China and Dual Citizenship

I swear, just about everyone I know has a dual passport. That’s somewhat of an exaggeration, but twice in the last few months I had clients first express surprise at my having only one passport and then pity. I ended up pointing out one very important reason why their dual passports were overrated, and that was before an execution in Iran I discuss below.

Many (most?) countries do not allow dual citizenship. The United States discourages them and China does not allow them — See Should China lift the ban on dual citizenship in the wake of the emigration wave? [link no longer exists]

Regardless, it is my understanding that if you are the citizen of a country, they typically will treat you as their citizen, no matter what.

Here is what that means. If you are a Chinese citizen and you get a United States passport while retaining your Chinese citizenship, you will most likely be treated as a Chinese citizen by China while you in China and as a U.S. citizen by the United States while you are in the United States. Why does that matter?

Iran recently executed (brutally murdered is actually the more appropriate term) a dual Dutch and Iranian citizen for having participated in anti-government demonstrations. Iran claimed the execution was for drugs found in her home, but it appears the Iranian government planted these drugs as a pretext. As brutal as this killing was (though since Iran is now executing more people per capita than any other country, it was probably fairly routine for them), Iran’s refusal to provide Holland the opportunity to visit with her or to give Holland any truthful information about her status or her trial was probably legally justified. For more on the story of Sahra Bahrami’s execution, check out this BBC article, Iran hangs Iranian-Dutch woman Sahra Bahrami on how Iran is refusing even to return the body to the Netherlands.

Iran’s position has been that Ms. Bahrami was an Iranian citizen and as such, the Netherlands had no right to any access to her. Iran does not recognize dual citizenships. I am guessing (though I do NOT know) that Ms. Bahrami used her Iranian passport to enter Iran. I say this because one of the main benefits of dual passports is the ease of getting into the country in which you hold a passport. That would make it particularly hard to argue that Iran should have treated her as a Dutch citizen. How can someone expect to be treated as a citizen of the country for entrance into that country and then flip around and expect to be treated as a foreign citizen once admittance has been granted?

I am not telling people they should never have more than one passport and I am also not claiming Ms. Bahrami would be alive today had she renounced her Iranian citizenship. But I am saying that before you start thinking dual citizenship is the equivalent of winning the lottery, I suggest you at least consider whether you might not just be better off having the power of a foreign country behind you when you go overseas. Because sometimes the answer will be yes and in those circumstances your dual citizenship will be a liability not an asset.

What do you think?

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