Bianka Valbrun, book review, Peter J. Spiro, At Home in Two Countries, AmeriQuests (2017)

Peter J. Spiro. At Home in Two Countries: The Past and Future of Dual Citizenship.  Citizenship and Migration in the Americas. New York: NYU Press, 2016. 150 pp. US$ 16.40 (Hardcover). ISBN 0814785824.

Human migration is extremely complicated: on one hand, there is an intrinsic need for humans to move around in search of protection, better opportunities, and a better life; on the other, states feel the need to protect themselves, and in so doing, restrict the free flow of people crossing their borders. Peter J. Spiro, a professor of law at Temple University, examines the tension that is created by these competing interests through an analysis of dual citizenship in his recent book: At Home in Two Countries. A foremost expert in the field, Spiro delivers a thorough account of the history of dual-citizenship, offering a great resource for academics and policymakers trying to acquaint themselves with the topic, and its outlook for the future.

         The book opens with an examination of the concept of “perpetual allegiance”, a system adopted by most states prior to the seventeenth century by which individuals were citizens of the state in which they were born, and thus could not naturalize elsewhere. This policy was rarely disputed, since most people were not moving around as much as they are today, unless working in particular trades. This system was later uprooted due to the emergence of trans-Atlantic migration, which created pressure for states to lay exclusive claim to their nationals. Thus, the rules regarding citizenship during those times were strictly based on state interests, such as manpower in the military. Dual nationals represented a threat to states because they were perceived as transferring their allegiance and, moreover, states perceived that dual nationals disrupted international relations, and as a result, most states had a strict approach to dual-citizenship. In the United States, for example, the government implemented an expatriation measure in 1907, followed by the nationality acts of 1940 and 1952. These laws made it impossible for someone to be at the same time a citizen of the United States, and of another country, so individuals would lose their American citizenship if they naturalized somewhere else Eventually, the U.S. even went as far as removing citizenship from anyone who exhibited conduct showing strong attachments to another state.

        The negative attitudes towards dual citizenship eventually started to shift, first, with U.S. court decisions, then with international efforts to manage dual citizenship rather than eradicate it. States became aware that dual-citizenship was becoming too pervasive to be contained, but officials wanted to control it where they could. As a result, U.S. practices changed, so that American citizenship could only be terminated if after naturalizing in another country, a U.S. citizen took additional steps to avail him or herself of U.S. citizenship. Eventually, dual citizenship came to be seen as less of a threat on account of pressures and influence that dual-nationals, and the diaspora, have had in the countries of which they are citizens. Today, in the United States, many of the restrictions that were previously placed on dual-nationals have been lifted, and the subject has become less controversial. The same can be said about most other countries, other than a very few who have upheld the status quo.

         Throughout the book, there is a clear theme: the rise of dual citizenship is inevitable. With increased globalization, and improvements to transportation, it has become easier for individuals to form strong bonds in more than one country. Those close bonds now apply pressure on states to view dual-citizenship as essential to self-governance. In short, over time, the policies regarding dual-citizenship have changed their focus. Whereas states used to regulate dual-citizenship based strictly on their self-interest, now, individual interests are increasingly being put at the forefront.  Such individual interests favor dual-citizenship because of its accompanying benefits, such as the right of entry, residence, and professional and educational opportunities. Spiro argues that this shift from state interest to individual interest has led to a generally positive outlook on dual-citizenship, which has in turn led to its liberalization.

         In spite of the value of this work, I do suggest that Spiro’s conclusions have bearing primarily upon developed nations, and that a more thorough analysis of the effects of dual-citizenship on global South countries would have been a valuable addition to this work. In Chapter Six for instance, Spiro found that many global South countries, like the Dominican Republic and Haiti, relaxed their rules on dual-citizenship upon realizing the benefits that such dual-citizenship would bring. However, a question remains about the extent to which these countries actually benefit from dual-citizenship. Furthermore, dual citizenship creates incentives for people to leave global South countries. According to an article published by the International Migration Review, migrants with higher human capital, rather than the economically marginalized, are much more likely to embrace dual citizenship[1]. This kind of exodus often creates a “brain drain”, which in turn causes global South countries to lose capital—especially valuable for poorer countries— in exchange for a large diaspora. Although there are some benefits to having a large diaspora those benefits might be outweighed by the losses incurred. In fact, according to an article published by The Economist, although remittances can account for a large portion of the GDP of some poorer countries, they contribute to very little economic growth[2].

All in all, this book offers a timely analysis of dual-citizenship at a time where immigration has been increasingly controversial not only in the United States, but also abroad. The book does however leave the door open for a further analysis of dual citizenship in the context of global South countries.


Bianka Valbrun, Vanderbilt Law School.