With U.S. in slump, dual citizenship in EU countries attracts Americans
For millions of Europeans who braved the Atlantic Ocean for a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty and dreams of a lavish life, there was little thought of ever emigrating back.
Yet for a new generation of Americans of European descent, the Old Country is becoming a new country full of promise and opportunity.
The creation of the European Union and its thriving economy is very appealing for Americans in a global economy.
"With an EU passport, I can live and work in 27 countries," said Suzanne Mulvehill of Lake Worth. "With a U.S. passport, I can live and work in one."
Americans can claim citizenship in any of the 27 European countries that are in the EU based on the nationality of their parents, or in some cases, grandparents and great-grandparents. Citizenship in one of those countries allows you to live and work in any EU nation.
Since the United States doesn't keep statistics on dual citizens, it's impossible to know exactly how many people have applied for citizenship in Europe. But it's estimated that more than 40 million Americans are eligible for dual citizenship, and a growing number of Americans want to try their luck elsewhere.
"I have to say that over the past few years, calls I never would have received before have been made to the office," said Sam Levine, an immigration attorney in Palm Beach Gardens. "It's not like a tidal wave, but it's certainly more substantial, and it's remarkable."
He's receiving calls from people like Mulvehill, executive director of the Emotional Institute, a Lake Worth-based company that trains entrepreneurs.
Mulvehill's mother was born in Romania, which became a member of the European Union last year.
She's obtaining Romanian citizenship, which she estimates will have taken about three years, a ton of paperwork, $750 in fees and a trip to the Romanian consulate in Washington.
But once she receives the passport, probably early next year, she'll be able settle anywhere in the EU.
"I recognized for the first time in my life that being American had limits," Mulvehill said, "and that if I really wanted to become what I call a global citizen, then I needed to tap into all my resources to expand my ability to serve entrepreneurs not just in Lake Worth, which is one town, and not just in Florida or in America or North America, but on the globe."
Globalization is a word on the mind of Lauren Berg, a recent college graduate from Michigan who is obtaining Greek citizenship based on her grandfather. She plans to move to Paris, brush up on her French and engross herself in the European business world.
"It's definitely a really good thing to have on your résumé with business going so global," Berg said. "I probably never would have done it if it wasn't for the EU, but at the same time I've always been extremely proud of my Greek heritage."
Dual citizenship once viewed as unpatriotic
But not everyone is so excited about this increasing trend.
"I understand the impulse: You can get a better deal over there," said Stanley Renshon, a professor at the City University of New York and former president of the International Society of Political Psychology. "Whether it's good for the American national community is quite a different question."
Renshon belongs to a faction of immigration experts that believes dual citizenship diminishes the American identity.
"The devaluation of American citizenship for the sake of comparative advantage strikes me as fairly self-centered," Renshon said.
Dual citizenship became a major issue during the War of 1812, when the British military tried recruiting, and in some cases forcing, British-born American citizens to fight on Britain's side.
For years, being a dual citizen was seen as unpatriotic, and until 1967 it was possible for the United States to revoke American citizenship for people who voted in foreign elections.
But in the 1967 Afroyim vs. Rusk decision, Supreme Court justices ruled 5-4 that it was unconstitutional to bar dual citizenship.
"It was the high point of the 1960s and individual rights," said Noah Pickus, the associate director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University. "So the notion that you could take a citizenship away from somebody would seem to violate the basic notion of individual choice."
Today, immigrants who become American citizens have to swear that they renounce their previous citizenship, but it's more of a symbolic gesture, and Renshon said it's actually difficult to renounce a citizenship.
One of the biggest advocates of dual citizenship is Temple University professor and author Peter Spiro, who believes that defining one's identity by his citizenship is a thing of the past.
"There are really no harms caused by individuals having additional citizenship these days," Spiro said. "It's the wave of the future, because more and more people are going to have it. It's going to multiply on an exponential basis going forward."
And as the value of the euro - the currency shared by 15 EU countries - rises and America's economy slumps, it's an attractive alternative for Amber Alfano, a recent University of Florida graduate who is becoming an Italian citizen like her father.
"I'm doing it as an exit strategy of sorts," Alfano said. "I like knowing that I have another place to go if things get even worse here, or if I just get tired of running on the American mouse wheel.
"My dad was actually the one who put a bug in my ear about the whole citizenship thing. He said that Europeans are more interested in the quality of life than the quantity, and that it was a good place to have and raise children because of the way their social systems work. I don't care much about the child-rearing part, but I would gladly trade in some of my material possessions for a little flat, a scooter and more vacation."
The grass might be greener ... for now
Levine, the Palm Beach Gardens immigration attorney, was born in Canada and has received calls from people also interested in obtaining Canadian citizenship. He also understands the European appeal. He said he's proud to be an American and proud of what the U.S. has accomplished on a global scale in the last century but that there are some advantages to living elsewhere.
"You have to look at things like how hard people work here and how little vacation time people get here," Levine said. "A lot of people who live in Europe might not make same amount of money as Americans, but in some senses it's a kinder, more gentle lifestyle."
When Alfano went to fill out her paperwork at the Italian consulate in Coral Gables, she said "the waiting room was full of second- and third-generation Americans (of Italian descent) picking up passports."
Pickus said he's heard stories of parents getting their children European citizenship as an 18th birthday present - "We didn't get you a car, but we got you an Italian citizenship."
Some, like seasonal Vero Beach resident Tony Monaco, who has been trying to get Italian citizenship based on his grandfather, bought property in Italy and learned that taxes would be much lower if he was a citizen.
For those who are moving for the EU economic boom, Hudson Institute senior fellow John Fonte - one of the nation's leading immigration experts and critics of dual citizenship - warns that it might not last.
"I think it's a short-term phenomenon," Fonte said. "I don't think the European economy in the long run will do that well because it's a heavy socialist welfare state in most of the countries."
Mulvehill, the Lake Worth entrepreneur trainer, taught a course at Lynn University and encouraged her students to obtain dual citizenship if they were eligible.
"Expand your possibilities. If you can get citizenship, why not?" she said. "The world is a bigger place than America. Look at what technology has done, creating a global economy. That, in my opinion, is what has created this phenomenon."
Every country has its own process for obtaining citizenship.
Ireland, Italy and Greece are among the most lenient in terms of letting an individual claim citizenship not just from a parent but from a grandparent or possibly a great-grandparent.
Even in countries that allow an individual only to claim descent based on a parent, in many cases the new citizen can pass the citizenship on to his child.
Eric Hammerle, a Vero Beach resident whose father was born in Germany, said it was easy for him and his 16-year-old son Nick to become German citizens.
They acquired the necessary documents - birth, marriage and death certificates - and took them to the German consulate in Miami.
"The whole process took about 20 minutes," Hammerle said. "They read over the documents, came back and said, 'Congratulations, Germany has two new citizens.' It was a fee of $85."
I actually like having dual citizenship. It's nice even if you're just traveling to Europe (usually the citizenship lines are smaller at passport controls). But a lot of countries require special IDs along with a driver's license and applying for those is the real challenge. Also made even more difficult by dual citizenship.