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Friday, June 3, 2011

Pledging Allegiance: The Path to Citizenship

There are many paths to becoming a citizen - many more ways than most people think and not all of them are up to the individual.  Let's divide them into two categories:  voluntary and involuntary.   Voluntary means that an individual must ask to become the citizen of a state through a formal process.  Involuntary means that an individual simply is a citizen by virtue of some quality that he has little or no control over.  Let's start with Involuntary Citizenship because it has some very interesting twists and turns.

Involuntary Path to Citizenship

jus sanguinis:  citizenship is granted automatically at birth to a child born of at least one citizen parent - an individual can't choose his parents or grand-parents.

jus soli:  citizenship is granted automatically because the child was born in a particular country or territory - an individual can't choose the time or place of his birth.

Acquisition of territory/Political Change:  some or all of the residents are automatically made citizens of the country that now controls the territory. Native Americans were granted U.S. citizenship in 1924.  Hawaiians became U.S. citizens when Hawaii was annexed.  Algerian Jews were granted French citizenship in 1870.  Estonians were incorporated into the USSR between 1940 and 1991 and then most (not all) became citizens of the Republic of Estonia in 1992.

Territories change hands, borders shift, empires ebb and flow and people are tossed around through no fault of their own.

Whim: a state can simply decide to grant citizenship to someone they admire for service to humanity or the nation.  The American, Jonathon Littel, was given French citizenship after his book, Les Bienvaillantes, won the Prix Goncourt in France. The Irish Republic Citizenship Act of 1986 allows the Irish President to "grant Irish citizenship as a token of honour to a person or to the child or grandchild of a person who, in the opinion of the Government, has done signal honour or rendered distinguished service to the nation."

There are a couple of interesting outcomes to automatic or involuntary acquisition of citizenship.

The first is that it can create some fairly tragic/comic situations.  An individual can actually be bi- or pluri-national without even knowing it.  For example, say you are an Canadian citizen traveling to an ancestral homeland.  You have never claimed citizenship in that country because you had no idea that you could.  Upon arrival you announce to all and sundry that your father was born here.  You are then informed that you are a citizen of the country (not a tourist) and 1. you are (if male) required to fulfill your military service and/or 2. you need a passport from that country to leave.

I once met a Frenchman at the U.S. Embassy in Paris who was, to put it mildly, furious.  He had been born some 40 years ago in the U.S. to French parents. The family left the U.S. shortly after his birth (his father was an expatriated businessman).   Now this particular Frenchman needed to travel to the U.S. on business and when he applied for a visa he said that he was informed that he could only enter the U.S. if he had an American passport.   What started out as a simple business trip turned into a bureaucratic nightmare. "I am not an American," he said over and over and over to no avail.

 The Dual Citizenship FAQ strongly recommends that,  "Accordingly, anyone who is planning to travel to an ancestral homeland -- even for a brief vacation trip -- would be strongly advised to check that country's citizenship laws carefully beforehand."

The second is having granted citizenship to individuals involuntarily, most modern states ask very little of individuals in order to keep it.  Paying taxes, obeying the local laws and breathing country X's air don't count - even non-citizen residents are required to do these things.  Some states require military service (mostly for men, but sometimes for women too - Israel, for example) but many don't.  Military service is is no longer required in the U.S., and France, for example.  Even voting is optional in many places. U.S. citizens can be called for jury duty but of the millions of Americans called up, only about half (figures vary) actually serve.

In the next post we'll look at the other category:  Voluntary Paths to Citizenship.

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