How would the legal precedence work, and have there ever been any such cases?

For example, let's say that someone was born in the USA (and has citizenship by birthright), but their family moved to Mexico when they were an infant. They grew up to become a Mexican diplomat, and were sent to the United States (is this possible?).

Now they are a dual citizen living in the country of their other citizenship, having diplomatic immunity while still being bound by the host nation's laws.

Which one takes priority?

For example, the IRS (as it's been known to do over the last 10 years) might start hassling them to backpay all of the taxes they "owe" for all the money they ever earned in their adult life in MX; could the diplomat claim diplomatic immunity in this case?

Side question: What if we are not dealing with a diplomat, but let's say a politician on a government visit (let's say they are visiting the White House). If this politician is a dual citizen, and the IRS finds out, could they issue an arrest order? Would this order be carried out by the White House security staff?

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    There's an even simpler example for the former: the United States ambassador to the United Nations is a US citizen - and is based in New York. Commented Aug 8, 2022 at 8:22
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    @SteveMelnikoff a diplomat is not immune from the jurisdiction of the sending state; in this case the sending state would be the US. A more pertinent example would be a dual US-other citizen representing the other country at the UN. But UN diplomats' privileges and immunities are slightly different from "regular" diplomats; they're governed by the UN charter and, in New York, by the UN Headquarters Agreement.
    – phoog
    Commented Aug 8, 2022 at 12:36
  • for 'ordinary' people (incomes up to about fourth quintile) their earned income would be excluded from US tax, so IRS wouldn't try to go after that; they might go after tax on unearned income like investments especially if there are any that get special breaks in MX (or wherever) but not US. And they could go after failure to report foreign assets (which is not a tax but is enforced by IRS). Compare money.stackexchange.com/questions/113238/… (disclosure: my answer) Commented Aug 9, 2022 at 0:14

1 Answer 1


In general, diplomats are not supposed to be nationals of the receiving state, though the receiving state may elect to consent to the appointment of one of its nationals (Article 8 of the Vienna convention).

Article 38 of the Vienna convention provides:

  1. Except insofar as additional privileges and immunities may be granted by the receiving State, a diplomatic agent who is a national of or permanently resident in that State shall enjoy only immunity from jurisdiction, and inviolability, in respect of official acts performed in the exercise of his functions.

  2. Other members of the staff of the mission and private servants who are nationals of or permanently resident in the receiving State shall enjoy privileges and immunities only to the extent admitted by the receiving State. However, the receiving State must exercise its jurisdiction over those persons in such a manner as not to interfere unduly with the performance of the functions of the mission.

So the IRS action would likely not be blocked by immunity, since it concerns personal income.

Politicians on official visits are generally treated like diplomats.

Regarding the suggestion that Boris Johnson is a pertinent example, he is not, because his tax issues were resolved before he became foreign secretary. But considering the case of a diplomat who isn't a US citizen but nonetheless owes something to the IRS might be instructive. Such a person could be the subject of a court judgement that would be unenforceable by a US court while the diplomat is accredited to the US, but it would be enforceable after the diplomat's diplomatic status ends. A US citizen's lack of diplomatic immunity only makes the judgement enforceable earlier.

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    You don't have to make the IRS bit hypothetical. Boris Johnson gave up his US citizenship, in 2017, while serving as a foreign secretary of the UK specifically because the IRS wanted him to pay too much tax on a British property (by his own admission). As a foreign secretary of the UK, he was the chief diplomatic officer of a state other than the US.
    – wrod
    Commented Aug 8, 2022 at 1:48
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    @wrod he also paid the tax bill. Renouncing US citizenship did not excuse him from it. Furthermore, his case does not serve as an example showing whether a diplomat in such circumstances would be subject to the jurisdiction of a court because no court ever sought to impose its jurisdiction on him ... because he paid the tax ... before he became foreign secretary.
    – phoog
    Commented Aug 8, 2022 at 12:28
  • I wonder how this applies to heads of state, at least in theory (in practice I assume they’re given immunity).
    – cpast
    Commented Aug 8, 2022 at 13:37
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    @cpast head of state immunity seems to be somewhat tied up in sovereign immunity (more so, of course, when the head of state is a sovereign), and, since there's no convention governing it, it falls into "customary international law" or something like that. I suppose that this means that it's more inconsistent from one country to the next. The late king of Thailand was a US citizen from birth; nobody ever made any assertions one way or the other about whether his accession to the throne resulted in loss of US citizenship.
    – phoog
    Commented Aug 8, 2022 at 13:53
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    @phoog: In other news, in line to the UK throne (not next in line child of next in line) is a child still accounted a US citizen because it's not possible to drop citizenship before 18. And the IRS has requested tax information from the British crown. You can see how that will go.
    – Joshua
    Commented Aug 8, 2022 at 21:30

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