Residency and/or Citizenship?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, was confused and concerned after hearing Donald Trump state that – despite FDA, CDC, and vaccine manufacturers pledges to the contrary – he was prepared to use his presidential powers to override objections to emergency use authorization approving the use of new vaccines for the Covid-19 virus even before final determination of their efficacy (and potential dangers) had been made by doctors, research specialists, and scientists.

Trump suggested that the White House would overrule the FDA if the agency issued new, tougher standards for the emergency authorization of a coronavirus vaccine.

How can this be, wondered Gupta? By what right did the president assume he could make or break such life-or-death decisions … especially in the midst of a persistent pandemic which had been so politicized?

So, he spent a good deal of time doing research.

Turns out, through the ins and outs of government oversight, Trump could indeed manipulate the vaccine through the role of the Office of Management and Budget Control, which must sanction all such approvals and expenditures. OMB is part of the USA government’s executive branch, over which presidents can exert control.

The OMB isn’t the only federal agency over which this president has exerted his control. Through FEMA funds, he’s disbursed billions of dollars to Puerto Rico—despite his disdain for the island protectorate. He’s discharged funds from (agency) to build his wall between the USA and Mexico, as well as used federal border control agents to intercede in constitutional protests around the country (which rightly should be the domain of the states, their governors, mayors, and law enforcers). And, in his “law-and-order” campaign, he’s threatened to defund democratic cities and states with Democratic mayors and governors. Let’s not forget the U.S. Postal Service, so important to the timely delivery of our mail, whose new director — a major Trump donor — began dismantling the venerable institution, tossing out vital sorting equipment, reducing personnel, and limiting work hours. Or the National Security Council, which has become a revolving door of expert professionals replaced by “acting” directors answerable only to Trump. The same can be said of the FBI, CIA, and Justice Department–the latter of which is paying for Trump’s personal defense in criminal activities that occurred before he was president. Ditto for his campaign funds. And the money paid to Ukrainian officials to illegally influence the upcoming election.

Daily enforcement and administration of federal laws is in the hands of the various federal executive departments, created by Congress to deal with specific areas of national and international affairs. The heads of the 15 departments, chosen by the president and approved with the “advice and consent” of the U.S. Senate, form a council of advisers known as the president’s “Cabinet.” Once confirmed, these “cabinet officers” serve at the pleasure of the president. In addition, a number of staff organizations are grouped into the Executive Office of the President: the National Security Council, Office of Management and Budget, Council of Economic Advisers, Council on Environmental Quality, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Office of National Drug Control Policy, and Office of Science and Technology Policy. “Independent” agencies – the United States Postal Service, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and United States Agency for International Development. All are ultimately controlled by the president.

More importantly to my point here is that the State Department – under the Executive branch – controls the processing, issue, and renewal of passports to US citizens.

Which got me to thinking …

What if (for whatever reason), the U.S. president decides to restrict and control our passports? Who knows why? Trump is an autocrat who acts on impulse, rewarding his loyalists and punishing those who don’t favor him by pulling and pushing all the levers available to him.

Without valid passports, we’d be severely hampered in our international travel and dealings. Including the ability to maintain our residencies in other countries … because a current and valid passport must be presented whenever foreign residency is requested or renewed.

For those of us who aren’t EU nationals, in addition to other requirements, a passport is our “passport” to residency. In Spain, passports are required when applying for visas; when applying for temporary, one-year residency; for each subsequent two-year residency renewal; and for final – permanent – residency granted after five years.

The good news is that Portugal allows dual citizenship with most countries, so you won’t have to give up your original nationality. Similarly, U.S law doesn’t mention dual nationality or require a person to choose one nationality or another.

A U.S. citizen can naturalize in a foreign country without any risk to his or her citizenship. You can vote in U.S. elections, continue to receive Social Security payments, and travel to or from the USA without impediment.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, holding a U.S. passport granted visa-free access to 185 countries around the world. The American passport wasn’t the most powerful on earth (that honor belongs to Japan), but it still got most of us where we needed to go. Until now.

With current EU restrictions and other pandemic-related travel bans, there currently are much fewer places where Americans can go. Frustrated by this newly hampered mobility, some are seeking dual citizenship … often as an opportunity to reconnect with the country their parents or grandparents came from, to reevaluate their careers and potential business opportunities overseas, or simply to retire in peace legally in another country of choice.

Now, that got me to thinking some more …

Hitherto, I’d never really considered dual citizenship with the USA and Portugal (or Spain). Permanent residency was good enough, I assumed. I had no plans to vote in Portugal’s elections, which (I believed) was the only reason to seek citizenship over residency.

According to the Henley Passport Index, Portuguese citizens are among those who face the least restrictions when travelling to the four corners of the globe. Portuguese citizens are also European citizens whose rights include living, working, and retiring in any member state of the European Union for an unlimited period, as well as the right to vote in local and European elections in other member states.

“Portugal remains one of the best places in the world to invest and retire,” reports the Portuguese American Journal. “The Portugal Golden Visa Program has seen an increase in applications in the first quarter of 2020.” Between January and April 2020, 259 applicants and 515 dependents received their Golden Visa residence cards from the program.

(Both the Golden Visa and Non-Habitual Residency programs – which have been attracting wealthy foreigners to Portugal for years – were due to be ‘curtailed’ in the last State Budget, but have continued in light of the crisis created by the coronavirus until at least 2021.)

By no means are we “wealthy.” But there are other routes to Portuguese citizenship. The government has announced plans to overhaul Portugal’s Foreigners and Borders Office (SEF) in a bid to reduce bureaucracy barriers and improve conditions for immigrants.

Portuguese citizenship can be acquired by a legal resident of Portugal for at least five years plus one (more) year of permanent residency. Unlike residency, application for permanent citizenship is submitted to a civil registry office and not to SEF. Once citizenship is acquired, however, Portuguese passport applications are handled by SEF.

Some applicants for citizenship must submit documentary evidence of effective ties to Portugal and/or the Portuguese community, and the State Attorney may oppose the granting of citizenship if such ties are either too few or too weak. Typical documentation includes:

• Registration with Portugal’s Tax Authority and National Health Service;

• Regular trips to Portugal in case the applicant doesn’t live in the country;

• Having owned or rented property in Portugal for at least three (3) years;

• Having participated during the previous five (5) years in the cultural life of a Portuguese community existing in the country of residence of the applicant—i.e., activities of cultural or recreational associations of that community.

After 10 years of living in Spain, you can also obtain Spanish nationality, thus becoming a Spanish citizen. The main downside of using this path in order to get the long term residency is that you will need to renounce to your USA citizenship (in order to get the Spanish one).

So, take that into consideration. If you wish to preserve your nationality, go for the permanent residency and renew it every five (5) years. If that is not a problem for you, nationality will be a better option.

(Nevertheless, there’s an exception to that rule: If you have citizenship from Andorra, Portugal, Equatorial Guinea, the Philippines, or from a Latin American country, you can obtain your dual nationality; therefore there won’t be any need to give up your current citizenship.)

It’s a brave new world that we live in, with new “normals” changing rapidly. Under the current circumstances, at least, we have no plans to return to or visit the USA.

Beyond permanent residency in Portugal, dual citizenship with both countries increasingly seems like a good idea. Especially since it gives us equal access to Spain!

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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9 thoughts on “Residency and/or Citizenship?

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  2. Citizenship is definitely the way to go. And as a Portuguese citizen, you can relocate without trouble to other EU countries as well. And considering some of the particular challenges to be faced when visiting nearby countries in Africa or the Middle East, some passports are more advantageous than those of countries who might be supporting or enabling local tyrants….

  3. We are looking to move out of the US but it seems very difficult to get a visa in Spain or to know which to choose. We are fairly young and plan to look for work there but how can we get a visa to do so? Hoping you have some insight

      • In my opinion, you would be better off in Portugal … for the reasons cited above (plus quite a few others). You can have the best of both worlds — Spain and Portugal — with Portuguese residency … which doesn’t quite hold true the other way around! 😦

    • Welcome to the club! For non-EU nationals, obtaining residency in Spain can be very difficult … especially depending upon which consulate you must work with in the USA. In addition to reams of paperwork which must be transcribed into Spanish by duly authorized translators, the amount of annual earnings (via pensions or social security, but not work) is higher than many other EU countries. In our case, for a “jubilado” (retirement) visa for me and my spouse, the annual earnings from retirement funds is about €36,000 for the two of us. Please note that a retirement visa — or any other visa “sin luctrativo” — forbids you to work (even remotely) to earn money. You must be able to live on your investment income and retirement funds. After spending time at our vacation bolt in Andalucía, we hoped we could retire to Spain. Despite the help of lawyers and bureaucrats, however, it wasn’t to be. So, instead, we chose to retire in Portugal … where our annual earnings — from any source, including work: either remotely or in the country — must equal no less than the annual salary of a minimum wage earner in Portugal (less than US $14,000). As residents of Portugal, we are covered by the country’s free and universal health care (not so in Spain, where you must pay into the system) and we can spend up to six months a year in neighboring Spain. Interestingly, once we receive our “permanent residency” in Portugal after five years, we can take it into the Spanish embassy here and literally exchange our Portuguese residency for Spanish–without all the hassle of applying initially from the USA. The best part of all, however, is coming to appreciate and love Portugal both for its similarities to and differences from Spain. Indeed, we believe we are living in the best of both worlds! Thanks for the question, Susan.

    • You’re saying that the Bidens, Obamas, and Clintons are criminals. Interesting that they’re all Democrats! How you can name these people yet exclude Donald J. Trump, his family and fan club bewilders me.

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