Many South Africans that come to the US obtain green cards at some point, and after a period of time, usually 5 years, they are eligible for US citizenship.
Then the questions arise: Should we give up our South African citizenship? Can we even be dual citizens of South Africa and the US? What are the implications of this? What are the requirements for obtaining dual citizenship? (There was some confusion about this last one!)
I will attempt to answer those questions here…
Before I continue, a disclaimer: I am NOT an immigration lawyer, so please don’t consider this to be legal advice. I am merely someone who has had to consider these issues myself. It is up to you to verify the current accuracy of this information. With that said, let’s continue…
Can I be a Dual Citizen of South Africa & the USA?
The short answer is “yes”.
South Africa allows its citizens to take on the nationality of another country without losing South African citizenship, but you have to apply to retain your SA citizenship before taking on US citizenship.
The US position is slightly less clear-cut. During the Oath Ceremony for US citizenship, you will state that you “renounce all foreign allegiances.” Some argue that this means that you are giving up your South African citizenship, but two things are important here: (1) The US Justice Dept has officially stated that it “tolerates” dual citizenship and has never gone after people who have not officially given up their original citizenship. (2) You do not lose your South African citizenship unless you officially renounce it by following the procedures laid out by the South African government.
Should I give up my South African citizenship?
That is entirely up to you. Some people retain their South African citizenship for sentimental reasons, and others do so for their own practical reasons. Others give it up in the knowledge that they get it back later if they choose to. (The South African government’s current requirement for regaining citizenship is that you move back permanently to South Africa.)
What are the implications of dual SA/USA citizenship?
If you are a dual citizen, the South African government requires that you enter and leave South Africa on your South African passport, and you may use your US passport for all other travel.
This means that when you go to South Africa for a visit, you are entering South Africa as a South African.
Should anything happen to you while you are in South Africa that you want the US to help you with, like somehow getting arrested, the US will probably not be able to help you because the South African government will have the right to insist that it is an issue between itself and one of its own citizens, and that the US has to butt out.
Also, if you own a firearm here in the US, you will not be able to take it along with you on a trip to South Africa (e.g. a hunting trip) because, as a South African, you are trying to take an unlicensed firearm into the country.
Those are the only issues that I am aware of.
What is the process for obtaining dual citizenship?
Here are the basic steps:
- Apply with the South African government to retain your South African citizenship. Contact your closest SA consulate or embassy for details. If you live in Texas, contact the SA Embassy in Washington DC.
- After receiving the permission letter back from the SA government, apply for US citizenship and complete that process.
- Use your SA passport for all travel to South Africa, and your US passport for all other travel.
That’s process in a nutshell.
What was the confusion all about?
It was all caused by changes in the South African Citizenship Act of 1995.
Article 6 of the Act states that you have to apply for permission to retain your SA citizenship when obtaining other citizenship. Article 9 of the Act stated that you had to apply for permission to use the passport of a foreign country (as you would be doing after obtaining US citizenship).
Then, in Sep 2004, Article 9 was repealed. Many people thought that Article 6 was also repealed, when in fact, it was not. People thought they could become US citizens without having to deal with the SA government at all. Some people inadvertently lost their SA citizenship as a result of this!
So don’t forget to first obtain permission to retain your SA citizenship from the SA government before applying for US citizenship!
I hope you find this information useful. Remember, things change from time to time, and what I say here today may not be true tomorrow, so check your information as you go along. If you find any additional useful information, please post it below.