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As a layman, it appears to me that citizenship is thrust upon an individual. This may happen by accident of birth, or choice.

  • Can a person relinquish citizenship without becoming a citizen/permanent resident of another nation?
  • What, if any, global legislation/accord makes it mandatory for an individual to be a citizen of atleast one nation?

The bottom line is what forms the title of this question - Can a person be a citizen by choice?

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Yes, sometimes

Citizenship laws are unique to each country, however, with respect to any given country a person may:

  • be a citizen,
  • be a national but not a citizen,
  • be eligible to become a citizen by taking some active step(s) - a choice if you will,
  • be neither a citizen nor eligible to become one.

Similarly, each country has its own rules on:

  • if citizenship (or nationality) can be revoked by the government, and if it can, how it can, including if there are protections to prevent statelessness,
  • if citizenship (or nationality) can be relinquished by the individual (a choice), and if it can, how it can, including if there are protections to prevent statelessness.
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  • Are you saying all countries support being a national but not a citizen? Heck, many countries do not even distinguish the two concepts.
    – Greendrake
    Jul 2 at 7:13
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    @Greendrake I didn’t say that at all. I said there are 4 broad categories I never suggested every country has all 4.
    – Dale M
    Jul 2 at 7:40
  • It turns out that's exactly what you said because you said "any given country". Proof: ell.stackexchange.com/a/290518/73137
    – Greendrake
    Jul 4 at 8:15
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    @Greendrake This seems like an unnecessary nitpick. Even if the answer doesn't contain perfect grammar it's fairly apparent what is intended given that the sentence starts with "citizenship laws are unique to each country". From that we can infer that what is possible will differ from country to country. In any case, one person's answer (which is somewhat problematic anyway) does not constitute "proof".
    – JBentley
    Jul 4 at 14:46
  • @JBentley Wasn't apparent to me at all until "can" got changed to "may". The original version did sound as if all countries supported being a national but not a citizen; the link proves it wasn't just me.
    – Greendrake
    Jul 4 at 15:11
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@DaleM isn't wrong, but some elaboration is in order.

  1. You (almost always) gain your citizenship (or nationality) in the first instance, at birth, without the agreement or assent or you or your parents. It is thrust upon you.

  2. Usually, your country of citizenship must consent to end your citizenship (or authorize you to do so unilaterally) under that country's laws.

  3. Once you have citizenship or nationality, in practice, in most countries, you can generally only renounce your citizenship if you contemporaneously or already have a citizenship somewhere else. You are at a minimum strongly dissuaded from doing so and are not a sympathetic candidate for relief under laws related to statelessness if you willfully put yourself in this position knowing the consequences. This is a feature of the citizenship laws of most countries in order to implement international treaties designed to prevent statelessness which are widely adopted.

  4. When an adult is naturalized as a citizen of a new country, usually, their old citizenship is revoked by operation of law under the laws of their old country.

  5. In many countries, including the U.S., there a high fees and tax consequences for renouncing your citizenship. Any potential tax liabilities in the future that were not yet due under U.S. law (e.g. capital gains taxes an appreciated assets not yet sold, and estate taxes that would be due if the person renouncing their citizenship had died on that date) are owed immediately upon applying to renounce your citizenship.

  6. A stateless person is, subject to quite narrow exceptions, still subject to all of the laws of the place where they are located, including its almost all of its criminal laws (except treason) and its tax laws (at least on income earned in that country).

  7. A stateless person lacks many rights. They can't travel internationally (there are exceptions under treaty in some cases, but obtaining those rights is cumbersome at a minimum). They can't vote. They typically aren't entitled to domestic welfare state benefits like national health insurance, disability payments, unemployment benefits, subsidized housing, old age or retirement benefits, etc. They can't work in a licensed or regulated profession. They may not even be able to sign a lease. They may not be allowed to own a company or serve as an officer or director of a company or as a trustee of a trust. They aren't entitled to diplomatic assistance.

There are many fraudulent legal movements such as the "sovereign citizen movement" (and the Moorish Sovereign Citizens) that assert that citizenship is voluntary and that just by disavowing it in some official feeling way, they can be exempt from taxes, court jurisdiction, and/or other laws. This is false and people who act on this fraudulent misinformation often suffer serious legal consequences as a result.

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  • "You gain your citizenship (or nationality) in the first instance, at birth, without the agreement or assent or you or your parents." It depends on the particular country's nationality law. For some countries, citizenship by descent is only acquired by voluntary application and is not automatic.
    – user102008
    Jul 2 at 17:17
  • "in practice, you can generally only renounce your citizenship if you contemporaneously or already have a citizenship somewhere else. This is a feature of the citizenship laws of most countries in order to implement international treaties designed to prevent statelessness which are widely adopted." If you are talking about the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, most countries are not a party to that. Although many countries' laws disallow making yourself stateless, one notable exceptions is the US. I think the reason it doesn't happen much is just because it's not a good idea.
    – user102008
    Jul 2 at 17:20
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    "A stateless person lacks many rights. They can't travel internationally." Many countries provide stateless travel documents to stateless people who are residents of the country (including countries that are party to the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons; some countries that are not party to it still provide a travel document like Identity Certificate or Re-entry Permit)
    – user102008
    Jul 2 at 17:23
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    The Wikipedia article on "Statelessness" says: "At the beginning of 2006, the UNHCR reported that it had records of 2.4 million stateless persons, and estimated that there were 11 million worldwide. By the end of 2014, UNHCR had identified close to 3.5 million stateless persons in 77 countries and estimated the total number worldwide to be more than 10 million." Later in the same article it is said that the US allows people to renounce citizenship and become stateless, but only after warnings, citing a State Dept manual. Jul 2 at 22:28
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    @ohwilleke: Here are FAM citations on US renunciation: 7 FAM 1215(e): "In making all these points clear to potentially stateless renunciants, the Department of State will, nevertheless, afford them their right to expatriate. We will accept and approve renunciations of persons who do not already possess another nationality." 7 FAM 1261(g): "Potential renunciants abroad who do not possess another nationality or a claim to one are nonetheless permitted to renounce U.S. nationality."
    – user102008
    Jul 3 at 0:22

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