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Covid-19 and the future of citizenship

One of our previous posts was about the impact of the Covid-related restrictions that have been imposed by most countries around the world on migration. Data analyses have shown the different barriers to the inwards movement of persons and it is expected that returning to the level of global movement during the pre-Covid era will take a long time.

It is less obvious how citizenship is affected. FCI has previously described how citizenship can be acquired, namely by birth, by naturalisation after migrating and by naturalisation without migrating. The latter is a broad category encompassing for instance those who claim citizenship on an ancestral basis or based on an investment. The broader acceptance of dual citizenship in recent decades has led to a dramatic increase of this form of “non-resident naturalisation”. The main rationale for acquiring a second citizenship was the upgrading of travel privileges to other countries.

However, as Peter Spiro recently noted, “these mobility benefits have been compromised by Covid-19”. On the other hand, applications for investment citizenship are said to have risen since the outbreak of the pandemic, showing that acquiring non-resident citizenship no longer just fulfills the role of an insurance against political risk, but also of an insurance against health emergencies. After all, most countries that have adopted total travel bans have excepted nationals from the scope of the ban. The fact that many of the countries specializing in investor citizenship are islands (St Kitts, Malta, Cyprus) is an added bonus from a health perspective, as they can more easily enforce a quarantine.

What about the supply side, then? Spiro expects that the economic impact of the pandemic will make countries that have relied on investor citizenship programs in the past even more reliant today. Dual citizens do not cost states very much and it is unlikely that these programs will be scaled back. Moreover, while some dual citizens will not have opted to return to their country of primary citizenship during the pandemic but rather have sought refuge from it, Spiro expects these numbers to be small “and in any case not so many as to pose any significant burden on the state of non-resident citizenship”. It could even be expected that “the scope of investment citizenship may broaden as states whose passports never offered much in the way of global travel rights can at least offer a shelter from spreading disease”.

Edited by: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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