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Citizenship scandals in Britain and Austria

In 2018, two European countries were confronted with a similar situation. First, Britain was confronted with the Windrush scandal, which according to Helena Wray ‘exposed how much uncertainty there still is about the nationality and immigration status of many UK residents’.

The Windrush group spans several generations, but it is mainly the children of post-war British Caribbean citizens who are affected. Their right to work and remain in the UK are questioned despite decades of residence. A further complication is that since 1983, the acquisition of British citizenship by birth depends on the status of the parents. Thus, according to Wray, ‘the child of a Windrush parent born after that date may find that their own nationality, and even their right to live in the UK, is in question as a result of their parent’s problems’.

More recently, Austria has started an investigation of hundreds of Austrians of Turkish heritage on suspicion of illegally holding dual citizenship. Austria does not accept dual nationality and the country is one of the few remaining contracting parties to the 1963 Convention on the Reduction of Cases of Multiple Nationality and Military Obligations in Cases of Multiple Nationality. This Convention was originally ratified by ten Council of Europe member states, most of whom have meanwhile denounced it. Speaking of the 1963 Convention, the acceptance of dual citizenship by Norway earlier this month means that Norway will also denounce the Convention, making the list of contracting states even shorter. The decision of Norway is in line with the trend in liberal states regarding the phenomenon of dual nationality. Comparative data has shown that since 1960 most, but not all, liberalizing states moved to a regime without automatic loss of citizenship upon naturalization yet with the option to voluntarily renounce citizenship.

The 1963 Convention had the explicit aim of preventing dual nationality for those who acquired another nationality after birth, with Article 1 reading:

"Nationals of the Contracting Parties who are of full age and who acquire of their own free will, by means of naturalization, option or recovery, the nationality of another Party shall lose their former nationality. They shall not be authorized to retain their former nationality."

The position towards multiple nationality in the 1997 European Convention on Nationality, a more recent Council of Europe instrument, substantially differs from that of the 1963 Convention in taking a neutral stance on the subject. Articles 14 – 18 of the ECN, which are devoted to multiple nationality, were deliberately drafted in a way that neither expressly promotes nor expressly condemns multiple nationality.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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