At Home in Two Countries: The Past and Future of Dual Citizenship

Author:   Peter J. Spiro
Publisher:   GRFDT
Reviewer:   IndrigaValiukaite
Designation:   Intern

At Home in Two Countries: The Past and Future of Dual Citizenship by Peter J. Spiro. New York: New York University Press, 2016. 208 pages.

In At Home in Two Countries, Peter J. Spiro, a former US Supreme Court law clerk and member of the National Security Council, describes the historical emergence of dual citizenship and suggests that, despite the resistance of some states, the dual citizenship has become increasingly tolerated and even, in some cases, promoted. The author considers various ways through which dual citizenship can be obtained (most notably by the naturalisation of migrants, marriage or birth) and describes the shift in global trends of treatment of dual citizenship by states from strong disfavour to general acceptance and even promotion. The author argues that this is unlikely to be reversed in the future and suggests that dual citizenship should be even treated as a right for individuals eligible for it and which states ought to facilitate.

Firstly, Spiro explains how, historically, the feudal approach to citizenship and the notion of perpetual allegiance caused major diplomatic disputes between US and European governments (Ch1).  During medieval times individuals were considered bound to their sovereign in whose land they were born permanently. Naturalisation in another place was inconceivable. With increasing trans-Atlantic flows of migration to the US matched by the resistance of European sovereigns to acknowledge any transfer of allegiances, naturalisation in the US has resulted in dual citizens and states clashing with claims over them.

Spiro then moves on to explain how this tendency of perpetual allegiance has declined by states acknowledging the rights of citizens to expatriates (Ch2). Although dual citizenship remained not tolerable - citizens usually had lost their former citizenship after naturalisation elsewhere or were forced to select one if they were born entitled to two or more citizenships.  It was impossible in the mid- 20th century under US law to actively maintain another citizenship without renunciation of the US one (Ch3).

This has changed post World War II, Spiro argues (Ch4). As interstate conflicts have declined worldwide, the perceived threat posed by dual citizens has equally declined. Previously, the citizens naturalising in another country were perceived as traitors, especially across the East-West divide, but this was no longer the case in the post-war period. The focus also shifted away from states to individuals with the rising concerns for human rights and by the end of the twentieth century, US citizenship could not be terminated without the consent of individuals. Simultaneously, US citizens were free to keep other citizenships acquired at birth or by naturalization.

Spiro further argues that dual citizenship, with declining perceived costs, since then became increasingly tolerated by sending and receiving states alike and now is often even preferred (Ch 5 and 6). It benefits sending states by enabling close ties with diaspora communities which in turn promote the development of countries of originby sending remittances. Dual citizenship also contributes to host countries by promoting the likelihood of naturalisation and migrant integration.

As dual citizenship has become increasingly acceptable, Spiro argues, it should even be considered a right (Ch7).  Individuals who are eligible for dual citizenship should be able to obtain it and exercise self-determination effectively. Individuals who have established ties with two countries or more have an interest in the political life of those states and are affected by it and thus should have a right to participate in the decision-making and other processes. The states that require renunciation of citizenship by their citizens upon naturalisation in another country and vice versa object to effective self-determination of these individuals and thus dual citizenship should be considered a legal right to be protected.

Finally, the author suggests that with the increased tolerance of dual citizenship, the importance of citizenship will diminish (Ch8). In the case of mono-citizens, exclusive membership is associated with a higher membership price. Dual citizenship will tend to undermine the intensity of national identities.  The author exemplifies his own experience in the book. Spiro was born in America and thus has American citizenship but has obtained second citizenship (German) for merely instrumental reasons as it was available to him through ancestry. He does not identify as nor speak German.

At Home in Two Countries: The Past and Future of Dual Citizenshipmakes a great historical overview of the emergence of dual citizenship and the global trends of its treatment. Nevertheless, a few points could be made regarding the analysis. Firstly, the book is centred on macro-level analysis and predominantly focuses on the US and Europe. A wider variety of countries to consider as well as a more detailed country to country comparison would have made the analysis even richer. As the author himself acknowledged, the acceptance of dual citizenship is increasing but there are still many countries that reject it. It would have been interesting to understand what accounts for the differences in the policy approach.

Secondly, Spiro suggests that with the rise of dual citizenship the significance of citizenship per se is in decline (as a source of identity).However, some studies suggest that often people who naturalise already have a strong identity of that country before naturalisation (see e.g.Donnaloja, 2020)and that process of naturalisation itself can further promote identity building(see e.g. Just and Anderson, 2012). Therefore, while the author obtained the second citizenship merely for instrumental reasons, it is not necessarily applicable on a larger scale. The book title itself implies that people who have two citizenships are ‘at home in two countries’ suggesting strong ties and identification with both places.

Overall, the book offers a greathistorical context of the development of dual citizenship that will be a useful read for policymakers, lawyers, scholars and anyone interested in citizenship.


Donnaloja, V. (2020), ‘British and disengaged: national identification and political engagement before and after naturalisation’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Vol. 46, No. 13: pp. , 723–2741.

Just, A. and Anderson, J.C. (2012), ‘Immigrants, Citizenship and Political Action in Europe’, British journal of political science, Vol. 42, No.3: pp. 481-509. 


Review by Indriga Valiukaite

IndrigaValiukaite is a graduate in MSc Global Migration, University College London. Her research interests lie in political philosophy and sociology with special focus on issues related to democracy, migration, citizenship, nationalism, transnationalism, multiculturalism, ethnic conflict, politics of recognition, identity. Email: [email protected]

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