Can You Be A Dual Citizen Without Knowing It?

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Being a dual or multiple citizen means that you hold valid citizenship of two or more countries. It is possible to become a dual citizen automatically via marriage, or after being granted citizenship of another country.

Recently, the question of whether you can be a dual citizen without knowing it has been in the media, as the recent revelations that a number of Australian politicians hold dual citizenships. Section 44 of the Constitution sets out several disqualifications that essentially lay out how a person is incapable of being:

“… chosen or of sitting as a senator of member of the House of Representatives.”

Section (i) in the Constitution disqualifies any person who is under any:

“…. acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign power.”

This effectively means that individuals that hold dual citizenships are not eligible to be elected to parliament. However a number of these politicians are saying that they were not aware that they held citizenship to another country besides Australia. This prompts the question of whether you can be a dual citizenship without knowing it.

Citizenship is already an exceptionally complex area, and it is entirely possible that there are thousands of Australians who could be dual citizens without knowing it. In Australia, a nation of immigrants, it can be particularly tricky to know your citizenship status, especially as other citizenships can be passed down from parents to children.

According to the 2016 census, 49% of Australians were either born overseas, or had at least one parent who was born overseas – meaning that almost half of the nation could potentially qualify for dual citizenship.

There are multiple ways that dual citizenship can be obtained, such as being born in a foreign country, by being a descendent of someone born in a foreign country, and migrating from a foreign country. However, citizenship is not as cut and dry as that, as each individual nation state determines citizenship according to their own laws. So what applies for one nation (such as the UK), may not apply for another nation (such as America).


How do you find out whether you are a dual citizen?

Unfortunately, there is no simple way to do this. You need to think of any countries that might see you as a citizen and check their laws.

If your parents, or even grandparents were born in another country or have another citizenship, then that is a good place to start. Also consider if living in another country may give you right to citizenship.

According to the 2016 census the top five countries that Australians are likely to have ancestry in are:

  • England 36.1%
  • Australia 33.5%
  • Ireland 11%
  • Scotland 9.3%
  • China 5.6%


Should we change Section 44 of the constitution?

There is an argument to change the part of the Constitution that says members of Parliament can only hold citizenship of the nation that they are representing. Academics in this space say that changing this section is necessary due to the ever changing and multicultural nature of society.

Another argument for changing the strict section 44 is the fact that we live in a representative democracy. Therefore, elected officials that have been voted into parliament by their constituency should still serve out the terms that they were elected for.

Unfortunately, there is still some unfinished Section 44 business, as Labor’s Katy Gallagher and David Feeney are due to face the high court on January 19th. And still, questions linger for between three and eight other members of parliament.

If you have any citizenship questions, or need to understand the legalities of dual citizenship, please do not hesitate to contact the offices of Owen Hodge Lawyers. We are always happy to assist clients in understanding the full ramifications of all of your legal needs. Please feel free to call us at your earliest convenience on 1800 770 780.

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