Why Americans Are Chasing Second Citizenship
Updated: Mar 29
By Parviz Malakouti-Fitzgerald, Esq.
“How do I get a green card?” is a question I’ve been asked in one form or another thousands of times in my career as an immigration attorney.
But over the last two years, I increasingly hear a new call from Americans:
“How do I get a second citizenship?”
The pandemic has seen a wave of Americans looking to increase their rights of mobility and rights of residency in other countries.
Part of the reason is the rude awakening Americans got when their visa-free travel rights were restricted to only about fifty countries or so - the same as Jordan, Cameroon and Turkmenistan before coronavirus travel restrictions. Travel-hungry Americans who previously enjoyed a powerful passport that allowed visa-free travel to around 180+ countries were made aware of that particular vulnerability of having a single citizenship.
But, more importantly, the acceleration of a remote work culture caused by the pandemic is causing many Americans to wonder what it would look like to live abroad for an extended period of time, even if not indefinitely.
Newly Remote Work & Location Independence
A boat with anchor pulled-up is a boat ready to set sail.
Covid-19 instantly created a class of millions of Americans working remotely. It hasn’t taken long for new work-from-home Americans to realize that “home” doesn’t necessarily have to mean their apartment in Reno, Philadelphia or Detroit. It can mean an AirBnB in Playa Del Carmen, a house in the Slovak countryside or an apartment in Paris.
Many of these Americans aren’t ready to start long-term travel just yet, but the realization that they could do so while still keeping their jobs has triggered a more urgent interest to obtain a second citizenship. The key is to have a plan B option while also having a mobility asset that can place them in Europe beyond the maximum stay of 90 days visa-free allotted to American tourists.
Due to freedom of movement and residence for European Union citizens, an EU citizenship allows one to springboard into residency in any other EU country.
To this end, wealthier applicants have looked to citizenship by investment. But a greater number of Americans have been shaking the family tree to see if a citizenship by descent might fall out.
Thanks to a recent shift in Europe, many of those trees are bearing fruit.
Rise of European Citizenship by Descent
While Americans have started looking, Central and Eastern Europe have been signaling the green light.
The last ten years have seen a trend of Central and Eastern European countries welcoming back the descendants of their former citizens by greatly liberalizing citizenship by descent eligibility. Consequently, more Americans have been learning that citizenship by descent can expand way beyond just having had a parent that was from the country in question.
Because the United States saw an enormous influx of immigrants from Europe around the turn of the 20th century, a large percentage of Americans have European ancestry within four generations.
Americans now qualify for citizenship by descent in countries where their grandparents were citizens (Ireland, and Czechia), great-grandparents were citizens (Slovakia), and where their ancestors even beyond the great-grandparent level were citizens (Hungary and Croatia). Many more countries also offer citizenship by descent.
Slovakia’s new law is brand new, having been passed by Parliament in February, signed by the Slovak President in March and made effective just this month on April 1st, 2022.
In addition to the obvious benefits of gaining a second passport, I’ve heard newly minted citizenship by descent applicants consistently comment how special it is to forge a contemporary bond with a country that’s intertwined with their ancestry. It’s a call to their past deep-rooted feeling of identity.
Europe is whirring its passport printers for descendants of former citizens and Americans are taking them up on the offer. I anticipate this trend will accelerate in the next two to three years.
Options, Not Necessarily Immigration
While the small number of Americans seeking to permanently move abroad and renounce U.S. citizenship seem to dominate the news coverage of U.S. outbound migration, the reality is that many Americans just want to secure more mobility options. In my experience, most Americans seeking a second citizenship fall in this latter category.
We’ve all heard brash partisans loudly proclaim they’ll move to Canada if their candidate doesn’t win the next presidential election. These people tend to be all bark and no bite.
The reality is that most American clients I’ve served are motivated by one or more of these three reasons:
Having a plan B for their family if things get dicey in the United States in the future;
The ability to have an extended remote work stay of a year or two abroad (oftentimes in Europe) as a dream trip; or
Dual residencies in their U.S. hometown and a vacation property abroad (oftentimes in Latin-America or Europe)
Also, frankly, a lot of Americans think it’s darn cool to be a dual citizen even though they have a lot of questions about what exactly it means for their life.
Could a strong return to office work stem the flow of Americans pursuing second citizenship? Possibly, but it appears the movement back to the office has been minimal for professional workers.
Remote work in the United States is here to stay, and I predict we’ll continue to see Americans pursue a passport to greener grass outside our borders, even if they don’t use it immediately.
Parviz Malakouti-Fitzgerald is an immigration attorney, advocate and leading citizenship consultant.
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