Last week, we learned that along with mobilizing at least 300,000 of its own citizens to fight in its war against Ukraine, Russia is opening a recruitment center in Moscow for male foreigners to join the Russian army. Foreigners between the ages of 18 and 60 with at least a high school education are eligible.
Besides the pay of around $3,000 per month, one of the perks of signing a one-year contract to become a Russian soldier is that you become eligible for Russian citizenship once the contract ends. Assuming, of course, that you survive the deployment and can demonstrate basic Russian language skills. Russia also permits dual citizenship.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s support for this measure is thought to stem from the success that Ukraine has had in enlisting foreigners to fight on its behalf. Ukraine’s government claims that since the Russian invasion began, at least 20,000 foreigners have joined the Ukrainian armed forces. To qualify, you must be between the ages of 18 and 60, and have prior military experience. Both men and women are accepted. The pay starts at 100,000 hryvnia per month – about US$2,700. And you’re eligible for immediate Ukrainian citizenship.
The quality of a Ukrainian passport is somewhat better than one from Russia. You’ll enjoy visa-free entry or entry with minimal visa formalities to 145 countries. That includes all 27 members of the European Union.
But there’s a catch, in addition to the inconvenient fact that you could end up on the front lines as Russian cannon-fodder. You must give up your current citizenship to become Ukrainian.
Russia and Ukraine aren’t alone in granting citizenship to foreigners who serve in their military forces. For instance, if you want to become a French citizen, are a male between 17½ and 39½ years old, and are in excellent physical condition, you can sign a five-year contract to join the French Foreign Legion.
After five years of service, you’re eligible to obtain French citizenship. Dual citizenship is permitted. If you’re injured during service, you’re eligible for immediate citizenship. You don’t need to speak French to qualify for the legion, although you’re expected to master basic French during your training. And if you last for at least 17½ years in the legion, you’ll be eligible to draw a pension.
On the downside, the salary for a legionnaire starts at only €1,205 per month – although it increases to €3,567 if you’re deployed in a foreign theater. And of course, there’s always the chance you’ll be killed or grievously wounded. There’s a decent chance of that happening, given the places where the legion has been deployed in recent years, such as Afghanistan.
We actually have a client who joined the French Foreign Legion in the 1960s and fought in North Africa. After his contract ended, he received French citizenship and a French passport. But only a few months later, he received a letter from the State Department informing him his US citizenship had been revoked for serving in a foreign military force. He was eventually able to get it back, but only after considerable bureaucratic wrangling.
But in 1967, the Supreme Court ruled that in most cases, US citizens can’t be involuntarily deprived of their citizenship. The case at hand involved a US-Israeli dual citizen who lost his US citizenship because he voted in an Israeli election. But the precedent also applies to foreign military service, so long as the foreign government isn’t engaged in hostilities with the United States.
But perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Why might you want to acquire a second citizenship and passport?
The most important reason is that a second passport could literally save your life. The Nazis took away German citizenship for millions of Jews and shipped them off to concentration camps where most died. Those with a second passport were able to escape.
Granted, this is an extreme scenario. A more likely one is that the government that issued your primary passport decides to withdraw it. Here in the United States, if you owe the IRS more than $54,000 (including interest and penalties), the agency is required to notify the State Department of the delinquency. And under the terms of a 2015 law, the agency is then required to revoke your passport.
Additionally, a second passport offers you:
New travel and investment possibilities.
The ability to cross international borders if your primary passport is lost or stolen.
Fast-track access to live in another country or countries.
Fortunately, there are easier ways to acquire a second citizenship and passport than to risk your life in an armed conflict.
Many countries offer citizenship and a passport to individuals with a family history in that nation. This is often the quickest and most cost-effective route to a second citizenship and passport if you have foreign ancestry. Most countries automatically convey citizenship to children of individuals who are citizens of that country, especially if the child was born in that country. A smaller number of countries award citizenship to the grandparents or even great-grandparents of individuals who are or were citizens of that country.
In addition, most countries offer a fast-track path to citizenship if you marry a citizen of that country. For instance, a non-US citizen who marries a US citizen is eligible to apply for a green card, which when approved gives them the right to live in the United States with their spouse. After three years of legal residency, the non-citizen spouse may apply for US citizenship and passport. Otherwise, it takes five years for a green card holder to qualify for citizenship.
Your religion could even be a viable route to citizenship. Jews who immigrate to Israel are entitled to almost instant Israeli citizenship. The “The Law of Return,” enacted in 1950 and amended in 1970, gives Jews or those who convert to Judaism a right to live in Israel and obtain Israeli citizenship.
If you don’t qualify under any of these possibilities, there’s another choice: make a qualifying investment or donation in a country with a bona-fide citizenship by investment program. You’ll need spend a minimum of around $130,000 if you choose this option.
The countries with citizenship by investment programs change frequently, but the oldest and most established ones are from Saint Kitts & Nevis (dating from 1984) and the Commonwealth of Dominica (dating from 1993). We’re agents for both programs, so if you’re interested in this option, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Joining the Russian or Ukrainian armed forces gives you the opportunity to acquire a second passport and citizenship from either country – but what if that’s not for you?