Dual nationality, also known as dual citizenship, is the practice of applying for and maintaining citizenship in two different countries. In the United States, American citizens are free to apply for dual or multiple nationality in any other country they choose without repercussion. However, while having a criminal record only prevents you from obtaining dual nationality, it can also prohibit you from traveling between the two countries where you hold citizenship, if there is a criminal matter currently pending against you.
Dual citizenship essentially means to be a citizen of two nations. The most common form of multiple citizenship occurs when a foreign immigrant completes the process to become an American citizen, but retains citizenship in their original country. Child born to parents with two different nationalities can also hold dual citizenship, or you can apply for citizenship in another country, regardless of whether or not you have any previous ties to the other country.
Dual nationality has no real impact on an individual's life, other than allowing them to claim citizenship in multiple countries. While it can make it easier for you to travel in between the countries in which you hold citizenship, you are still required to present a valid passport in most countries, including the United States. Many people opt for dual nationality to pay homage to their country of origin, or to honor their heritage, particularly when one parent is from the country in which they hold the secondary citizenship.
Dual Nationality and Criminal Records
If you have a criminal history, it may hinder or prohibit your ability to successfully obtain dual nationality. In the U.S. and many other countries, a background check is required before duality nationality is granted. In the U.S., having a significant criminal history, or having a criminal record for drug trafficking or other international crimes, will exclude you from qualifying for dual nationality.
Dual Nationality, Criminal Records, and Passports
Even if you hold dual nationality, many countries - including the U.S. - require you to carry a valid, active passport to travel between countries where you hold citizenship. Having a criminal record can prevent you from obtaining a passport, particularly if you have been considered a flight risk in the past, committed crimes internationally, or made previous attempts to remove your children from their home country during a custody battle.
Dual Nationality and Warrants
Individuals who currently have an outstanding warrant will not be able to apply for dual nationality until after the issue has been settled. Individuals who already hold dual nationality and have valid passports will be prevented from traveling between those countries, while there is an outstanding warrant for their arrest. Attempting to move between countries can lead to your arrest by the Department of Homeland Security, which is why you should always check to see if you have any open warrants before you attempt to travel.
Dual Nationality and Bail
If you are out on bail, you will have to wait for the matter to be resolved before you can apply for dual nationality. If you already have dual nationality, you are permitted to travel, provided you were not required to turn in your passport as part of the terms of your bail. If you attempt to travel between countries while under travel restrictions from bail, and manage to make it past Homeland Security without being arrested, you will likely be extradited back to the country where you are set to stand trial.
- "Dual Citizenship Guide;" USA Immigration Guides; 2009.
- "Dual Nationality, Social Rights and Federal Citizenship in the U.S. and Europe;" Patrick Weil; 2000
Carrie Ferland is a practicing civil litigation defense attorney in the Philadelphia Area. As an author, her work has been featured in various legal publications for over 10 years. Ferland is a 2000 graduate of Pennsylvania State University and completed her Juris Doctorate and Master of Business Administration with the Dickinson School of Law. She is currently pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in English.