Security clearance: problems with dual citizenship
Can people with dual citizenship qualify for a top secret security clearance? The answer is unequivocally YES. That’s important, because without this type of clearance you can’t become a FSO, or get another federal government job that requires access to classified information.
There are lots of diplomats with dual citizenship for all sorts of reasons, like having a foreign or immigrant parent or having obtained American citizenship through marriage.
Still, the myth that dual citizenship is a problem is alive and well. When you look online you’ll find plenty of people who claim to work for a federal security agency saying you have to give up your foreign passport, or suggesting chances of getting a clearance are lower for dual citizens.
These people are either ignorant or fail to express themselves clearly (and unless they give you good reason to believe otherwise, I wouldn’t trust their credentials anyway).
However, it can’t be denied that dual citizenship raises a number of concerns that have to be addressed. It doesn’t have to be bad—nobody ever wagged a finger in my face saying “bad girl” just because I have a Dutch passport. But the security background investigators did have additional questions for me.
The biggest question is: where does your loyalty ultimately lie? In order to make sure it’s with the U.S., investigators want to know where you’ve lived (have you ever even lived in the U.S.?) and how strong your ties to the other country are (Did you serve in the military there? Do you own a significant amount of property there?). These are serious considerations, but don’t worry too much about having lived abroad, even if it was for 10+ years, or if all of your relatives live overseas. Those are not disqualifying factors (not for me anyway).
If you have a foreign passport there are records of you in that other country and they’ll want to look into them. That process can add lots of time to the background investigation, but it’s no different from having traveled abroad—if you’ve been abroad for any reason they also look into (police) records in those countries, making sure you’re not secretly a criminal or other type of problem maker.
If you hold a second citizenship it’s likely you will never get posted in that country, even if you speak that language fluently. That’s because your security clearance might get restricted for that specific country due to foreign influence (say, friends and family who are likely to beg you for visas). And even if you’re not excluded outright you might still have problems getting posted there because the host government may refuse giving you diplomatic immunity because they see you as their citizen.
There are countries the U.S. doesn’t get along with and there are countries that just don’t keep records very well—in both cases that might create a problem for you. However, this is mostly speculation on my part because I haven’t heard about many cases like that. I only know someone who applied for a top secret clearance who, after a drawn out process, didn’t get it. This person came from Venezuela. My understanding is he wasn’t rejected just because he grew up in Venezuela though. There must have been something they found, like connections between his relatives and the regime, or simply gave up because they couldn’t get information. Or maybe this person did something bad—I just don’t know.
Give up second citizenship?
Even though I recently saw written guidance stating explicitly that dual nationality is not a ground for denial, and applicants should not be asked to give up their citizenship, I’ve heard from people directly that background investigators asked them if they’d be willing to renounce. This situation is tricky, but as far as I know answering “no, I’d rather keep it” doesn’t disqualify you. While you’re not supposed to use your second citizenship to receive benefits like healthcare or education, it’s okay to say that you wish to use your citizenship, and obtain benefits from it, after you retire, or because you’d like to pass it on to your kids.
I’ve seen people asking on online forums if they should quickly renounce their second citizenship before applying for a federal job. That doesn’t make sense. You don’t even know if you’ll get the job and whether you renounce or not, your (potential) ties to that country in terms of family connections and/or property would still exist anyway.
Hopefully I’ve cleared up some of the main questions and misconceptions around dual citizenship and the ability to become a FSO. There may still be something that’s unclear or simply makes you nervous—trust me, I was nervous too when I went through the process. But if you have a (relatively) clean background, you’re honest, and you have legitimate ties to the U.S. and an interest in serving, there’s no point in focusing on the negative.
There are certain countries that have very specific rules, like countries that refuse to let you renounce citizenship, and countries that demand you clear up any blood ties to that country no matter how distant. Ultimately each case is going to be a little bit different. But in general, again, dual nationality is not a problem for the kind of security clearance you’d need for the Foreign Service.