How can you lose your citizenship?

Most nations permit individuals to give up their citizenship. This act, known as expatriation, means that a person no longer wants the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in a particular country. Such a person may then become a citizen of another country or may become a stateless person (one without a country). If U.S. citizens wish to give up their citizenship, they must declare this on a form provided by the secretary of state.

A citizen of the United States loses U.S. citizenship by becoming a citizen of a foreign country unless a special exception is made by the State Department. A person can also lose U.S. citizenship for serving in the armed forces of, or holding office in, a foreign government. U.S. citizenship can also be taken away from people who have been convicted of a major federal crime, such as treason. But people cannot lose their citizenship for something they were forced to do. A person who is forced to serve in a foreign army, for example, will not lose U.S. citizenship.

Interestingly, Robert E. Lee, one of the greatest generals of all time, lost his U.S. citizenship when he took command of the Confederate forces during the American Civil War. Due to a mistake, his citizenship was not restored to him until Congress acted on the matter in July 1975.

Ward Whipple
Editor, Civic Leader