You May be Eligible for a Second Passport and Not Even Know It

Do you know where your parents or grandparents were born?

Seems like an odd question, but finding the answer could determine whether you have an existing legal right to citizenship in another country.

There are two major legal principles of citizenship law that most countries use to determine citizenship status:

1) Bloodline, or the principle of jus sanguinis, (Latin for “right of blood”): describes a child’s citizenship resulting from the nationality of a father or mother, or from earlier ancestors, usually limited to grandparents. This is called “citizenship by descent.” Most countries apply this rule in some form.

Countries that follow this legal “descent” principle in some form include Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Serbia, Slovakia, Armenia, Ukraine, Israel, Lebanon, South Africa, Rwanda, Australia, the Philippines, Afghanistan, South Korea, Mexico, and Argentina.

2) Place of birth, or the principle of jus soli, (Latin for “right of soil”): meaning that being born within the geographic territory over which a country has sovereignty may automatically make the newborn child a citizen of that country. Not all countries apply this rule.

In this globally connected world, dual citizenship has become commonplace. Dual nationality simply means that a person is legally a citizen of two countries at the same time, qualified as such under each nation’s law.

In 1996, only seven of 17 Latin American countries allowed some form of dual nationality; now all do. In 2006, India changed its policy to allow a modified form of dual citizenship for Indians living outside their home country. Now, every major country whose nationals migrate to the United States in large numbers allows dual citizenship; except China, South Korea, and Cuba.

The Republic of Ireland offers a widely known example of automatic citizenship by descent. Under Irish nationality law, blood lines determine a birthright to citizenship even without ever having lived in the country. Irish laws confer nationality on those born within Ireland, on those who prove they have an Irish parent or grandparent, and on those who marry an Irish citizen.

Since Ireland is a European Union member state, the Irish passport is one of the most sought-after travel documents. With a population of 4.8 million, Ireland has millions of current official passports in worldwide circulation, many thousands held by U.S. citizens.

Do you know who your ancestors were?

Over 40 million U.S. citizens—nearly 12% of all Americans—can trace their ancestry to Ireland and thus are eligible for an Irish passport. There are 31.8 million U.S. citizens of Mexican origin, many entitled to dual U.S.-Mexican citizenship. A 2011 Hungarian law confers citizenship on anyone who is a descendant of a person who was a Hungarian citizen before 1920. There are 1.6 million U.S. citizens of Hungarian descent who might qualify.

The path to automatic second citizenship for you and your family may be revealed in your family tree. It may be time to investigate those vague stories you’ve heard about your family roots. Your ancestral origins may qualify you for dual citizenship.

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