New Flophouse Address:

You will find all the posts, comments, and reading lists (old and some new ones I just published) here:

Monday, February 2, 2015

Not Everyone Wants to Be a Citizen

I thought I would dust this one off and repost.  Articles about citizenship and dual nationality cross my path daily and it seems to me that many of them start with two assumptions that are, in my experience, erroneous:  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 (they 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 natualized, 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 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.

Any others?

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.


Christina said...

The people at the Isaac Brock Society suggested that I send you a copy of my essay about renouncing my US citizenship. I tried your email but it bounced back, so I will try to attach it here:

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

The only reason to have citizenship IMHO is the travel document (passport), States require in most cases that you're the titled property of another state before letting you enter their state.

Anonymous said...

Thoughtful and illuminating as always.

Much appreciated - that you share your thoughts with us and that they are so well written.

Hope you can continue to fit this in even as you are so busy with your new surroundings.

Always a pleasure.


Anonymous said...

Here is the link to the post of Christina's essay - reproduced at Brock called;
"It Hurts My Heart"

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Christina, Thank you! Yes, I will have a look.

@anonymous, That and I would also say that in the event one actually needs representation in the host country.

@Badger, Thank you. Biggest issue is the internect connection. The one I have is temporary and doesn't always work very well. The permanent conneciton should be set up this week and so things will be smoother and easier.

@anonymous, OK will have a look. Thanks.

Citizens Hate Fatca said...

Fatca makes banks spying on depositers for government is really sick. How can you trust either one ? The government does not trust the people elected them and treat all citizens like criminals.
GOP needs to get rid of Fatca ASAP.

Tim said...

While this is not necessarily related to your post I have been reading a lot about Labour mobility in the EU or rather the lack thereof. This is a tough subject for me to understand on a personal level. I know quite a few EU citizens but by definition of not living in Europe myself I met all of them through the fact they all were willing to live someplace other than where they were born. I am more fascinated by those who are the vast majority who essentially refuse to leave were they born for whatever reason.(Especially strong in Italy and Spain).

I am curious as to what your spouse's motivation in this area is/was. By my count of reading your family history he has left France at least three(or is it four times) to live someplace for an extended period of time. Is the fact his family was from Algeria and their is no "going back" make him less connected to mainland France. I am excluding your experience as Americans in theory are much more mobile than Europeans.

*Cultural and language barriers are often cited as reasons for the lack of labour mobility in Europe. I agree with this partially but I don't necessarily think it applies as much in London, Paris, or Brussels. I would think most Spainards and Italians speak at least passable French.

Tim said...

Most Italians and Spainards speak passable French to get by in Paris or Brussels.