A bit of good news for U.S. citizens who apply to renounce their citizenship: In the past, they had to relinquish their passports upon announcing their intent to renounce. Now in most cases they can keep their passports until they’re no longer official Americans.
Until recently, “renunciants” were obliged to surrender their passports early in the renunciation process following a “renunciation interview” with an official at a U.S. Embassy. This meant they would not be able to return to the U.S. until the renunciation process was completed, because under U.S. law, Americans cannot travel into the U.S. on another passport, even if they have one.
The U.S. Department of State says the policy change took effect Feb. 24. In a statement, the State Department cautioned that not everyone who begins the renunciation process will be permitted to retain their U.S. passport, but rather, only those who are able to demonstrate “an urgent need to travel to the United States prior to receipt of the approved Certificate of Loss of Nationality of the United States.”
London-based law firm Withers LLP actively lobbied for the change. “To their credit, they got it, they were fantastic,” said Reaz Jafri, a New York City-based attorney who heads up Withers’ global immigration practice. He cautioned that it may be some time before all U.S. embassies around the world become familiar with the new rule.
The change to the rules governing renunciants’ passports comes at a time when the number of expatriate Americans seeking to renounce their citizenship is at an all-time high. (And as we reported, the price of renouncing has recently risen, along with the wait time for renunciation interviews).
The policy of not allowing U.S. citizenship renunciants to retain their passports through the renunciation process was long-standing, according to Mr. Jafri. For most people seeking to renounce, it didn’t present a problem, because their lack of ties to the U.S. was the main reason they were seeking to shed their citizenship.
However, it sometimes resulted in major inconveniences for a minority who had to travel to the U.S. during the time their renunciation was being processed. Mr. Jafri said he was moved to speak out last year after four clients suffered major inconveniences when they were unable to travel to the U.S. after having to surrender their passports during the renunciation process.
Two were Asian students, sisters, who were unable to attend Ivy League universities that had accepted them because they were unable to obtain student visas while their renunciation applications were being processed, Mr. Jafri said. Another was a Mexican businessman who maintained business interests in the U.S., and was unable to attend meetings there in connection with an acquisition his company was trying to make, resulting in costly and inconvenient delays, according to Mr. Jafri.
The fourth client was also living in Asia, and unable to return to the U.S. to visit her elderly father when he became ill, and thus never got to see him before he died. “I thought that was unacceptable,” Mr. Jafri said.
The State Department does not keep track of renunciation waiting times, but Mr. Jafri and others say they last as long as a year, although they vary depending on the country in question.
The delays reflect in part “the serious implications the decision to renounce U.S. citizenship carries,” the State Department explained, adding that the process “is intended to be deliberative in order to permit individuals to reflect upon their decision before returning to execute the Oath of Renunciation.”
Wait times have also increased at some posts around the world as a result of an increase in the numbers of people seeking to renounce, the State Department said.
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