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Renunciation of U.S. Nationality Abroad


Section 349(a)(5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) (8 U.S.C. 1481(a)(5)) is the section of law governing the right of a United States citizen to renounce abroad his or her U.S. citizenship. That section of law provides for the loss of nationality by voluntarily and with the intention of relinquishing nationality:

"(5) making a formal renunciation of nationality before a diplomatic or consular officer of the United States in a foreign state, in such form as may be prescribed by the Secretary of State" (emphasis added).


A person wishing to renounce his or her U.S. citizenship must voluntarily and with intent to relinquish U.S. citizenship:

  1. appear in person before a U.S. consular or diplomatic officer,
  2. in a foreign country  at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate; and
  3. sign an oath of renunciation

Renunciations abroad that do not meet the conditions described above have no legal effect. Because of the provisions of Section 349(a)(5), U.S. citizens can only renounce their citizenship in person, and therefore cannot do so by mail, electronically, or through agents. In fact, U.S. courts have held certain attempts to renounce U.S. citizenship to be ineffective on a variety of grounds, as discussed below.

Questions concerning renunciation of U.S. citizenship in the United States pursuant to INA section 349(a)(6) must be directed to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) of the Department of Homeland Security.  


A person seeking to renounce U.S. citizenship must renounce all the rights and privileges associated with such citizenship.  In the case of Colon v. U.S. Department of State, 2 F.Supp.2d 43 (1998), the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia rejected Colon’s petition for a writ of mandamus directing the Secretary of State to approve a Certificate of Loss of Nationality in the case because, despite his oath of renunciation, he wanted to retain the right to live in the United States while claiming he was not a U.S. citizen. 


Persons intending to renounce U.S. citizenship should be aware that, unless they already possess a foreign nationality, they may be rendered stateless and, thus, lack the protection of any government. They may also have difficulty traveling as they may not be entitled to a passport from any country. Statelessness can present severe hardships: the ability to own or rent property, work, marry, receive medical or other benefits, and attend school can be affected.  Former U.S. citizens would be required to obtain a visa to travel to the United States or show that they are eligible for admission pursuant to the terms of the Visa Waiver Program.  If unable to qualify for a visa, the person could be permanently barred from entering the United States.  If the Department of Homeland Security determines that the renunciation is motivated by tax avoidance purposes, the individual will be found inadmissible to the United States under Section 212(a)(10)(E) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(10)(E)), as amended.   Renunciation of U.S. citizenship may not prevent a foreign country from deporting that individual to the United States in some non-citizen status.


Persons who wish to renounce U.S. citizenship should be aware of the fact that renunciation of U.S. citizenship may have no effect on their U.S. tax or military service obligations (contact the Internal Revenue Service or U.S. Selective Service for more information).  In addition, the act of renouncing U.S. citizenship does not allow persons to avoid possible prosecution for crimes which they may have committed in the United States, or escape the repayment of financial obligations, including child support payments, previously incurred in the United States or incurred as United States citizens abroad.


Citizenship is a status that is personal to the U.S. citizen.  Therefore parents may not renounce the citizenship of their minor children.  Similarly, parents/legal guardians may not renounce the citizenship of individuals who lack sufficient capacity to do so.  Minors seeking to renounce their U.S. citizenship must demonstrate to a consular officer that they are acting voluntarily, without undue influence from parent(s), and that they fully understand the implications/consequences attendant to the renunciation of U.S. citizenship.  Children under 16 are presumed not to have the requisite maturity and knowing intent to relinquish citizenship; children under 18 are provided additional safeguards during the renunciation process, and their cases are afforded very careful consideration by post and the Department to assess their voluntariness and informed intent.  Unless there are emergent circumstances, minors may wish to wait until age 18 to renounce citizenship. 


Finally, those contemplating a renunciation of U.S. citizenship should understand that the act is irrevocable, except as provided in section 351 of the INA (8 U.S.C. 1483), and cannot be canceled or set aside absent a successful administrative review or judicial appeal.  Section 351(b) of the INA provides that an applicant who renounced his or her U.S. citizenship before the age of eighteen (or lost citizenship related to certain foreign military service under the age of 18) can have that citizenship reinstated if he or she makes that desire known to the Department of State within six months after attaining the age of eighteen. See also Title 22, Code of Federal Regulations, section 50.20.  See also Section 50.51 of Title 22 of the Code of Federal Regulations regarding the administrative review of previous determinations of loss of U.S. citizenship.  

Renunciation is the most unequivocal way by which a person can manifest an intention to relinquish U.S. citizenship.  Please consider the effects of renouncing U.S. citizenship, described above, before taking this serious and irrevocable action. If you have any further questions regarding this matter, please contact:

Express Mail                                                                                        Director, Office of Legal Affairs (CA/OCS/L)                                           Bureau of Consular Affairs                                                                     U.S. Department of State                                                                       600 19th St., N.W., 10th floor                                                   Washington, D.C. 20431

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U.S. Department of State                                                               CA/OCS/L                                                                                               SA-17, 10th Floor                                                                       Washington, D.C. 20522-1710

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