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Bolivian emigrant diaspora resists ius sanguinis principle

At least two normative objections seem to exist against the claim that nation-state citizenship needs to rely on a ‘genuine link’ between an individual and a State. The first is that the acquisition of citizenship at birth, either by descent (ius sanguinis) or by birth on the territory (ius soli), is more a matter of chance (“a birthright lottery”) than proof of a genuine link. The second is that the growing tolerance of multiple citizenship is at odds with the idea that each individual is allocated to one and only one nation state.

Others have concluded, however, that both the attribution of citizenship at birth and multiple citizenships are compatible with the genuine link principle, arguing that the former is a reflection of ‘the need for transgenerational continuity of those peoples on behalf of whom modern states claim to exercise legitimate power’. The possibility of multiple citizenship, in turn, is an inherent feature of the current system based on state sovereignty in matters of nationality law. As long as states are free to choose between ius sanguinis and ius soli and the various mixtures between these principles, instances of multiple citizenship will inevitably arise.

In addition to the argument that ius sanguinis is a random mechanism to allocate a person to a particular state, it has been argued that ‘it might be time to abandon ius sanguinis’ because while it may appear as a technical and legalistic principle, it could be argued that it carries significant ethno-nationalist ideological connotations (commonality of blood, racial purity etc).

The case of Bolivia may illustrate this. A paper by Sergio Caggiano on Bolivian emigrants is a welcome addition to scholarship that tries to remedy the methodological deficit of previous studies that focused exclusively on access to citizenship for immigrants. With the rise to power of Evo Morales in 2006, Caggiano notes that international migration came to feature much more prominently on Bolivia’s political agenda. In 2009, Bolivia decided to introduce the principle of automatic ius sanguinis to maintain ties with its emigrant diaspora. Previously, children born to Bolivian parents only acquired Bolivian nationality if the child was registered with a consular office.

Based on fieldwork research among Bolivian emigrants in Spain, Caggiano concludes that the reactions to this change were overwhelmingly negative. In fact, the emigrants considered the acquisition of Bolivian nationality undesirable because it prevented them from easily securing Spanish nationality for their child. As long as the child was not registered with the Bolivian consulate, the child was immediately granted Spanish nationality under the Spanish protection mechanism against statelessness. More on the subject of attribution of Spanish nationality to otherwise stateless children born in Spain can be found in European Citizenship at the Crossroads.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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