U.S. green card has not yet expired you could check with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service or an immigration attorney about applying for U.S. citizenship. However, becoming a U.S. citizen may affect your Irish citizenship and you would have to check Irish law to see what effect, if any, becoming a U.S. citizen would have on your Irish citizenship.

    • profile image

      Anthony Cross 

      10 years ago

      I was born in the Caribbean, but i later lived in the U.S for over 8 years, i was granted an irish passport because of my parents growing up there and being citizens, both my younger brother and sister are american citezens, but since i have moved back to ireland and have been living here for 8 years. i never applied for US citizenship when living there as i had a green card, does that mean i am no longer entitled to a US passport?

    • profile image


      10 years ago











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