For many Americans, the news today that Meghan Markle was expecting a royal baby came as a welcome injection of delight into the depressing drumbeat of politics and animosity that normally fill the nation’s news feeds.
But before anyone could jump into fantasizing about tiny outfits and high fashion baby bumps, the conversation quickly shot back to the familiar realm of international politics: Would the future earl or lady be a U.S. citizen? Or would the possibility of an American baby in the House of Windsor be overturned by royal decree?
For those few who don’t know, Markle is a native-born citizen of the United States. Her husband, Prince Harry, is extremely British.
It will be years before Markle completes the lengthy process of becoming a British citizen. Even then, she may or may not renounce her connection to the United States. So will the baby automatically be considered a dual citizen? Not necessarily. Will he or she have to pay taxes in the United States, and subject the royal family’s notoriously private finances to examination in a foreign country? Maybe.
Here’s a refresher on the rules:
Eligibility for U.S. citizenship through parents hinges on a few factors: Where the baby is born, whether one or both parents are U.S. citizens, and whether the parents are married.
According to the State Department, children like the expected royal baby, who are born abroad, in wedlock, to one U.S. citizen and one “alien,” automatically acquire citizenship at birth, as long as the U.S. parent has lived in the United States for a requisite period of time. For babies born after 1986, when the rules were last updated, that period is five years, at least two of which must have been after the parent turned 14.
So the young royal will be born a U.S. citizen, “but in order to function, like any of us, it will need documents and proof, and for that you need to have it validated,” said Doris Meissner, who was commissioner of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service under President Bill Clinton.
Markle and Prince Harry will have to report the birth to a U.S. consulate, Meisner explained. “There’s a form that they fill out, which is called the U.S. Consular Report of Birth Abroad, and that then serves as the child’s proof of U.S. citizenship,” she said. “With that, they are also eligible to apply for a passport.”
Based on that, the baby might be considered a “dual citizen.” But there’s another rub.
While many people call themselves “dual citizens,” the U.S. government does not technically acknowledge the designation. For most of U.S. history, it has been prohibited. Even today, naturalized citizens (people who are born “aliens” and later granted citizenship) still must forswear “absolutely and entirely all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which the applicant was before a subject or citizen,” according to the law.
Meisner said that over the last couple of decades, the U.S. government has softened its stance on dual citizenship to accommodate a growing number of Americans who choose to work abroad and take on citizenship in their newly adopted homelands. “Even though technically the United States doesn’t affirmatively embrace dual citizenship, it no longer objects to it,” she said. “The policy for quite some years now has been basically a ‘Don’t ask don’t tell,’ policy.”
But would the royal family want an heir to the throne — though so distant as to make the possibility almost unimaginable — to maintain allegiance across the Atlantic? At some point, that will be made clear. Until then, it is probably more productive to speculate about baby names.