Stupid Question ™
March 6, 2003
By John Ruch
Q: If I renounced US citizenship to freely travel the world, would other countries allow me entry?
A: The US bans on travel to Cuba, Libya and Iraq may be ridiculous violations of all international precepts of human rights. But the fact is, you can travel a lot more freely with a US passport than as a “stateless” person.
Not only would virtually all countries bar you from entering, they would probably imprison you indefinitely because there would be nowhere to deport you to. The US has hundreds of such permanent prisoners who became unwillingly stateless.
This would be an immediate problem because the standard citizenship renunciation procedure requires the deed to be done before a US diplomat in a foreign country. (You can also renounce within the US during a “time of war”—but despite what President Bush asserts, the State Department doesn’t consider this to be such a time.)
On the other hand, unless you were dead serious, you probably couldn’t renounce your citizenship anyway. In a 1998 court case, a renunciation was thrown out because the citizen sought to retain one benefit of US citizenship: “namely to travel freely throughout the world and when he wants to, return and reside in the United States.”
Involuntary statelessness is a serious global problem. Millions have lost all citizenship rights when their government collapsed or stripped them of rights, usually for ethnic or religious reasons. Victims include ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, the Roma (or Gypsies), the so-called Bedoons in Kuwait, and women around the world who lose their nationality when they divorce.
Under United Nations conventions, most countries will provide such refugees with a “Stateless Person” travel document—an ersatz passport giving them some identity and the ability to travel in search of a permanent home.
As a willingly stateless person, it is unlikely you would qualify for this document.
Another solution is to invent your own passport, the trick pulled by Garry Davis, a US World War II vet.
On May 18, 1948, Davis renounced his citizenship in Paris to become a “World Citizen.” He did some traveling due to his instant celebrity, but also ran into extreme difficulties.
France finally got so sick of him it gave him “Stateless Person” documents just to get rid of him. He “emigrated” to the US and still resides here, apparently as an “alien,” after a court battle.
Davis founded the “World Service Authority” (WSA) and in 1954 issued the first WSA passport to himself. WSA passports are very official-looking and are now available to anyone willing to buy one.
Davis claims that he and others have used the passports to enter more than 150 countries—including the US—though this reflects apathetic customs officials and good luck more than official recognition. Davis has been arrested more than a dozen times for his border crossings.
However, six countries have officially recognized, in writing, the WSA passports as valid: Burkina Faso, Ecuador, Mauritania, Tanzania, Togo and Zambia.
Not exactly a dream trip, but it’s the only travel package available for the stateless tourist.