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There is a chance of Boris Johnson becoming a Prime Minister of the UK. He was born in the US. His Wikipedia page states that he is both a UK and a US citizen.

Would he have to renounce his US citizenship to stay in compliance with the US law? He would, by virtue of being head of government, be in a position of significant influence over the British military and the British intelligence services. After all, while it is true that the US and the UK are allies, there are bound to be occasional points of disagreement both on policy and on intelligence.

This question is not without precedent. I believe Golda Meir was a US citizen at some point. And she did serve as a Prime Minister of Israel. There was also a talk about drafting Madeleine Albright to be a Czech President after she served as a US Secretary of State. She explicitly rejected the idea though.

However, laws do change. So even if it was legal for Golda Meir to do this 60-70 years ago, it doesn't mean that it would be legal for Boris Johnson to do it in the modern age.

BTW, this is NOT a question about other country's legal systems. I am only asking about the legal standing of this in the US.

EDIT: It's been pointed out in the comments that Boris Johnson has, in fact, already renounced his US citizenship. So this question is a general inquiry into the current state of the legal understanding of the question.

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    Johnson's Wikipedia page is incorrect. Johnson's renunciation of his US citizenship was published in the Federal Register of February 9, 2107. – phoog Jun 22 '19 at 20:46
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    Two pedantic notes. Firstly, Johnson would be head of government, but HM The Queen will still be head of state. Secondly, he already gave up his US citizenship: theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/08/… – Joe C Jun 22 '19 at 20:50
  • @Joe C yes, I can never keep it straight... The United States has a head of state and no head of the government (the 3 branches of the government are co-equal no one is in charge of all 3). And the UK has a head of state with no powers and the real power is with the head of the "government". I'll update the question. – grovkin Jun 22 '19 at 21:13
  • @phoog while it is short, you comment can be an answer. – grovkin Jun 22 '19 at 21:15
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    @grovkin the question still stand though, right? The hypothetical situation of a dual citizen becoming head of state / government of another county still stands. Also, POTUS is head of state and government. – JJJ Jun 22 '19 at 21:21
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In general, you cannot be involuntarily deprived of US citizenship.

In Afroyim v. Rusk, the Supreme Court interpreted the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, which reads as follows:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

The Supreme Court ruled that there is nothing in the Constitution or its amendments which empowers Congress to revoke a person's citizenship after it has been constitutionally bestowed. A person may voluntarily renounce their citizenship, either explicitly, or by performing any of a number of acts with intent to lose citizenship. But the US is not entitled to assume that intent exists; US consular officials generally follow a policy of asking whether denaturalization was intended, and then taking the person's word for it.

(In principle, Congress might be able to revoke the citizenship of Americans born abroad to citizen parents, or of Native Americans, because both of those groups obtain citizenship by statute rather than Constitutional mandate. But Congress has shown no interest in doing so.)

Political activities are protected speech.

It is extremely well-established that the First Amendment protects political speech from (US) government interference. Johnson's becoming Prime Minister is at the heart of these protections, and any law which purported to directly forbid it would be blatantly unconstitutional.

Nevertheless, heads of state or government do occasionally do things which might be illegal under "regular" US law. Ordinarily, when they travel to the United States, they are protected by diplomatic immunity. But as discussed below, a US citizen head of state or government might be formally ineligible for this protection because the US would be entitled to treat them as if they were solely a US citizen. Informally, however, in most situations, the US is unlikely to prosecute a head of state or government, because of the severe diplomatic repercussions of doing so. This is especially true if the foreign government is a close ally such as the UK.

However, there might be immigration difficulties.

Foreign heads of state and heads of government* are always issued A-1 visas regardless of specific circumstances. However, under US immigration law, US citizens are categorically ineligible for any kind of visa, and are instead required to enter with their US passport. So it's a bit of an open question how a US citizen head of government would go about traveling to the US in this scenario. Furthermore, the Master Nationality Rule might cause problems in the (unlikely) event that the citizen attempts to assert diplomatic immunity for some alleged crime.

On the other hand, it is likely that these issues would be worked out if and when they arise. They would certainly not be grounds for demanding that a head of government renounce their citizenship before traveling to the US. In fact, as a general principle of customary international law, the US is not permitted to refuse US citizens entry into the United States. Instead, USCIS and other branches of the US immigration apparatus would have to update their regulations to accommodate such a person.

Of course, Johnson might choose to renounce his US citizenship. If he did so, then none of the above problems would apply. According to a comment on the question, he has in fact done so, so this question is purely hypothetical.


* Johnson would fall into the latter category, as the head of state of the UK is the monarch.

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  • The "immigration difficulties" part of the answer is on point. The part about "taking away" of the citizenship is a bit off point. I was asking if Boris Johnson would violate the US law by serving as a foreign head of state. I was not asking if he would automatically, or even, through a legal process be denied his citizenship. The question was whether he would break the law by remaining a citizen and accepting the position... not if accepting a position would trigger loss of citizenship. – grovkin Jun 22 '19 at 20:39
  • @grovkin: Participation in political processes is at the heart of First Amendment protections. I cannot imagine that such a law could ever be Constitutional. – Kevin Jun 22 '19 at 20:41
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    First Amendment protects exercise of political speech. It does not protect exercise of political authority. – grovkin Jun 22 '19 at 20:43
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Jun 25 '19 at 3:20
  • "In principle, Congress might be able to revoke the citizenship of Americans born abroad to citizen parents, [...]. But Congress has shown no interest in doing so." Actually, Congress has in the past (though not now) done so to a subgroup of those people. People born to only one US citizen parent abroad between 1934 and 1952 were subject to "retention requirements" to live in the US for certain period of time at certain ages or involuntarily lose their US citizenship. This was at issue in the Supreme Court case Rogers v. Bellei (1971), which ruled that Congress had the power to do it. – user102008 Jun 29 '19 at 18:16

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