Dual nationality benefits, drawbacks

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Americans who hold dual nationality status often have a much easier time with international travel. (Unsplash/Vladislav Klapin)

See also “What does patriotism mean when you’re a citizen of two different countries?

Sterling is a small village in Canada that has been officially classified as a desert despite being one of the best grain producing areas of the world. Holt Zaugg refers to this small village as home, but he says the same thing about Utah. 

“In 2009, I sold everything I owned in Canada and moved to the United States to pursue a doctorate degree at BYU,” he said.

Zaugg, his wife and their five children moved to Provo, and he said he found the process of moving to the U.S. and becoming a student easier because of his dual nationality.

A person with dual nationality is legally recognized as a citizen of two different countries and has legal rights and obligations in each. Not every country allows its citizens to hold dual nationality, but for those who have it, life can be easier at times, if occasionally inconvenient.

Peter Spiro studied the subject, and in his book “At Home in Two Countries: The Past and Future of Dual Citizenship,” he says, “Dual nationality was once considered an offense to nature, an abomination on the order of bigamy … a condition that, if not quite freakish, was nonetheless vaguely disreputable, a status one could hold but not advertise.”

Negative views of people who hold dual nationality have lessened over the years, Spiro says, and dual nationality can even be viewed as a privilege today.

Yossi Harpaz, a professor at Tel Aviv University, spoke about something he calls compensatory citizenship.

“Compensatory citizenship is the phenomenon when people seek to have dual nationality but don’t necessarily immigrate to the other country,” Harpaz said.

This is more common in less developed countries, where people usually seek to get passports from European countries, Canada or the United States.

Some people are interested in having two passports to make international travel easier, he said, while others may be looking for short-term employment or to get an education in a different country. Harpaz mentioned that some people are motivated to seek dual nationality because it might make them feel more privileged than their fellow citizens.

“Citizenship today means a lot more than the right to live in a country and to participate politically,” Harpaz said. “In some sense, it is becoming more like a piece of property that people can acquire and use.”

Because of these views, some of the countries that offer the most generous welfare benefits do not allow dual nationality. But many more countries are starting to recognize dual nationality and are making it easier for people to become citizens. Harpaz believes this has to do with the fact that years ago, and in times of war, countries were more worried about one’s loyalty to their country, but countries are now more interested in people helping the country’s economy.

Countries that do not allow dual nationality are trying to reinforce their sovereignty,” said Thomas Janoski, a professor at the University of Kentucky.

Janoski said some countries feel like they have the right to maintain their culture, politics and economics.

“Generally, countries that restrict dual nationality have fears of emigration or immigration will threaten their way of life,” he said. “Globalization has increased the desire to have dual nationality, but this is due to marriages between citizens of different countries and the resulting effects on their children.”

Patricia Gándara, a professor at UCLA, explained a benefit of dual nationality.

“When you live in another country, it helps bring perspective to your other country,” she said. “You see the way assumptions and everyday practices differ.”

Gándara is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Mexico. She said her citizenship is a part of her identity.

“Dual citizenship is related to identity. I am 100% U.S.A. American, but I also feel Mexican because I have the status of a citizen there, and this makes me feel certain obligations to Mexico, to do what I can to improve conditions in Mexico,” she said.

Gándara is engaged in binational programs for students who she said live part of their lives in two different countries and often find themselves without sufficient support in either. She said her dual citizenship “lends credibility to these efforts.”

Others have found benefits of dual nationality. Taylor Orr is originally from Canada but is also a U.S. citizen and says his dual citizenship has proven beneficial.

“Since I have dual citizenship, I was able to find work easily in Utah. There were not any limitations to where I work or how much I work, and I could also apply for FASFA Pell Grants that paid for a lot of my schooling,” Orr said. “The dual nationality gives people more freedom. There’s the option to move to another country if you don’t like where you are at. I can move between Canada and the U.S. with no questions asked.”

Taysia Kerrison is also originally from Canada but currently lives in the U.S. She said her dual citizenship has brought her “more opportunities and fewer problems.” Kerrison also mentioned the benefits of being able to work in both countries and not have to deal with the limitations of being an international student.

Noelle Remington was born and raised in California and met her husband while attending BYU. The two married and eventually moved to Canada, his home country. Remington said she sees the benefits of dual nationality for herself and her children, who live in the U.S. Dual nationality has offered her children “employment and educational opportunities without borders,” she said.

People with dual nationality usually have to pay taxes in both countries, which bothers some, but others believe the benefits exceed the drawbacks, especially when traveling abroad.

Juan Garcia is originally from Colombia. He moved to the U.S. when he was 3 years old and became a citizen when he was 23. 

“As an American, you also have a much easier time traveling internationally because so many more countries require very little of you to be able to enter their countries,” Garcia said.

Just like Garcia, many people with dual nationality appreciate the benefits of their citizenship when traveling. Zaugg told of an experience he had while traveling abroad, which you can listen to below.

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