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Compensatory citizenship and long-distance naturalisation

Updated: Apr 16, 2019

A previous post by the Future Citizen Institute has shown that in a world consisting of formally equal nation states, not all passports have similar value. One could say there is a global citizenship hierarchy. A paper by Yossi Harpaz has analysed how the acquisition of a second nationality may act as a compensatory citizenship, ‘making up for deficits in the original citizenship in terms of opportunities, security, rights and travel freedom’. The article is focused on ‘middle tier’ countries, which are made up of Central and Eastern European countries, Latin American countries and others such as Taiwan or Turkey. These are then contrasted with first tier countries (‘the West’ together with Japan and South Korea) and third tier countries (most of Africa, Asia and the Middle East).

Starting point of the analysis is that citizens of first tier countries have little incentive to acquire a second citizenship; indeed, while the United States historically received the same number of Italian immigrants as Argentina and Brazil together, the demand for Italian citizenship is 27 times higher in Argentina than in the US. Harpaz’s analysis demonstrates that ‘the vast majority of long-distance applications for dual citizenship in European countries were made by eligible individuals from middle-tier countries in Eastern Europe and Latin America [on the basis of descent or ethnicity]’. This corresponds to our findings in relation to nationality and sports, where the trajectories of Olympians who switch nationality or take up a second nationality are the result of (historical) global migration patterns rather than ‘talent-for-citizenship-exchanges’.

Harpaz also has a point when suggesting that ‘in the West, dual citizenship is increasingly associated with lower-class immigrants and viewed with suspicion; in the rest of the world, it is equated with elite status and privilege’. Nonetheless, acquisition of a foreign passport by citizens from ‘the Global North’ can occasionally also be inspired by instrumental rather than sentimental motives.

There are different paths to compensatory citizenship: ‘birth tourism’ (in countries with unconditional ius soli), citizenship-by-investment and strategic naturalisation. Indeed, many of the citizens of middle tier countries find themselves disproportionately eligible for ‘long-distance acquisition through naturalisation’ due to their ties with European countries, either as descendants of immigrants (e.g. Italian descendants in South America) or as co-ethnics living in neighbouring countries of the EU (e.g. the relationship between Moldova and Romania). Similar ties usually do not exist between first and third tier countries and, moreover, most of the latter (particularly in Asia) do not permit dual citizenship.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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