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ADVICE COLUMN: Understanding Dual Citizenship in Japan
By Marcus Kosins

A child born to a U.S. citizen married to Japanese here in Japan is often said to have dual citizenship at the time of birth. The question is: can they keep it?

The answer is not that simple, and must be considered from both U.S. and Japanese legal perspectives.

U.S. law basically recognizes and accepts that a U.S. citizen, as a newborn, can indeed possess dual citizenship (with a few exceptions), as long as they also meet the legal requirements of the host country. Japanese law does the same. However, under Japanese law, the young adult is required to decide which citizenship they wish to keep by the age of 22, and then notify the Japanese government.

If the person does not do so, the government has the authority – but not the obligation -- to institute legal proceedings to revoke Japanese citizenship. In practice, however, this is not done, and that is why thousands of people above the age of 22 hold both U.S. and Japanese citizenship.

It makes practical sense that Japan’s government does not try to take away citizenship. First off, it fiscally hurts the nation by reducing the number of potential taxpayers. Secondly, it would create a wall of bad sentiment against the government, plus resentment and frustration within respective families. Thus, the law on the books is not likely to be enforced.

Another group of dual citizenship holders exist as well: those who were born and raised as Japanese citizens, yet decided to acquire the citizenship of another country upon becoming adults. To keep the discussion simple, we will specify the United States as this foreign country.

There are several ways this can happen. A common route is to marry a U.S. citizen, immigrates to the U.S., obtain a Green Card, live for three or more years there, and then apply for citizenship. If the applicant was Japanese from the start, he or she may think that they possess both Japan and U.S. citizenship, and U.S. law has no problem with this conclusion.

However, Japanese law dictates that those who voluntarily take other country citizenship automatically lose their Japanese citizenship.

Marcus Kosins is a Hawaii-based attorney with a foreign lawyer licensed in Japan, and has 25 years of experience in Japan doing U.S. legal work primarily related to U.S. immigration and visa matters.

Edited by Brad Frischkorn



If a person born with dual citizenship in Japan does not decide which they prefer to keep by age 22, the government has the authority – but not the obligation -- to institute legal proceedings to revoke Japanese citizenship. In practice, however, this is not done. -- Marcus Kosins

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