As a state of the Union, Puerto Rico would have full U.S. citizenship. As a free associated state, maybe not. What about under independence? If Puerto Rico chooses to become an independent nation, could people born in Puerto Rico keep their U.S. citizenship?
This is what the Puerto Rico Status Act says:
[B]irth in Puerto Rico and relationship to persons with statutory United States citizenship by birth in the former territory are not bases for United States nationality or citizenship, except that persons who had such United States citizenship have a statutory right to retain United States nationality and citizenship for life, by entitlement or election as provided by Federal law.
In other words, the Act claims that current U.S. citizens born in Puerto Rico will keep their U.S. citizenship, but their children will not have U.S. citizenship either because they were born in Puerto Rico or because their parents were born in Puerto Rico. The Act specifies that children born in a new nation of Puerto Rico will not be citizens even if their parents are.
If Congress approves the Act as it is now written, there would be a strong case for Puerto Ricans to keep their U.S. citizenship. However, the phrase “by election” suggests that they might have to choose between U.S. citizenship and Puerto Rican citizenship. The Act also says that Puerto Ricans living in the states should be eligible for naturalization as U.S. citizens.
Is it legal to have dual citizenship?
The United States allows dual citizenship. Not all countries do, so Puerto Rico could decide not to allow it. Assuming that the new nation of Puerto Rico allows U.S. citizens to become Puerto Rico citizens as well, individual Puerto Ricans could remain U.S. citizens and also become Puerto Rican citizens.
For example, people living in Puerto Rico who were born in a state could expect to keep their U.S. citizenship. They could also pass on U.S. citizenship to their children born in a nation of Puerto Rico, under some circumstances. That is true now for U.S. citizens who have children in other countries.
So it is possible but not certain that current U.S. citizens born in the territory of Puerto Rico could keep their U.S. citizenship if Congress were to pass The Puerto Rico Status Act.
What difference would it make?
If you are currently a U.S. citizen by birthright because you were born in Puerto Rico, you might receive benefits from the U.S. government that depend on your citizenship. You can travel, study, and work freely in any state and your family or friends born in a state can freely visit you in Puerto Rico.
If you lose your U.S. citizenship, you could expect to lose all these benefits. You cannot know ahead of time what the legal terms between the United States and a new nation of Puerto Rico would be. It might continue to be possible to travel and work freely in the U.S., but it might not. The Act specifies that these freedoms would last for 25 years after independence, but it would be up to the United States Congress — and perhaps the courts — to support that.
For example, when the Philippines declared independence from the United States, the Supreme Court determined that “Upon . . . withdrawal of American sovereignty over the Philippine Islands the immigration laws of the United States . . . shall apply to persons who were born in the Philippine Islands to the same extent as in the case of other foreign countries.”
It is important for everyone to understand the uncertainties here before deciding how to vote on the plebiscite called for by The Puerto Rico Status Act. If that bill passes, then Puerto Rico will not continue as a territory. The Island will either become independent with or without a Compact of Free Association, or it will become a state. Only under statehood will U.S. citizenship be guaranteed.