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When a U.S. passport is explicitly revoked (in contrast to it, say, simply expiring), does that also imply revocation of the holder's U.S. citizenship?

For example, when the U.S. revoked Ed Snowden's U.S. passport, did he yet remain a U.S. citizen, as he seems to assume himself and as Wikipiedia (which now lists both his U.S. and Russian citizenship as current) seems to also assume?

I, too, would assume so, i.e., that revocation of passport does not imply revocation citizenship. That would also be consistent with the Wikipedia article about U.S. Passports, which explicitly states (emphasis mine)

The lack of a valid passport (for whatever reason, including revocation) does not render the U.S. citizen either unable to leave the United States, or inadmissible into the United States.

which would be a rather useless statement if all holders of a revoked passport were no longer citizens. Nonetheless, news media seem to often conflate these two things and I didn't yet find a clear direct statement that they are distinct.

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    "news media seem to often conflate these two things": can you add some examples?
    – phoog
    Oct 2 at 12:37
  • I think the point was preventing Snowden from traveling - there are lots of countries where one can easily enter with a US passport, whereas citizens of other states might need to apply for visa, etc. Moreover, traveling with no passport at all (or an equivalent document, like laissez-paser) is almost impossible. Oct 3 at 7:37
  • Note that the Wikipedia quote probably has in mind cases in which the passport was not seized or revoked by the American government but instead by a different one, or lost, or never issued. It is much clearer that those incidents or circumstances do not affect citizenship and simply states that the absence of proof does in principle not affect any rights based on the nationality. Oct 3 at 19:40
  • German-language examples of the passport/citizenship or passport/nationality conflation (not US-specific, though, but about Switzerland, EU and Germany): swissinfo.ch/ger/gesellschaft/…, dw.com/de/wann-eu-b%C3%BCrgern-der-pass-entzogen-werden-kann/…, srf.ch/news/schweiz/…
    – das-g
    Oct 3 at 21:40
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    According to usa.gov/renounce-lose-citizenship: “You might lose your U.S. citizenship in specific cases, including if you: Run for public office in a foreign country (under certain conditions); Enter military service in a foreign country (under certain conditions); Apply for citizenship in a foreign country with the intention of giving up U.S. citizenship; Commit an act of treason against the United States.” I believe the conditions for revocation of U.S. citizenship are quite stringent. Losing citizenship implies loss of passport, but not vice versa. Oct 6 at 16:37

3 Answers 3

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People often use "passport" as a metonym of "citizenship," but that should not lead one to mistake the two. Notably, many US citizens live their entire lives without having a passport.

A fairly brief search didn't turn up an explicit statement from an official government source that passport revocation does not affect US citizenship, but that is quite clearly the case if one reads between the lines of the fairly sizeable statutory and regulatory provisions governing both. Nationality law is codified at 8 USC 1401 and following, with the sections governing loss of nationality beginning at 8 USC 1481. The regulations concerning nationality generally are found at 8 CFR 301 and following, but there are not many regulations concerning loss of nationality.

Passport law is found in an entirely different title of the US Code, and titles are the highest level of division in the code. It is in 22 USC 411 and following. There are provisions that restrict eligibility for a passport scattered around in there without any section applying specifically to passport revocation. That is found in the related regulations.

Passport regulations are codified at 22 CFR Part 51, with revocation being the subject of Subpart E, which is 51.60 and following.

There may be an explicit statement in the regulations that passport revocation does not affect citizenship. I did not look very thoroughly. But a bit of logical reasoning shows why it must be so:

  1. The conditions for loss of US nationality are very well defined. They are also fairly tightly circumscribed by several decisions of the US supreme court in the decades following the second world war.
  2. The conditions for revocation of a passport are much less strict; as an example, a passport may be revoked under 22 CFR 51.62 and 51.60 if the bearer "is the subject of an outstanding Federal warrant of arrest for a felony, including a warrant issued under the Federal Fugitive Felon Act (18 U.S.C. 1073)."
  3. US nationality is required to hold a US passport, but US nationals do not need to have a US passport.
  4. Therefore, a US passport may be revoked for a reason that cannot lead to loss of US nationality, and, when that happens, US nationality is retained.
  5. The condition mentioned in point 2 is clearly insufficient for depriving someone of US nationality, not least because the subject of an arrest warrant is only suspected of having committed a crime. Depriving a suspect of their liberty is acceptable to the extent necessary to bring that person to trial, but further deprivations beyond that end would violate the constitution's guarantee of due process.

A word on "nationality" and "citizenship" in US law is in order, lest the use of the two terms seem inconsistent or arbitrary. US nationality is broader than US citizenship. All US citizens are US nationals, so loss of US nationality implies loss of US citizenship. However, there are some people who are US nationals without being US citizens, so it is more precise to speak of "loss of nationality" than "loss of citizenship," and indeed that is the term used in US nationality law.

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This might be slightly off-topic, but I want to note that even the cancellation of a Certificate of Citizenship does not imply revocation of US citizenship. A Certificate of Citizenship is issued in many cases as proof of citizenship for someone who is already a citizen (who automatically became a US citizen, either by birth abroad to a US citizen parent, or as a minor permanent resident living in the US with a US citizen parent). Since the grant of the certificate was not a grant of citizenship, the cancellation of the certificate is not a revocation of citizenship. This is mentioned in this USCIS manual page:

However, such a person may have an additional basis upon which to claim automatic acquisition of citizenship. Accordingly, if that person’s Certificate of Citizenship is cancelled by USCIS, but the person subsequently provides evidence that he or she automatically acquired citizenship through some other basis, the cancellation of the first Certificate of Citizenship does not affect the new citizenship claim.

As well as the Board of Immigration Appeals ruling in Matter of Falodun, which ruled that judicial proceedings to revoke naturalization were unnecessary in the case of cancellation of a Certificate of Citizenship, because the certificate did not grant citizenship, and cancellation of the certificate did not change the person's citizenship status.

A certificate of citizenship only provides documentation of United States citizenship for persons who claim to have obtained that status derivatively. See 8 C.F.R. §§ 341.1, 341.2(c) (2016). It does not confer United States citizenship but only furnishes recognition and evidence that the applicant has previously obtained such status derivatively, that is, upon the naturalization of a parent or parents. See Section 341(a) of the Act. Thus, the issuance of a certificate of citizenship, like a United States passport, only serves as indicia of citizenship. It is not a grant of United States citizenship.

[...]

Administrative proceedings to cancel a certificate of citizenship under section 342 of the Act, which provides statutory authority to cancel a certificate of citizenship that was illegally or fraudulently obtained, are different from denaturalization proceedings under section 340 of the Act. The main difference between cancellation and revocation proceedings is that cancellation only affects the document, not the person’s underlying citizenship status.

The exact same logic should apply to the revocation of a US passport -- like the Certificate of Citizenship of the person in the case above, a US passport is only granted to someone who was already a US citizen (or US national) -- the grant of a US passport is not a grant of US citizenship (or US nationality) itself. Therefore, the revocation of a US passport only affects the document and does not affect the person's underlying citizenship status. A person whose US passport is revoked, who believes that they are nevertheless a US citizen, can still seek to claim the rights of citizenship, including entering the US at a land border. If the government disagrees and puts them in removal proceedings, their US citizenship can be adjudicated in those proceedings and subsequent appeals.

There are several reasons under which the US government is allowed to deny or revoke a person's US passport, without any question regarding their US citizenship or nationality. This includes issues such as unpaid child support and seriously delinquent tax debt. It also includes foreign policy or national security reasons, as upheld by the US Supreme Court case of Haig v. Agee (1981); in that case, Philip Agee's passport was revoked for national security reasons, which has similarities to Edward Snowden's case, but Agee was never regarded as having lost US citizenship.

This archive of 7 FAM 1380 mentions that in the case of people denied US passports or had US passports revoked for various reasons like unpaid child support, fugitives in extradition, etc., they can still be issued a limited emergency passport with an endorsement that limits it to direct return to the US. I believe that if Edward Snowden were to seek to return to the US, any US consulate would happily issue him such a direct-return emergency US passport.

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Having no passport, losing your passport, or having an expired passport, or a revoked passport obviously makes it harder to enter or leave the USA.

Since you can secretly cross the land border to Mexico or Canada, or hire a sea worthy boat and go to various countries, a revoked passport doesn’t prevent you from leaving the USA but you won’t be able to just fly to London unless someone at the airline really messes up.

All these things don’t make you lose your US citizenship. First, while it is easy to revoke a passport, removing the citizenship of someone who doesn’t have dual citizenship and making them stateless would be between difficult and impossible for the USA. And many passports will be revoked when there is no intent to remove your citizenship, for example if you are the prime suspect in a murder case and the government doesnt want you to flee. And in general, the USA makes it hard to get rid of US citizenship. So the USA does this to make it hard for a citizen to leave the country.

And as a US citizen, you have the right to enter the USA. You will have two problems: Proving that you are a US citizen (not say an Italian claiming to be a US citizen who lost their passport). A revoked passport may be proof of citizenship. The other problem is getting to the USA. That airline employee in London might not let you on a flight to the USA. Even if your revoked passport is evidence that you are a US citizen allowed to enter, the employee may not know that.

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    Thanks! Can the part of this reply that actually answers my question (passport revocation ⇏ loss of citizenship) be backed up by sources?
    – das-g
    Oct 2 at 12:04
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    "removing the citizenship of someone who doesn’t have dual citizenship and making them stateless would be between difficult and impossible for the USA": the US is not a party to the convention on the reduction of statelessness, and the possession or lack of another nationality has no bearing on the loss of US citizenship.
    – phoog
    Oct 2 at 12:32
  • "but you won’t be able to just fly to London unless someone at the airline really messes up." Or unless you have the passport of another country.
    – user102008
    Oct 2 at 15:46
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    "The other problem is getting to the USA. That airline employee in London might not let you on a flight to the USA." If your passport is revoked for a reason like back taxes, back child support, etc., but there is no question that you have US nationality, then any US consulate will still issue you a limited US passport that is only valid for direct return to the US. You can use that to board a flight to the US. Alternately, if you can travel to Canada or Mexico on the passport of another country, you can enter the US by land and not worry about the airline.
    – user102008
    Oct 2 at 15:50
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    @gnasher729: "airline employee doesn't know" what? I never said that the airline would let them fly to the US without a US passport.
    – user102008
    Oct 2 at 21:32

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