Holiday Tangent: Other Americans who have relinquished US Citizenship (not just me; I am in good company)


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Hi Blog.  I found this tasty website on TIME Magazine, showing that other famous Americans have chosen to relinquish their US citizenship.

Think singers Tina Turner and Maria Callas, film directors John Huston (AFRICAN QUEEN and MALTESE FALCON) and Monty Python animator Terry Gilliam, actors Jet Li and Yul Brynner, performers Yehudi Menuhin and Josephine Baker, writers T.S. Eliot and Shere Hite, politicians Valdas Adamkus (Lithuanian President) and Andreas Papandreaou (Greek PM), and businesspeople Earl Tupper (of Tupperware) and Eduardo Saverin (co-founder of Facebook — yes, the guy with the chicken problem in the movie SOCIAL NETWORK).

I found this even tastier Wikipedia entry giving stories of dozens of people who have not only given up their US legal status, but also even got it back after doing so (Liz Taylor!) or never clearly gave it up (Bobby Fischer, Grace Kelly, Jesse Ventura, and Boris Johnson — yes, that Boris Johnson, London Mayor!)

I could spend hours here (and have) reading the cases and following the links.  Many of the stories are fascinating, such as:

  • Activist against racial discrimination in America, seminal researcher of what would eventually become Critical Race Theory, and personal hero W.E.B. Du Bois took Ghanian citizenship (at age 95!) when, in a fit of clear asshollery, the US State Department refused to renew his US passport from abroad (he was in Ghana managing the Encyclopedia Africana project in 1961).  He then lost American (he didn’t renounce) because US laws at the time forbade voluntary naturalization and swearing an oath of allegiance to other countries.
  • Engineer family Mr. and Mrs. William Gorham, formerly of Gorham Engineering in San Francisco, naturalized into Japan (in 1941!) and became Gouhamu Katsundo. According to the entry, “Gorham, a native of San Francisco, moved to Japan with his wife and children in 1918, where he worked as an engineer for various predecessors of Nissan before transferring to Hitachi. He and his wife renounced U.S. citizenship to naturalize as Japanese citizens in May 1941, apparently to escape increasing wartime restrictions on foreigners. He worked on jet engines at Hitachi during the war, while his son moved to Washington, D.C. and joined the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence.” That son Don, a graduate of Tokyo Imperial University in 1941, died in 2011.
  • Python Terry Gilliam: “Gilliam was born in Minneapolis. In 1968, he obtained British citizenship, then held dual U.S. and British citizenship for the next 38 years. In January 2006 he renounced his U.S. citizenship, describing the George W. Bush administration as having created an environment “scarily similar to the Orwellian nightmare” of his 1985 film Brazil.”
  • Doctor Ma Haide, formerly George Hatem, who helped eliminate leprosy and some forms of VD in China (died 1988). His entry: “Born in Buffalo, New York to Lebanese American parents in 1910, Hatem came to Shanghai in the 1930s to set up a medical practice. In 1949 he became the first foreigner to naturalize as a citizen of the People’s Republic of China.”
  • Activist Garry Davis: “Davis was born in Bar Harbor, Maine. After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, Davis renounced his U.S. citizenship in 1948 in Paris in order to become a “citizen of the world”, and created the first “World Passport”.” Meaning he had the citizenship of NO country.  That’s pretty brave.
  • Private Dancer Tina Turner “was born in 1939 in Nutbush, Tennessee, and rose to international fame as a singer. She began dating German music executive Erwin Bach in 1985, and moved to Zürich with him in 1994. Her application for Swiss citizenship was approved in April 2013, and she confirmed her relinquishment of U.S. citizenship to the U.S. Embassy in Bern in October 2013.” That’s only a few months ago, and what occasioned the TIME Magazine article mentioned above.

There are a few patterns: In the old days people renounced because of tax issues (which is why I believe there is still a stigma attached to doing it (e.g., “the yacht people”), as the US remains practically the only country that taxes its citizens abroad), marrying overseas royalty, running for political office overseas, and as a sign of political protest (e.g., becoming Canadian to avoid the Vietnam War draft). Nowadays we see more lifestyle choices (becoming a citizen of the land in which you live, such as Tina Turner turning Swiss), sports (being able to represent other countries in The Olympics), or occupational choices or opportunities.

The people who are associated with Japan include, of course, Donald Keene, but also James Abegglen (veteran of Iwo Jima, Economics Professor at Sophia University, and author of 1985’s KAISHA and 1958’s THE JAPANESE FACTORY; died 2007), Cathy Reed (ice skater), and Takamiyama Daigoro (Jesse Kuhaulua, sumo wrestler). There is no mention, however, of other sumo wrestlers who took Japanese citizenship, such as Konishiki, Akebono, or Musashimaru. One assumes they did not renounce (good for them; don’t).

My point is that the Americans are so convinced that American citizenship is so coveted and honored that one must be crazy to ever give it up (I personally have been called a “traitor” by an official at the US State Department for doing so).  Not true.  As one can see by that Wikipedia article, people have been doing it for as long as there have been formal citizenships to adopt or forsake.  It’s a legal status like any other.  And anyone who plans to live in the country, any country, for good I think should take it.

Further, countries should finally come to their senses that having multiple citizenships is not worrisome, and allow this to happen without forcing anyone to relinquish.  Many are.  Good for them.  And good for us.  I am in good company.  Arudou Debito

6 comments on “Holiday Tangent: Other Americans who have relinquished US Citizenship (not just me; I am in good company)

  • I think people (and governments, in particular) focus too strongly on the matter of loyalty or allegiance, when most often, I imagine, people change citizenships for practical reasons, e.g. having to do with taxes, voting rights, and residence (e.g. not having to reapply for visas). The idea that a person with dual citizenship has dual loyalties, and that that is the chief reason to not allow dual citizenship – while it may still have some validity today, depending on the individual and the case – rings to me of the ideology that led the US to intern thousands and thousands of Japanese-Americans. In the continually increasingly globalized world of today, where people do so frequently live and work in a different country from their birth, or may even maintain residences or some other sort of very active presence in multiple countries, it’s only logical, reasonable, that people should be able to have multiple citizenships. And, to renounce citizenships for practical reasons if the policies are too harsh (taxation, mandatory military service), or especially if taking a new citizenship in a country that requires one to renounce the others. I am, personally, in no way in support of Japan’s policy on this, and cannot imagine ever wanting to give up my American citizenship (which affords me certain rights and protections here in my country of birth, which I think very few other countries would ever afford me to an equivalent level), but, you should have every right to do so without being called “traitor.”

  • Debito, I have a PDF entitled “American Expatriation Guide:
    How to Divorce the U.S. Government”. Let me know if I should email it to you so you may post it for others to browse. Canada, among other countries, is a great alternative 🙂

    — Sure. Thanks.

  • There is a difference between renouncing and relinquishing. Tina Turner did not renounce her citizenship, it was relinquished. Small but important difference.

    — Do tell.

  • “My point is that the Americans are so convinced that American citizenship is so coveted and honored that one must be crazy to ever give it up (I personally have been called a ‘traitor’ by an official at the US State Department for doing so).”

    With you here and State is nothing but a PR operation for big business and the Pentagon. Fuck them.

    “And anyone who plans to live in the country, any country, for good I think should take it.”

    Here you’re off your nut. My wife (Japanese) lived in the US for 6 years and had no interest in becoming a citizen and I never once pressed her. I’ve lived in Japan for going on 9 years (combined) and while I generally have nothing good to say about the US, why would I want to adopt this place as my big brother? With Abe and Fasci-moto giving each other reach arounds and the rise of a right with absolutely no opposition. You’re comfortable with what’s coming down the pike–let alone your kids? Koreans, wells, hello!? America may be a pretty fucked up corporatist hole right now, but it’s good to have options.

    — Right. And what I wrote in this blog entry doesn’t deprive you of those options. Note that I implied that people who take one citizenship should not give up their other — and cheered that more countries are allowing for that.

    Also note that I said, “… plans to live in the country … FOR GOOD”, which clearly does not apply to your cases cited. To be clear, I’m advocating: If you’re going to live in someplace permanently, then take that citizenship as another citizenship if possible. And in Japan’s case, it (surreptitiously) is — that is, if you want to stay given the (as you note) darkening clouds of nationalism. Disagree with me if you want, but in principle I don’t think it’s that nuts.

  • I know is about American Citizenship, but I see often bashing Japan for not allowing dual citizenship.
    See European countries who do not allow either.
    Germany for instance allows EU citizens to have both but I remember Turkish accused Germeny for dual standard because Non-EU citizens must give up their own with one want to take German passport.
    Poland for instance do not recognize but allows to have multiply citizenship. See more in the link to Wiki below.

    As of December 2013, the following 14 EU countries restrict or forbid dual citizenship:
    Austria (see above; dual citizenship is possible with special permission or if it was obtained at birth)

    Bulgaria (Bulgarian citizens of descent can have dual citizenship, but foreigners wanting to naturalize must renounce their old citizenship)

    Croatia (generally allows citizens by descent to have dual citizenship and forbids it only in certain cases, but foreigners wanting to naturalize must renounce their old citizenship)

    Czech Republic (forbids dual citizenship unless the non-Czech citizenship was obtained by birth or by marriage)

    Denmark (currently, it is a fundamental principle in the legislation to restrict dual nationality as much as possible. One exception to this is if a person is born of a Danish parent in a country that grants citizenship under the principle of jus soli; a law to allow dual citizenship is being discussed)

    Estonia (forbids dual citizenship, but citizens by descent cannot be deprived of their Estonian citizenship, so they de facto can have dual citizenship)

    Germany (see above; allows dual citizenship with other EU countries and Switzerland; dual citizenship with other countries is possible with special permission or if obtained at birth; children of non-EU legal permanent residents can have dual citizenship if born and grown up in Germany)

    Ireland (allows dual citizenship, but a naturalized citizen can lose Irish citizenship again when naturalizing in another country; Ireland was the last European country to abolish unconditional birthright citizenship [in 2004] in order to stop “birth tourism” and to replace it by a modified form: at least one parent must be a citizen or a permanent resident)

    Latvia (starting from October the 1st, 2013 dual citizenship with Latvia is allowed for citizens of member countries of EU, NATO and EFTA [Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland]; citizens of Australia, Venezuela, Brazil, New Zealand; citizens of the counties that had have mutual recognition of dual citizenship with Latvia; people who were granted the dual citizenship by the Cabinet of Ministers of Latvia; people who have applied for dual citizenship before the previous Latvian Citizenship law [1995])

    Lithuania (the Lithuanian Constitution states in Article 12 that only in “individual cases provided for by law” can dual citizenship be permitted. [Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania, adopted on Oct. 25, 1992, in force from Nov. 2, 1992])

    Netherlands (dual citizenship is allowed under certain conditions: e.g. foreign citizenship may be kept in the event of naturalization via marriage)

    Spain (see above; Spanish citizens by descent can have dual citizenship; Spanish laws knows a “dormant citizenship” for citizens naturalizing in Iberoamerican countries: They do not lose their citizenship, but their status and their rights as citizens of Spain—and of the EU—are inactive until they move back to Spain. Foreigners wanting to naturalize in Spain must usually renounce their old citizenship; exceptions are made for citizens of some Iberoamerican countries, Puerto Rico, Andorra, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea, and Portugal)

    Slovak Republic (dual citizenship is permitted to Slovak citizens who acquire a second citizenship by birth or through marriage; and to foreign nationals who apply for Slovak citizenship and meet the requirements of the Citizenship Act)

    Slovenia (generally allows citizens by descent to have dual citizenship and forbids it only in certain cases, but foreigners wanting to naturalize must renounce their old citizenship)


    — Right. And none of these are absolutist as Japan in its laws. You should make that point too. We’re starting from two different foundations before exceptions to rules are made.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    #5 Adam2

    Japanese nationality law does not only forbid foreigners from holding dual citizenships. It also applies to Japanese nationals. Whether you were a born American like Debito or a native speaker of Japanese like me(!), you need to make your choice to identify your citizenship in two years, if you acquire additional citizenship after 22 years of age. Otherwise, the Ministry of Justice will send you a notification letter, and warn you about the possibility of Japanese nationality being invoked if you don’t report to the authority about your choice of nationality and process necessary documentation in less than a month.
    There’s also a huge difference from most European countries. The law that forces Japanese citizens to lose their nationality because of their foreign-born status is certainly not the case for most countries you bring up here.


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