Relinquishment of United States nationality

Relinquishment of United States nationality
Great Seal of the United States
Long titleSection 349 of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952: Loss of nationality by native-born or naturalized citizen; voluntary action; burden of proof; presumptions
Enacted bythe 82nd United States Congress
EffectiveJune 27, 1952
Statutes at Large66 Stat. 163, 268
Acts repealed
U.S.C. sections created8 U.S.C. § 1481
Legislative history
Major amendments
  • Expatriation Act of 1954 (Pub.L. 83–772)
  • Repeal of Certain Expatriation Provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 1978 (Pub.L. 95–432)
  • Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1986 (Pub.L. 99–653)
United States Supreme Court cases
(including cases involving the Bancroft Treaties, Sections 2 and 3 of the Expatriation Act of 1907, and Section 401 of the Nationality Act of 1940)

Relinquishment of United States nationality is the process under federal law by which a U.S. citizen or national voluntarily and intentionally gives up that status and becomes an alien with respect to the United States. Relinquishment is distinct from denaturalization, which in U.S. law refers solely to cancellation of illegally procured naturalization.

8 U.S.C. § 1481(a) explicitly lists all seven potentially expatriating acts by which a U.S. citizen can relinquish that citizenship. Renunciation of United States citizenship is a legal term encompassing two of those acts: swearing an oath of renunciation at a U.S. embassy or consulate in foreign territory or, during a state of war, at a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in U.S. territory. The other five acts are: naturalization in a foreign country; taking an oath of allegiance to a foreign country; serving in a foreign military; serving in a foreign government; and committing treason, rebellion, or similar crimes. Beginning with a 1907 law, Congress had intended that mere voluntary performance of potentially expatriating acts would automatically terminate citizenship. However, a line of Supreme Court cases beginning in the 1960s, most notably Afroyim v. Rusk (1967) and Vance v. Terrazas (1980), held this to be unconstitutional and instead required that specific intent to relinquish citizenship be proven by the totality of the individual's actions and words. Since a 1990 policy change, the State Department no longer proactively attempts to prove such intent, and only issues a Certificate of Loss of Nationality (CLN) when an individual "affirmatively asserts" their relinquishment of citizenship.

People who relinquish U.S. citizenship generally have lived abroad for many years, and nearly all of them are citizens of another country. Unlike most other countries, the U.S. does not prohibit its citizens from making themselves stateless, but the State Department strongly recommends against it, and very few choose to do so. Since the end of World War II, no individual has successfully relinquished U.S. citizenship while in U.S. territory, and courts have rejected arguments that U.S. state citizenship or Puerto Rican citizenship give an ex-U.S. citizen the right to enter or reside in the U.S. without the permission of the U.S. government. Like any other foreigner or stateless person, an ex-U.S. citizen requires permission from the U.S. government, such as a U.S. visa or visa waiver, in order to visit the United States.

Relinquishment of U.S. citizenship remains uncommon in absolute terms, but has become more frequent than relinquishment of the citizenship of most other developed countries. Between three thousand and six thousand U.S. citizens have relinquished citizenship each year since 2013, compared to estimates of anywhere between three million and nine million U.S. citizens residing abroad. The number of relinquishments is up sharply[timeframe?] from lows in the 1990s and 2000s, though only about three times as high as in the 1970s. Lawyers believe this growth is mostly driven by accidental Americans who grew up abroad and only became aware of their U.S. citizenship and the tax liabilities for citizens abroad due to ongoing publicity surrounding the 2010 Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. Between 2010 and 2015, obtaining a CLN began to become a difficult process with high barriers, including nearly year-long waitlists for appointments and the world's most expensive administrative fee, as well as complicated tax treatment. Legal scholars state that such barriers may constitute a breach of the United States' obligations under international law, and foreign legislatures have called upon the U.S. government to eliminate the fees, taxes, and other requirements, particularly with regard to accidental Americans who have few genuine links to the United States.

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