Some people who are U.S. citizens at birth believe they are dual citizens simply because they were born in a foreign country. Some naturalized U.S. citizens believe that when they took the oath of allegiance to the U.S. it effectively renounced their former citizenship. Either situation may or may not be true, depending on the foreign country involved. Foreign citizenship laws are varied and complicated. Security clearance applicants who are uncertain about dual citizenship should research the matter before answering the citizenship question on the Questionnaire for National Security Positions (SF86). Dual citizenship can be a surprisingly common issue in security clearance application procedures.


The “Foreign Preference” criterion (Guideline C) of the December 2005 “Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information” makes the “exercise of any right, privilege or obligation of foreign citizenship after becoming a U.S. citizen” a potentially disqualifying condition for a security clearance. Guideline C also states:

When an individual acts in such a way as to indicate a preference for a foreign country over the United States, then he or she may be prone to provide information or make decisions that are harmful to the interests of the United States.


In 1998 only 11 Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA) cases involved dual citizenship. In 2008 it increased to 272 cases. This change occurred primarily because of the issuance of the “Money Memorandum” in August 2000 that stated:

The security concerns underlying this guideline are that the possession and use of a foreign passport in preference to a U.S. passport raises doubt as to whether the person’s allegiance to the United States is paramount and it could also facilitate foreign travel unverifiable by the United States. Therefore consistent application of the guideline requires that any [DoD] clearance be denied or revoked unless the applicant surrenders the foreign passport or obtains official approval for its use from the appropriate agency of the United States Government.

Guideline C does not specifically indicate that the mere existence of dual citizenship is a potentially disqualifying condition. It uses the words “exercise” and “acts,” indicating there must be conduct that demonstrates a preference for a foreign country. However, Guideline C lists mitigating conditions for dual citizenship unrelated to conduct, thereby implying that dual citizenship by itself is a potential security concern. Merely having dual citizenship will not automatically result in a security clearance denial, nor will simply renouncing foreign citizenship necessarily result in a security clearance approval. Generally people who acquired dual citizenship at birth and have done nothing to obtain recognition of the foreign citizenship will encounter little or no problem in obtaining a clearance unless there are other security issues in their case.


The foreign country where citizenship is held is not relevant. DOHA decisions regarding applicants who were unwilling to renounce Iranian or Chinese citizenship were the same as for those who were unwilling to renounce Canadian or British citizenship. When an immigrant becomes a naturalized U.S. citizen and takes the oath of allegiance in which they “absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen,” they rarely take the additional step of insuring that their former citizenship has been effectively renounced. Some even apply to have their foreign passport renewed and use it to travel to their native country. This creates serious problems when applying for a security clearance. The following are examples of potentially disqualifying conditions, extracted from the Adjudicative Guidelines, related to dual citizenship:

1. Possession of a current foreign passport;

2. Accepting educational, medical, retirement, social welfare, or other such benefits from a foreign country;

3. Residence in a foreign country to meet citizenship requirements;

4. Using foreign citizenship to protect financial or business interests in another country;

5. Seeking or holding political office in a foreign country;

6. Voting in a foreign election;

7. Action to acquire or obtain recognition of a foreign citizenship by an American citizen.



The following are examples of mitigating conditions, extracted from Adjudicative Guidelines, related to dual citizenship:

1. Dual citizenship is based solely on parents’ citizenship or birth in a foreign country;

2. The individual has expressed a willingness to renounce dual citizenship;

3. Exercise of the rights, privileges, or obligations of foreign citizenship occurred before the individual became a U.S. citizen or when the individual was a minor;

4. Use of a foreign passport is approved by the cognizant security authority;

5. The passport has been destroyed, surrendered to the cognizant security authority, or otherwise invalidated;

6. The vote in a foreign election was encouraged by the U.S. Government.


Guideline C does not contain any specific mitigating conditions similar to those in other Guidelines where potentially disqualifying conduct can be mitigated based on voluntariness, motivation, frequency, recency, and unusual circumstances. However, the “General Criteria” described in “The Adjudicative Process” paragraph of the Adjudicative Guidelines applies to the adjudication of all cases and requires that these factors be considered.

Some countries prohibit their citizens from entering or leaving their country using a foreign passport. Some make it practically impossible to renounce citizenship. Personal safety concerns while traveling in certain areas of the world sometimes makes it unwise to use a U.S. passport. The disqualifying condition involving the past “exercise of any right, privilege or obligation of foreign citizenship after becoming a U.S. citizen” may possibly be mitigated using the General Criteria, but only if the applicant expresses a willingness to renounce their foreign citizenship and surrenders their foreign passport.

Security clearance adjudications posted at the DOHA website are replete with cases where the granting or denying of a security clearance hinged on an applicant’s decision to renounce foreign citizenship and surrender their foreign passport. However, because of potential counterintelligence implications, it is not advisable to contact a foreign embassy or consulate for this purpose without first obtaining guidance from the U.S. Government. In an SF86 and during a security interview, it is only necessary to express a willingness to renounce foreign citizenship. Additionally the applicant should surrender their foreign passport to the security officer processing their clearance application and include information about this action in their SF86.


Without proper mitigation dual citizenship, like other security issues, can create a presumption that a disqualifying conditions exists and result in having an interim clearance declined. Stating in the SF86 a willingness to renounce foreign citizenship and surrendering a foreign passport to the appropriate security officer can significantly mitigate security concerns. Explaining in the SF86 the reason dual citizenship exists and the reasons any potentially disqualifying conduct may have occurred will also improve an individual’s chance of obtaining an interim clearance.


In October 2008 the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued Intelligence Community Policy Guidance (ICPG) Number 704.2. Appendix A to ICPG 704.2 is identified as the Adjudicative Guidelines as approved by the President and issued by the Assistant for National Security Affairs on 29 December 2005. However, Guideline C at Appendix A is significantly different than Guideline C in the December 2005 Adjudicative Guidelines. It states:

Being a U.S. citizen and a citizen of another country is not prohibited or disqualifying absent a showing of heightened risks related to national security. The same is true for the exercise of any right, privilege or obligation of foreign citizenship or action to acquire or obtain recognition of foreign citizenship by a U.S. citizen.

All but one of the potentially disqualifying conditions related to dual citizenship in this version of Guideline C are completely different than those listed above. There has been no indication of which version of Guideline C the Intelligence Community agencies are using. It is possible that Guideline C in ICPG 704.2 was the result of an administrative error.


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William H. Henderson is a former Army Counterintelligence Agent and a retired federal clearance investigator. In 2007 he began helping clearance applicants from the pre-application stage through representation at hearings and appeals. Since 2012, he’s been the Principal Consultant at the Federal Clearance Assistance Service (FEDCAS). His first two books on security clearances have been used at five universities and colleges. He recently published the 2nd Edition of Issue Mitigation Handbook. He’s contributed scores of articles to, and he’s been retained as an expert witness in several state and federal lawsuits.