By David Lesperance
Many successful sportsmen and women travel the world to take part in – and frequently win – hallmark athletic events. The financial rewards can be prodigious, but for athletes from immigrant families they can be doubly so.
How is this?
The objective for the individual athlete, in each case, is to acquire a “second citizenship” from the original mother country – the homeland of their parents, grandparents and even earlier ancestors. The opportunity for successful athletes to emigrate and play at international levels for another national team or extend their playing careers is a real privilege.
Athletes from the "Americas" have a particular advantage when seeking to secure what the lawyers call “lineage citizenships” – because over 40 percent of them are indeed of traceable immigrant descent. And, in almost all traceable cases, the right of a new passport is on offer, alongside many tax advantages.
As President Franklin D Roosevelt once liked to remind audiences: “Remember, remember always, that all of us... are descended from immigrants and revolutionaries.”
Throughout most of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Americas were the destination for immigration. Therefore, for many current citizens of these countries considering obtaining second citizenship, the natural first choice will be to investigate the increasingly popular ancestral route.
By consequence of their heritage, many are indeed entitled to citizenship in “the old country”. However, not all ancestral citizenships are created equal. The rules of qualification differ vastly between nations. Some allow citizenship to pass down the line from grandparents or great-grandparents.
EXTENDING A SPORTS CAREER IN EUROPE
The lineage route is often an easier journey for successful sportsmen and women than it is for ordinary folk. As international sports leagues have expanded, many athletes have been able to extend their playing careers by playing overseas: a situation where certain second citizenships can greatly improve a player’s marketability to international leagues for such majority sports, such as soccer, baseball and rugby – even skiing.
A perfect example of this utility is a result of changes made after the famous “Bosman Ruling”, in which the European Court of Justice ruled that freedom of movement was important for the future transfers of footballers within the EU. Each registered EU football team, for instance, was allowed a limited number of foreign player slots – but all players with EU nationality were able to move clubs freely.
One notable beneficiary in recent years has been the sensational American-born player Christian Pulisic. His “magical talent” was evident at an early age and he became a ‘pro’ in the USA whilst his schoolmates were playing high school matches. His Croatian heritage came in very useful when he went to Europe. He took Croatian nationality there and was immediately able to sign with the legendary Borussia Dortmund’s youth programme.
He became the first player of his age (17) to score in the Bundesliga – and shortly after, he became the youngest player to score a goal for the US national team!
In 2019, he was signed by another legendary club, Chelsea FC of the English Premier League, as the most expensive US player of all time, for US$73 million.
AMERICAN OLYMPIC CHAMPION WHO NOW SKIS FOR CHINA
Pulisic’s astonishing achievements on the international stage have been matched on the ski slopes by the thrilling freestyle skier (and model) Eileen Gu, Gu Ailing in Chinese, as an Olympic champion in freestyle skiing.
The American-born Olympic gold medalist has competed for China in three disciplines since 2019: halfpipe, slopestyle and ‘big air’ events. Indeed, at 18 she became the youngest freestyle champion ever. Born and raised in San Francisco, she would even then fly to Beijing each summer to attend cram school for mathematics and scored an amazing 1580 out of 1600 on her SATs.
She came to public attention at the 2018-19 Freestyle Ski World Cup – where she competed for the USA: then, in June 2019, she requested “change of nation” from the International Ski Federation! She announced the change on Instagram at the time – but declined to disclose her citizenship. Chinese nationality law does not recognize dual citizenship, but the International Olympic Committee has since disclosed that they have received proof of her Chinese passport.
Whatever else, the possession of this passport, alongside her continued residence in the USA, gives her access to all the privileges of a fully international life. The fact that her mother emigrated from China in her twenties has made so many things possible: she even begins her studies at Stanford University (her mother’s alma mater) in the fall of this year.
DO NOT RELY ON OLD INFORMATION!
Have other members of your family obtained lineage citizenship? Are you resting on the assumption that because cousin Tony brags about how easy his Italian passport was to come by – yours will be too? On the other hand, have you dismissed your eligibility because Auntie spoke to someone at the Embassy years ago. My advice is to not to rely on this information. Eligibility rules in this area are constantly expanding and contracting. Therefore, it is critical not to rely on so-called “common knowledge”.
Of course, the changes may mean good news. Maybe you assume that you do not qualify, because Tony was, in fact, refused years ago. However, the route could now have cleared! Our advice – it is always worth your time: do the legwork now to discover whether it could gain you more freedom – both physically and financially.
Not everyone is a Pulisic or an Ailing, of course, but many well-known athletes are now taking the route into lineage citizenship.
It is always best to do a proper current examination of your eligibility and discover how much more freedom you can gain, physically and financially!
 David Lesperance is a globally recognised expert on immigration, tax and citizenship with over 3 decades of assisting an international clientele of HNW families, highly mobile professionals and celebrities to organise their lives to maximise their mobility and lifestyle while minimising their global tax burden. He can be reached through his website: https://lesperanceassociates.com.