The Flip Side of Birthright Citizenship: Americans Seek Foreign Passports

By David North on August 21, 2020

My colleague Art Arthur, my former colleague Jon Feere, and I have all written about birth citizenship, in which pregnant alien women give birth to their infants in the United States to provide the baby, years later, the right to enter the United States as a citizen and, perhaps, at age 21, to secure green card status for the child's parents.

The motivation on the part of the parents is to provide — albeit at some expense — a second passport for the child, and perhaps, later, for the parents as well. If things go wrong in the home country, then the U.S. passport can provide a way to escape, or at least to move to another nation without going through anyone's immigration process.

Apparently the numbers of U.S. citizens seeking second passports is on the rise, through techniques other than birth citizenship. Birth citizenship works only in places where that is legal, and there are relatively few such nations where that is the practice; Canada being one of them.

What an increasing number of prosperous Americans are doing, according to an article in the August 20 edition of the New York Times is to use either past connections with (generally) European nations, or cash transactions, to obtain additional passports. The travel restrictions of other nations, created by the Covid-19 virus, are making the U.S. passport less useful, and those of many other nations more useful, a factor that was new to me.

The Times reports that the U.S. passport led to easy travel to 171 nations in 2019, but that number had dropped to 87 a few days ago. Now, according to a fun website, Passport Index, that number has fallen to 86. In contrast, the Spanish passport leads to similar easy access to 122 nations, and the Swedish one to 121. These numbers reflect the fact that many nations set up barriers to traveling U.S. citizens (because of our handling of the virus), but let in citizens of other nations.

For example, the passport from poor, small, and relatively new Montenegro (formerly part of Yugoslavia) will get you into 93 countries, not our collection of 86. Little Malta's passport opens the door to 120 other nations and that of its former colonial power, the United Kingdom, does the same with 121 nations. The Passport Index lets the viewer check out this number for every nation in the world.

Afghanistan and Iraq, though subjects of much U.S. attention in recent years, have passports that readily get their holders into all of 28 nations, thus putting them at the bottom of this particular listing, even below North Korea (39).

How to Obtain that Second Passport. Most of the Times article describes how one gets another passport. One route is called heritage-based citizenship. If a parent, grandparent, or in some cases a great-grandparent, is or was a citizen of a given nation, and if one applies and scares up the needed documents, then one can get a second passport from Italy or Greece, for example, and under some circumstance from Latvia. In the latter case, the ancestor must have fled the nation during the German or Russian occupations, an interesting provision.

Citizenship by descent is also potentially available to those with ancestral connections to Ireland, Israel, Poland, Spain, and Hungary, as well as some other nations. The rules, as you might imagine, vary from place to place, as do the timeframes for processing the papers.

Vice President Mike Pence, for example, would apparently qualify for such a citizenship from Ireland, on the grounds that his namesake and maternal grandfather, Richard Michael Cawley, migrated (via Ellis Island) from County Sligo in Ireland, an item not mentioned in this article.

Most of the Times piece covers the cash-payment offers of various nations; all something like our EB-5 program for immigrant investors. One can either make a business investment of the appropriate size, buy a suitably expensive residential property (Portugal and the Bahamas do this), or sometimes simply pay cash on the barrel head to the nation involved (it costs as little as $150,000 in Grenada.)

That these programs are all, to some extent, costly, is reflected by the location of the Times article. It was in the Thursday "Styles" section, which seems to be written for the more affluent readers of the paper.