Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Pledging Allegiance: The Path to Citizenship Part II

The voluntary path to citizenship is naturalization.  This is a formal process where a resident explicitly asks to become a citizen.  The state in question then examines the grounds for granting it depending on the laws prevailing in that country.  Again, there are more grounds for being naturalized than you might think.

Legal Residency:  This pretty basic.  Almost all countries have residency requirements for potential citizens.  The length depends on the country and can range from 1 to 10 or more years.

Amnesty:  Illegal residents can sometimes move toward citizenship under Amnesty programs.  This was done in the U.S. in 1986.  Britain is considering a similar program.  This method is highly controversial.

Marriage:  Most countries have moved away from granting automatic citizenship to a foreign spouse but most countries facilitate naturalization in some way in these cases.  For example, in France a foreign spouse can apply for citizenship after 4 years of marriage.

The State of Origin has ties with the Destination Country:  It appears that in Brazil you can apply for citizenship after one year of residency if you come from a country where Portuguese is the primary language.  Spain seems to have similar requirements for immigrants from "Ibero-American" countries.

Loss of Nationality:   The UN Declaration on Human Rights declares that everyone has the right to a nationality.  If someone is stateless, some country is supposed to grant him citizenship.  The theory is great, the actual practice is another story.  How do people become stateless?  Incompatible citizenship laws, political change, discrimination and so on. If you are a stateless person and you find yourself in Belgium, for example, there is a government office called the Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons.  Most other countries have similar organizations. It is estimated that there are 679,000 stateless Europeans.  A convention up for signature at the EU level called the "2006 Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness in Relation to State Succession." but it has not been ratified by the member states.

Military service:  Foreign nationals who serve in the  U.S. military can apply for citizenship after 1 year.  A special executive (Presidential) order signed in 2002 allows all foreign nationals serving in the U.S. armed forced on or after September 11, 2001 to immediately file for citizenship. Service in the French Foreign Legion will allow you to apply for French citizenship after 3 years honorable service.

Adoption by Foreign Nationals/Parental Choice of Nationality:  It appears that, if you were adopted by a foreign national, or your parents left the country and became citizens somewhere else, you can, in some cases, go back to the country of your birth or your parent's birth and ask for your citizenship to be restored.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia allows for this if the person makes a request through the Naturalization Department.

Cash:   The Carribean islands of Dominica, Grenada and Saint Kitts-Nevis will make you a citizen for a fee ranging from 50,000 to 250,000 USD.  The Commonwealth of Dominica calls this "Economic Citizenship."  Details are here.

With all those options, you might think that all qualifying persons would be running in huge numbers toward citizenship.  Not necessarily.  There is enormous variation in naturalization rates across countries.  From the data I was able to glean from the Web and other sources, Canada seems to have the highest rate with the U.S, Australia and New Zealand close behind.  Germany, Italy, and Switzerland have very low rates.  I saw one figure that claimed a naturalization rate of only 5% for Germany.  France and the UK appear to be somewhere in the middle.  I saw a figure for France of about 17% which I found shockingly low given the rather generous process.

In the next post, let's talk about some of the reasons legal residents do or do not ask for citizenship in their country of residence even when they meet all the requirements.

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