citizenship 101

Last week Andy and I both started the six-week basic consular course, or ConGen in foreign service speak. Even though I’ll be working in the public diplomacy section, I may be called upon to do some back-up consular work when the sole consular officer is on vacation. Why’s Andy taking the class too? He will hopefully be able to fill an associate position that was recently created in the consular section.

ConGen has somewhat of a cult following among FSOs. Why? It’s probably some combination of learning stuff that’s both interesting and applicable, and also the ridiculousness of the process. The training team has made up a whole fake country for the purpose of our learning. Within the context of this fake country, we complete case studies and do role plays on real sets, including a jail cell with an infamous rubber rat. At the end of the course there’s a graduation ceremony with awards given for things such as most convincing acting. So… it’s hard core, in a nerdy sort of a way.

So far our training has focused on nationality, who is and isn’t an American citizen. What it really comes down to is this: how does citizenship transfer from parent to child? For those born outside of the U.S., it’s more complicated than you might think. It depends on when you were born (the regulations have changed through the years), whether your parents are married, which of your parents is the U.S. citizen, how much time your U.S. citizen parent spent in the U.S., and so on.

One weird but interesting tidbit: citizenship is tied to blood, which can cause a host of problems concerning assisted reproductive technology. For instance, if a baby is born to U.S. citizens abroad using donor eggs and sperm from non U.S. citizens, that child is not a U.S. citizen. (Of course, if the baby’s born in the U.S., none of this is an issue.)

We’ve also talked about losing U.S. citizenship, which is much harder than I would have imagined. There are certain things you can do called “potentially expatriating acts,” things like becoming a citizen in another country, serving in a foreign military or working for a foreign government. However, committing one of these acts in and of itself doesn’t cost you your citizenship. You have to both do it voluntarily and with the intent of giving up your U.S. citizenship. That intent thing is key: basically, as long as you want to keep your U.S. citizenship, you get to.

How would these things come into play in our work in Benin? Well, maybe two U.S. citizen missionaries have a baby while living overseas; they would come to us to get a Consular Report of Birth Abroad in order to document the baby as a U.S. citizen. Maybe a Peace Corps volunteer has a baby with a Beninois national; is that baby a U.S. citizen and hence eligible for a passport? We would figure that out. Maybe an American-Beninois dual citizen wants to renounce his American citizenship so he has a better shot of getting a key job with Benin’s government; we would counsel him and walk him through that process. These scenarios are all, of course, hypothetical. For some insight into what Benin’s current sole consular officer is up to, check out several of his blog.

Next up in ConGen: immigrant visas.

(Security note — All the information discussed above is publicly available at

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3 Responses to citizenship 101

  1. Al says:

    There is a sign in Belize that advertises for “Z” gas; the letter Z is in purple. I think of ConGen every time I see it.

  2. leslie says:

    Alex, thanks for checking out my blog – very interesting to read yours as well. good luck with all the DC-side courses, i was happy to be out of there an into the field!! I recently met up with a woman here (working for Peace Corps). her husband is from Benin and she did PC there as a volunteer. she said the people are very different in the 2 countries – more in your face in Benin. hard to imagine a noticeable difference as we are neighbors in very small countries. BF is peaceful and the people are kind and gentle. maybe you will have a chance to visit surrounding countries. i have to admit, Benin is not on my list (dont think they have a MED person there), but Ghana is as well as Mali are. best of luck, Leslie

  3. Bridget says:

    hi Alex! We’re having a little FSI blogger meetup tomorrow – email me at bbsunnydaysATgmailDOTcom for more info!!

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