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

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Not Everyone Wants to Be A Citizen

Following the debates here in the U.S. over creating a path to citizenship for undocumented migrants here, I am struck by two assumptions that are, based on my experience, erroneous.    These assumptions are that:  1.  Everyone wants to become a citizen and 2.  Becoming a citizen is in the best interests of all migrants.

This is simply not true.  Not every migrant hits a distant shore with the intention of seeking full citizenship.  This may be because he or she does not plan to stay very long (though he might change his mind over time) or because he or she sees that it is clearly not in his best interests.  Yes, you heard me:  Becoming a citizen of a nation-state is not necessarily a good deal for everyone.

Today let's take off the rose-colored glasses and examine a few reasons why many prefer to be legal residents and may never choose to become citizens in their host countries:

The Rights of a Citizen are not Attractive: Many migrants are not interested in voting or running for office and some do not intend to reside permanently in that country.  Many migrants are not planning to bring over their families and they have no desire to work in sectors restricted to citizens like the defense industry or to become a "fonctionnaire."  Furthermore, some migrants see that full citizenship does not guarantee them the same level of rights as other citizens.  Within the spectrum of citizens, they see clearly that some are more privileged than others.  Why would they want to go through the hassle just to become a "second-class citizen" with fewer de facto rights than the native born?

The Duties of a Citizen are Unacceptable:  Military service in that country, for example, or taxation. The U.S. taxes ALL its citizens at home and abroad regardless of where they are living.  Why would a bright young highly-qualified global migrant take that deal?  Let's say he moves to the U.S. to work for a few years, becomes a citizen, and then is offered a wonderful opportunity in Asia.  Since he is a U.S. citizen, the US government taxation and reporting requirements will follow him to China and he will spend much time and energy staying compliant.  If marrying the United States means having the American Internal Revenue Service as a mother-in-law for life, then, frankly, for many migrants that is a ball and chain they do not need or want.

Loss of Other Citizenship: For some it is possible that they will lose or put at risk the citizenship of their country of origin.  Most states now accept dual nationality but not all and some migrants do not want to deprive their future children of the right to be born citizens of the country of their parents and grand-parents.

Loss of Protection: Citizens have the right to ask for the aid and protection of their states of citizenship. In the case of dual nationals the principle of "dominant nationality" may be applied and they may no longer be able to ask for help of the country of which which they are a citizen but not a resident.  So a French/American in the U.S would in theory not be able to ask France to help him in the event he falls afoul of U.S. law.

Political Ambitions: Just because some democratic nation-states allow dual nationality does not mean that the public accepts it.  If a migrant would like one day to run for office in his home country or serve in a high position in the government, his other nationality may be a problem. Even where it is allowed by law, there is a real possibility that he won't be selected or elected by the home country constituents if he voluntarily naturalized on another country.

Loss of property and inheritance rights: Apparently this used to be true of certain countries. It is still, theoretically, possible. Imagine a migrant has an inheritance or property dispute in the home country. The sheer effort that will be required to defend his rights (not to mention the look on the judge's face when he/she find out that the migrants lives in and is now a citizen of another country) will be substantial which gives a distinct "home court advantage" to his adversaries.

Family Responsibilities: Many migrants have aging or ill parents in the home country. If taking on another citizenship means that they cannot easily go back to the home country to care for them, that's a problem for the migrant, for his family and even for the country they live in.  Who will take care of them if the migrant cannot return?

Social Pressure: The people in the home country may be genuinely offended that a migrant is considering becoming the citizen of another country and they let them know it. Even where the law permits dual nationality, public feeling is against it.

Security:  It's not terribly fair but, let's face it, people have opinions (and lots of stereotypes) about citizens of other countries.  In some parts of the world a citizen from a particular country may be the object of suspicion, or he may even be confronted by people's anger about the policies and actions of his country of citizenship.  The protection offered by the country of citizenship outside of the national territory is very limited.  Even the U.S. has had only limited success with this and Americans should know that evacuation services provided by the U.S. government are offered for a fee. (This is not true of all countries.)   Taking on a citizenship that could cause controversy, make a person less safe in some parts of the world, and that doesn't even offer basic protection and assistance as part of the basic citizenship package may not be a good deal if one travels a lot or intends to live in another country.

Integration Seems impossible: Some migrants do not have the sense that the citizens around them like immigrants much (regardless of whether they are undocumented, legal residents or citizens).  The society is either ambivalent or actively hostile to their presence. The political climate makes the migrant uneasy. Some may feel that, no matter what they do, they will never be accepted by, and will always face discrimination from the citizens of the host country even if they become citizens themselves.

Citizenship is Nothing Special: the citizens of the receiving country do not seem proud of their country or of their citizenship. They don't see it as having value. When asked, they are unsure as to why you would bother.  Most don't vote or participate in any meaningful way in the political arena.  Many citizens talk openly of emigrating and renunciations of that citizenship are common or rising. (See today's Isaac Brock post, Huge Jump in Number of Renunciations)

In all the debates about immigration (the undocumented or the much sought after STEM migrants), citizens and governments tend to tout all the advantages of citizenship and ignore all the negative consequences.  But those consequences are real and should be taken into account in the citizenship debate.

Just as no state can make citizenship laws in a vacuum, no individual makes a decision to ask for citizenship without doing some very deep thinking within his own particular context. Even where both countries accept dual nationality and the process is relatively simple, the choice to ask for citizenship is a complicated moral, emotional, and financial calculation where the individual must weigh all the factors for and against before making a decision.  If it is the desire of a nation-state to add to its citizenry, then it must take into account as many of these factors as possible.  

Failure to do so means more undocumented aliens, more legal residents and fewer and fewer citizens.  

Is that necessarily a bad thing?  

I'll let you be the judge of that.


Tim said...

A couple of thoughts about this in the US context:

1. Over the past few decades the US courts have ruled that almost all protections of the US Constitution apply to "anyone" within the territory of the United States. Many individual statutes still make distinctions between US citizens and "foreign" aliens no matter what their immigration status. These statutes are all valid laws for the most part but to the extent they attempt to abridge or go around Constitutional protections as a matter of practice(and generally many do)they are effective ineffective to their purpose. For example the International Economic Emergency Act allows the President to search and regulate the property of any class or individual "alien" in a time of "emergency." However, the courts have already ruled to the extent an "alien" is present in US territory the President must obtain a judicial warrant which effectively negates the purpose of the statute(is it applies to all non US citizens). At this point in such a scenario the executive branch might as well go throw a traditional police/judicial proceeding.

2. There are still some advantages to retaining whatever citizenship you were born with. Once you are born with a particular citizenship it is damn near impossible for most governments to take it away.

3. Up until the 1920 resident aliens were allowed to vote in many states. We may start seeing this again in State and Municipal elections in some parts of the US. A majority of the New York City council has already called for allowing non citizens have a resided in New York City for at least six months to vote in municipal elections.

4. Beyond just tax issues the rights of US citizens abroad vis a vis the US government at home are not as strong as once thought. Again this is something Peter Spiro has talked a lot about.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Victoria, to which I can relate.
The only thing that is missing is that in the case of US citizenship, many seek it by fear of losing the privilege to live here, not necessary because they want to vote or access government jobs. In fact, I am not even sure duals would be considered for some government job that would require some clearance.
I believe that naturalized citizen are seen as second class citizen.

After learning about FATCA and the way Americans are treated overseas, I don't want to close myself opportunities, or be treated like a second class citizen of my own country if I moved back.
The only reason I would seek it is to be remove the fear of not being admitted to the US for a reason of their choosing, or for the fear of not having my green card renewed - because 'they' have that power.
I feel like I would seek it for the wrong reasons and I feel horrible about it. But I would not want to be separated from my family. The US has shown that they don't care about doing that to people.

I think that that applies to most immigrants to the US, where the immigration system is "capricieux".

All your points are right on target.

Glad you had a good time in Vancouver.

Anonymous, as I am paranoid and what I wrote could possibly be held against me ;-) But I am sure you guessed who I am...

Anonymous said...

I was a legal resident of the US at one time, married to a US citizen. The only reason I because a US citizen (before the whole FATCA mess unfortunately), was because if my husband were to die while I was a resident the US courts could seize all of our assests (including joint bank accounts) because I "might take the money overseas". In effect, if my husband were to die, I would not only lose him but everything else too at the same time.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Tim, Allison recommended Linda Bosniak's book Citizens and Aliens and I just finished it. Very good read and it's going on the Flophouse reading list. She speaks very well to your first point.

@anonymous, Hi there. :-) Yes, the right of return is important and a lot of people get citizenship just prior to returning to their home countries for that reason. the situation with duals in the US is strange because sometimes it's taken into consideration and sometimes it isn't.

@anonymous, Oh yes there can be some very compelling reasons to become a citizen that don't have anything to do with wanting to be a part of a political community. I think I'll post those as well.