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The question Do foreign heads of state or government have to give up a US citizenship if they have it? reminded me of the curious character Toomas Hendrik Ilves, "...an Estonian politician who served as the fourth president of Estonia from 2006 until 2016."

Ilves was born in Stockholm, Sweden; his parents Endel Ilves (1923–1991) and Irene Ilves (née Rebane; 1925–2018) fled Estonia after its occupation by the Soviet Union during World War II. His maternal grandmother was a Russian from Saint Petersburg. He grew up in the United States in Leonia, New Jersey, and graduated from Leonia High School in 1972 as valedictorian. He received a bachelor's degree in psychology from Columbia University in 1976 and a master's degree in the same subject from the University of Pennsylvania in 1978. He also received an honorary degree from St. Olaf College in 2014 in recognition of his relationship with the college. In addition to Estonian, Ilves also speaks English, German, Latvian and Spanish. By Ilves's own admission, he speaks Estonian with a comparatively strong American accent, on account of spending his formative and young adult years in America and Germany.

He shows up on Wikipedia's Former United States citizens

Question: How did Toomas Hendrik Ilves get US citizenship and where/when/why did he give it up?

1 Answer 1

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How did Toomas Hendrik Ilves get US citizenship and where/when/why did he give it up?

From the Estonian Wikipedia article, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, [1]

[Toomas Hendrik Ilves] family moved to the United States in 1957. In 1962, they became US citizens. Toomas Hendrik Ilves also had US citizenship until April 1, 1993, when he renounced it.

Ilves renounced his US citizenship to become the "Ambassador of Estonia to the United States in 1993, also serving as Ambassador to Canada and Mexico at the same time." [2] [3]

Apparently, Ilves received his US citizenship in 1962 along with his parents through derivative naturalization.

Being three at the time of his immigration to the US, Ilves could not qualify for application to US citizenship (minimum age is 18). However, there is a process known as derivative naturalization under the former INA 321, which was applicable between 1952 and early 2001. (The law was changed in 2000 moving derivative naturalization to INA 320.)

In general, a child born outside of the United States to two noncitizen parents, or ..., acquires citizenship under former INA 321 if:

  • The child’s parent(s) meet one of the following conditions:
  • Both parents naturalize; ...
  • The child is under 18 years of age when his or her parent(s) naturalize; and

  • The child is residing in the United States pursuant to a lawful admission for permanent residence at the time the parent(s) naturalized or thereafter begins to reside permanently in the United States.


1 Minor editing was done to the automated English translation of the quote.

2 Wikipedia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves

3 See, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961), Article 8.

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  • 1
    Wikipedia claims: "Both the former Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves and the former Lithuanian president Valdas Adamkus had been naturalized US citizens prior to assuming their offices. Both have renounced their US citizenships: Ilves in 1993 and Adamkus in 1998."
    – njuffa
    May 7 at 20:30
  • 1
    The Guardian reported: "In 1993, Ilves formally renounced his US citizenship – a job requirement – and relocated to Washington DC."
    – njuffa
    May 7 at 20:34
  • 2
    Estonian Review, Vol. 16, No. 37, Sep 20 – 26, 2006: "After returning to Estonia and relinquishing his US citizenship, Ilves served as Estonia's ambassador to the United States from 1993-1996."
    – njuffa
    May 7 at 20:44
  • 1
    The Estonian Wikipedia claims: "Pere kolis Ameerika Ühendriikidesse 1957. aastal. 1962. aastal said nad USA kodanikeks." --> Google Translate --> "The family moved to the United States in 1957. In 1962, they became U.S. citizens." That would make the English Wikipedia's accounting incorrect: Ilves was four years old when the family moved to the US.
    – njuffa
    May 7 at 22:06
  • 4
    It would be useful to note why becoming an ambassador is linked to renouncing citizenship - the Vienna convention on diplomatic relationships (legal.un.org/ilc/texts/instruments/english/conventions/…) article 8 frowns upon (although does not totally prohibit) foreign countries appointing local citizens as diplomatic staff.
    – Peteris
    May 8 at 6:59

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