Doctor “lost” his U.S. Citizenship after Renewing his Passport

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A 62 year old doctor, born in the United States tried to renew his U.S. passport but instead lost his U.S. citizenship. This story originally was published by the Washington Post in November 2023.

Dr. Siavash Sobhani who has been practicing medicine for 30 years and is nearing retirement has always been a holder of a U.S. passport.  He also has proof through his birth certificate that he was born in the United States.  

The U.S. Department of State confirmed his U.S. citizenship by the issuance and past renewals of his U.S. passport.  His last renewal came as a surprise when he was denied issuance of a U.S. passport and was informed that he was in fact not a U.S. citizen. 

Jus Soli Not an Absolute Rule

The United States follows the jus soli principle of citizenship  where a person who is born in the United States is considered to be a U.S. citizen.  But this general rule is not absolute.  There are also classes of individuals that are exempt from the application of this citizenship rule.

Under pertinent regulations, children of high level credited foreign diplomats on the Department of State’s Blue List who are born in the United States are not United States citizens.

The rule states that a “person born in the U.S. to a foreign diplomatic officer accredited to the United States,as a matter of international law, is not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.  That person is not a United States citizen under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.”

Who are the Foreign Diplomatic Officers?

Foreign diplomatic officers are those listed in the State Department Diplomatic List known as the “Blue List.”  These include ambassadors, ministers, charges the ‘affaires, counselors, secretaries and attaches of embassies and legations as well as members of the Delegation of the Commission of the European Communities..

Who are NOT Foreign Diplomatic Officers?

Employees of foreign diplomatic missions whose names appear in the State Department list entitled “Employees of Diplomatic Missions Not Printed in the Diplomatic List” also known as the “White List”. Also included are (1)employees of foreign diplomatic missions accredited to the United Nations Organization of American States or foreign diplomats accredited to other foreign states; (2) foreign government employees with limited or no diplomatic immunity such as consular officials named on the State Department list entitled “Foreign Consular Officers in the United States” and their staffs.

In the case of Dr. Sobhani, he was born in the United States to a parent who is foreign diplomatic officer from Iran.  When the Department of State realized this through his last submission of his application for renewal, he was denied issuance of his passport.

Rectifying the Mistake

What this means is that the U.S. government can make a mistake decades back and there is no statutory period to rectify this.  Hence, Dr. Sobhani was taken aback when the Department of State refused renewal of his passport.  In fact, he did not lose his U.S. citizenship, he actually did not have U.S. citizenship to begin with since his father was a foreign diplomatic officer not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.

For those who were born in the United States of foreign diplomatic officer parents, you may want to examine your citizenship status.  If you are not a U.S. citizen at the time of birth and your parents were diplomatic officers as defined above, you are still entitled to reside in the United States as lawful permanent residents.  After residing in the United States as permanent residents for 5 years, you may then apply for naturalization as U.S. citizens.  This is what happened to Dr. Sobhani, he had to start applying for his lawful permanent residence and apply for citizenship after 5 years.

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