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Sunday, April 9, 2017

Not Everyone Wants to Be a Citizen (Updated)

Today's post is one that I have already updated twice.  The more people I talk to, the more I learn.  In my research, I found more reasons why people don't want to become citizens of the countries where they have lived for many years.  These conversations further challenge two assumptions in many articles about citizenship and dual nationality: 1.  Everyone wants to become a citizen and 2.  becoming a citizen is always in the best interests of all migrants.

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 (they may just seek the Right to Reside) 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."  In some places migrants see that full citizenship does not guarantee them the same level of rights as other citizens.  Within the spectrum of citizens from birthright to naturalized, 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(s): For some it is possible that they will lose or put at risk the citizenship of their country or countries 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.  It becomes even more of a loss when the individual already has two or even three citizenships.  If giving up one is hard, imagine multiple trips to multiple consulates in order to renounce.  This can be particularly hard for those who have a very desirable citizenship that is harder to get and opens doors in many countries like EU citizenship.

Loss of Spouse:  All migrants live in a web of relationships and there are other people who have interests he/she can not ignore.  A spouse may want the migrant to maintain that citizenship in the hopes of one day moving to the other country under favorable family reunification laws.  Or the spouse may have entered the marriage with the idea that their children would be dual nationals by birth.  When a migrant wants to become a citizen in a country that does not allow him or her to keep the former citizenship(s), the spouse may be vehemently opposed to it because he/she sees that it is not in his/her interest or in the interests of their future children.   Delicate negotiations ahead and the citizen spouse has real power and influence here.

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 limited resources and influence when it comes to its citizens abroad 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). and 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 anyone would bother.  Most citizens themselves 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.

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 citizens. 

Is that necessarily a bad thing?  

I'll let you be the judge of that.


Andrew said...

One of the interesting insights looking at dual citizenship in Canada was that the group with one of the highest non-uptake of Canadian citizenship is Americans (about 40 percent, one of the highest). Not sure which reasons play a more important role in this case, and also not sure whether the greater number of renunciations following FATCA will change this over time.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Andrew, Very interesting. That's worth looking into. I did a quick search and found a few (a very few) articles that look into it. Let me see what I can find. Thank you, you have given me a puzzle to work on. :-)

Tim said...

Not directly related but remember a piece by Peter Spiro a few years back discussing naturalization ceremonies in the US and the fact that most of the time they are not as nearly dignified as portrayed in the media. However, after talking with several people who recently have become US citizens in the Boston area recently I wonder if their is a regional bias in all this situation. All of the people I have recently run into around Boston HAVE had the more formal dignified naturalization ceremonies that US government always likes to portray in the media. One person's ceremony was at Plymouth Rock on the replica of the Mayflower, another was at Fenway Park, another was at Faneuil Hall, and another was just before the Fourth of July concert on the Charles River Esplanade. So perhaps the issue in naturalization ceremonies is what part of the US you live in. If you live in Boston you are much more likely to have a very formal ceremony vs lets say Kansas City.

Tim said...

Here was the original Spiro piece I was referring too.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Thank you, Tim. I read the article when it was first published. Like everything Spiro writes, it was good. Have you read his most recent book about dual citizenship? I really recommend it.