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I’ve lived in Sweden since I was 2 years old, I'm 28 today.

I only have Swedish citizenship but I was born in Iraq. I never had an Iraqi passport or documents and have never been there since I was a small child. When I asked my parents, they told me that, although I was born there, I'm not a national of Iraq, that I'm just registered here in Sweden. My parents have dual citizenship, though.

Can I still travel with an ESTA or do I need a visa?

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I assume that when you say that your parents are dual citizens, they have Iraqi citizenship (as well as Swedish).

Iraq is jus sanguinis country which means nationality is carried by blood. Your parents have to be Iraqi in order for their children to be Iraqi. Being born in Iraq itself confers nothing. If your parents were Iraqi at your birth then you would have been Iraqi at birth if so registered. It sounds as though you were indeed an Iraqi citizen from at least age zero to age two by your explanation.

That said though, until the Iraqi nationality law reforms of 2006 changed the rules, gaining another citizenship meant you lost your Iraqi citizenship. You could claim that this meant you lost your Iraqi citizenship when you became a Swede at age two (which would in the early 1990s according to your timeline) and that you never made any attempt to recover it.

I think an argument that you are not an Iraqi citizen would be at least arguable for the purposes of VWP. I would apply and answer all questions truthfully.

Note that the requirement is phrased in the present tense: that you are a citizen or national; not that you were or have ever been. So if you are no longer a citizen I think you can answer that truthfully.

But I’m just a random person on the internet. You mileage may vary. The worst case appears to be that your ESTA will be declined and you’ll need to apply for a visa. At that point, if successful you can request a waiver be put in your file allowing you to file for ESTA in the future.

  • "gaining another citizenship meant you lost your Iraqi citizenship" But a citizenship one has at birth is generally not considered to be "gained", in that many nationalities which would be lost if one acquired another nationality, have no problem co-existing with another nationality if they were all there from birth. – user102008 Jul 8 '18 at 5:46
  • That’s not how the pre-2006 Iraqi nationality law worked. You lost citizenship when you gained another. – RoboKaren Jul 8 '18 at 5:49
  • But if the OP's Swedish citizenship was from the moment of birth (it is not clear from the question, but if his parent was a Swedish citizen when he was born, then he was a Swedish citizen from birth), how can he "lose citizenship" at the moment of birth, when he didn't have any citizenship before birth to begin with? That doesn't make sense. That's not how any country's nationality law works. – user102008 Jul 8 '18 at 5:54
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    @user102008 I read the OP’s comment that he was a “foreigner at that stage” when he moved to Sweden to mean that he was not Swedish at birth but naturalized. – RoboKaren Jul 8 '18 at 8:43
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    With regard to the 1963 law, it provided for loss of Iraqi nationality only if the other nationality was obtained by choice. In some countries (the Netherlands, at least) this means that different rules apply to minors with respect to loss of nationality on the acquisition of another. In this case, it appears that a man's loss of Iraqi nationality automatically causes his minor children to lose it (even if they become stateless), under article 13. – phoog Aug 15 '18 at 19:40
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This type of question is one of the main reasons that the US Government came up with the 'ESTA' program.

When you apply for an ESTA, it will prompt you for details of things like where you were born, your current and past citizenship status, as well as whether you've ever held a travel document for another country.

Once you enter all of the details, one of three things will happen :

  • Your ESTA will be approved (almost) immediately.
  • Your ESTA will be approved, but will take a few days for this to occur (which is generally a sign that it is being manually reviewed), or
  • Your ESTA will be rejected.

If your ESTA is approved, you are good to travel to the US. Technically having an ESTA does not provide a guarantee of entry, but presuming you answer all questions truthfully when applying for the ESTA, then the odds of being denied entry under the Visa Waiver Program is so close to zero to basically be ignored.

If your ESTA is rejected, then you will need to apply for a visa. The fact your ESTA was rejected will NOT count in any way against your visa application, so there is no reason not to try the ESTA route first - it is faster, cheaper, and significantly less effort than applying for a visa.

I can't help you determine if you are or ever were an Iraqi citizen. In practice, you best option there is likely to contact the local Iraqi consulate and ask them, as they will be the best source of truth for that question. There's just too many variables that could be in play to base it on the information you've provided.

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The ESTA information page says that ESTA is available to those who:

  • are a citizen or eligible national of a Visa Waiver country
  • are not in possession of a visitor's visa
  • will travel for 90 days or less
  • plan to travel to the US for business or pleasure
  • want to apply for a new authorization for one person, or a group of applications for two or more persons.

However, the ESTA FAQ page says:

Under the Act, travelers in the following categories are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States, without a waiver, under the VWP: ... Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan.

Thus, to obtain ESTA status, you'll have to demonstrate that you're not an Iraqi national. Proving a negative is going to be difficult or impossible.

I conclude you can seek a waiver of the ESTA eligibility restriction from the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (and if successful, apply for ESTA), or you must apply for a visa.

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    While those requirements are true, the Visa Waiver Program is not available to dual Swedish-Iraqi nationals. Whether the OP also is a citizen of Iraq (even without holding an Iraqi passport) is a key question here, and one that an immigration officer is likely to ask since the passport lists the place of birth as Iraq. – Zach Lipton Jul 8 '18 at 1:06
  • @Zach Lipton, the ESTA Q-and-A page you cite (nor any other page I can find) does not say ESTA is "not available" to dual Swedish-Iraqi nationals. It does say that if one believes one is eligible, one should apply and answer the questions truthfully. I do agree with you that any immigration officer or consular official reviewing such an ESTA application would be interested in the applicant's response, and that a positive outcome of the application is far from certain. – David Jul 8 '18 at 2:25
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    The FAQ is pretty clear: "travelers in the following categories are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States, without a waiver, under the VWP:[...]Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan." The ESTA form will ask questions about whether you are or have ever been a citizen of any other country. The OP needs an accurate answer to that question before they consider filling out the form, as they may need a US visa instead. – Zach Lipton Jul 8 '18 at 3:52
  • The statement you quote is indeed clear, and I see it now on the FAQ page. I agree that the OP will need either a waiver, or a visa. – David Jul 8 '18 at 4:00
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    Thanks (and also, welcome to the site, haven't seen you before)! As a practical matter, there is no waiver in this case (unless you happen to know the DHS Secretary or something). The "waiver" of the eligibility restriction is not the same thing as the "waiver" in Visa Waiver Program, just to make it horribly confusing. The fun question is whether the OP actually even has Iraqi citizenship; I don't know the details of their citizenship law, which changed significantly during the war, to answer that. Applying for a visa will work one way or another though. – Zach Lipton Jul 8 '18 at 4:09

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