An Open Apology To My Daughter (Here’s Why She Doesn’t Have A Second Passport)
It wasn’t until after my son Jackson was born, nearly 18 years ago, that the idea of a second citizenship crossed my mind.
Jackson was born while we were living in Ireland. As a result, he was both a U.S. citizen and an Irish citizen automatically.
In fact, he obtained his Irish passport before he had his U.S. one. And it was that event—receiving Jackson’s Irish passport—that prompted me to begin looking into the Irish naturalization process.
As it turned out, at the time and still today, Ireland’s naturalization rules are straightforward and generous. You simply need to have 60 months (in fact, they count the total days rather than months or years) of “reckonable” (a term the Irish like to use) residency in a nine-year period.
“Reckonable” residency is formal, legal residency.
After living in Ireland for the requisite 60 months, we applied for naturalization. It took the Irish immigration officials more than a year to reject our application.
We hadn’t met the reckonable residency requirement at the time we sent in the application. Why it took 16 months to make that determination is hard to say, though, to be fair, at that time, Irish immigration was seriously overloaded.
So What Was It?
The problem was that, although we had moved to Ireland in December and gotten our first residency stamps in March, those stamps were temporary. It wasn’t until May that we obtained our first official residency documents.
Those first residency cards issued to us from Irish immigration were passport-sized pieces of folded construction paper with our photos stapled onto them and an official seal stamped over the photo.
Eventually, a few years later, the system was digitalized and ID cards similar to U.S. driver’s licenses replaced the 1950s-style residency card we’d been issued originally.
As we had continued to maintain our residency status in Ireland after we’d made our original naturalization application, we were allowed to update our applications and resubmit them. The final naturalization process took another year.
All in all, it was close to seven years after we’d first established legal residency in Ireland before we received official naturalization.
Not understanding the reckonable part of this country’s residency rules caused another problem. Our daughter, who was 8 when we moved to Ireland, wasn’t required to have a formal stamp or registered residency; as a minor under the age of 16, she was able to piggyback on our stamps.
We thought this was a positive thing. It meant she didn’t have to miss school for every appointment with the immigration officer.
However, if I’d known then what I know now, I would have forced the immigration officer to register Kaitlin’s residency officially separate from ours. But I didn’t know to do that… and then, as it turned out, we left Ireland before our daughter had the required 60 months of registered residency. She ended up with just two years of reckonable residency, between the ages of 12 and 14.
This wasn’t enough for her to qualify for the naturalization process… meaning that, while my wife and I both obtained Irish citizenship and passports as a result of our years of residency in that country, our daughter did not.
Now, when looking at the residency and naturalization options a country offers, I know to ask more questions and to take a broader perspective. You need to look at more than just the immediate requirements in front of you. Try to consider your situation long term.
For example, for years attorneys in Panama told that it was possible to be naturalized in that country after five years of residency.
The actual requirement, I eventually came to understand, is five years of permanent residency.
Understanding Requirements In The Big Picture
Before the Friendly Nations visa program came into play, the only residency program in Panama that offered permanent residency from the first approval was the pensionado visa, which doesn’t allow for naturalization at all. Every other Panama residency option requires between three and five years of temporary residency before you can obtain permanent residency.
Therefore, before the Specific Countries option appeared, the minimum amount of time you had to be legally resident in Panama to qualify for naturalization was eight years, not five. Even most Panamanian attorneys didn’t understand this distinction back when Panama was just coming onto the offshore world’s radar… and I’d bet that some still don’t understand it today. I’ve developed a healthy skepticism about the depths of understanding (or lack thereof) brought to the table by the typical Panamanian attorney. I’ve got a good one now, but I had to work with many I wouldn’t describe with that adjective before I found him.
What other kinds of things should you think about before committing to a residency-for-naturalization process?
Check to confirm whether, if you were naturalized in the country, you would be required to relinquish citizenship from another country where you hold a passport. This is the case in Panama.
If serial naturalization is in your plans, this is an important point to check with attorneys in the countries where you’re considering being naturalized before you begin the residency process anywhere.
Also confirm how much time you’ll be required to remain in a country as a resident citizen once you’ve been naturalized. Again, check with a local immigration attorney to understand the relevant laws so you don’t end up doing something that might endanger your new citizenship.
I learned the questions to ask too late in Ireland. Don’t make that mistake. Make sure you have a clear understanding of what’s required both before and after being naturalized by a country.
You don’t want to find out after you’ve been naturalized, for example, that you have to spend two years serving in the armed forces of your new homeland.