How to get dual citizenship (and why you might already have it)

Almost half of all Australians were either born overseas or have at least one parent who was. That makes us a country of immigrants, one of the most cosmopolitan populations on the planet, and by virtue of foreign descent many of us have a claim on citizenship of another country.

The main reason you might want to do that is the right to live and work somewhere other than Australia. Citizenship also gives you the right to apply for a foreign passport, and that can be a real benefit for travellers. Particularly if it's an EU passport, it guarantees the right to travel, stay and work freely in any EU country.

Many countries will allow you to hold dual citizenship with virtually no impact on your rights as an Australian. Based on the most common origins of our population, here are some of the countries where you have a good chance of acquiring citizenship by virtue of ancestors who might have emigrated to Australia generations ago.

UK

Given the huge number of Australians of British descent, no surprise that more Australians qualify for UK nationality than any other.

If you were born outside the UK before January 1, 1983 to a British father, you may automatically be a British citizen. That's provided he was a UK citizen, that he was married to your mother and able to pass on citizenship to you. If you were born after that date but before June 30, 2006, to a parent who was a British citizen you are also automatically a British citizen. There's an exception in that if your father was British but not your mother, they must have been married for that citizenship claim to stand.

One major factor that might have motivated an eligible candidate to claim UK citizenship and apply for a British passport in the past has been the freedom it allowed for travel and residence within the EU. Post Brexit, that no longer applies. For travel, work and residence rights within the EU, the UK passport no longer carries any advantages over an Australian passport.

Italy

Got an Italian ancestor? Millions of Australians do, and that just might put you in line for Italian citizenship, provided your ancestors did things by the arcane rules of Italian bureaucracy.

For example if your father was born in Italy, emigrated to Australia and became an Australian citizen before you were born, you would not be eligible for Italian citizenship because your parent was no longer an Italian citizen at the time of your birth. However if your father was still an Italian citizen when he married your mother but not at the time of your birth, you may still be eligible. Confuso?

Women can also pass on Italian citizenship to their offspring, provided those children were born after January 1, 1948, the date of the Italian Constitution. Before that date Italian citizenship derived only through the male lineage.

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If your grandparents were born in Italy you may also be eligible for citizenship, but you'll need to prove your father was born to an Italian citizen. If your grandfather acquired Australian citizenship before the birth of your father, you're out of luck.

The Italian government passed laws recognising dual citizenship on August 16, 1992. If you became an Australian citizen before that date you lost your Italian citizenship, but you can reinstate that citizenship if you reside in Italy for a year.

Given the tangled protocols for acquiring Italian citizenship through descent, if you believe you are eligible you need to get in touch with the nearest Italian diplomatic legation.

Ireland

Ireland operates one of the most straightforward and generous paths to citizenship for those of Irish descent.

If you were born outside Ireland and either of your parents was born in Ireland and entitled to Irish citizenship, you are also an Irish citizen by birth. If you were born outside Ireland to a parent also born outside Ireland and who was an Irish citizen or entitled to be an Irish citizen at the time of your birth, you are entitled to become an Irish citizen.

If one of your grandparents was born in Ireland, but neither of your parents were, you may still become an Irish citizen. Even if your great grandfather or great grandmother was born in Ireland you may also be entitled to Irish citizenship, but only if your parents had thought to include you in Ireland's Foreign Births Register by the time of your birth. If you qualify, Irish citizenship opens the door to life within the EU.

India

Descendants of Indian parents, grandparents and great-grandparents can apply for Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) which allows them to live, travel and work in India without restriction (though if you're an Australian in India right now, the federal government will no longer allow you to return home, threatening a fine or even jail). 

This is not dual citizenship, although it comes close. Under the Indian Constitution, Indian citizens lose that citizenship if they become citizens of another country.

Foreign citizens may apply for OCI registration if any of their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents were citizens of India on January 26, 1950 or any time after that. Non-Indian spouses of Indian citizens or of OCI cardholders can also apply for OCI registration provided the marriage date precedes the application by at least two years.

Greece

If either of your parents are Greek, you acquire Greek citizenship automatically at birth regardless of where you were born. Greek citizenship can derive from parents, grandparents or even great-grandparents who are or were Greek citizens. Citizenship for those born in another country is unusual in that it requires registration in the Records of a Municipality of the Hellenic Republic.

Documentation for this process should include the applicant's birth certificate, parents' marriage certificate and citizenship certificate from parents from the municipality where they are registered in Greece. Either the Embassy of Greece in Canberra or one of the consulates of the Hellenic Republic located in Melbourne and Sydney can assist in this process.

The downsides

As well as benefits, dual nationality confers obligations in some cases. Americans living abroad as US citizens and citizens of another country must file a US federal tax return and pay US taxes, a requirement that has led some Americans in that situation to renounce their US citizenship.

Israeli Security Service Law does not recognise dual nationality. An Israeli citizen is subject to mandatory military service in the Israeli Defense Force even if they live in another country and hold citizenship in that country.

Dual nationality might bar you from certain areas of employment, such as government or military service, and lest we forget, dual nationality disqualifies anyone from sitting in the Australian Parliament, as 15 members found out to their dismay in 2017.

See also: World's most powerful passports named as international travel plummets

See also: 'Bizarre': Passport office issues renewal reminders despite closed borders

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