Dual citizenship: are two nationalities necessarily of equal weight?

When reading a piece of scholarship in which the author argues that ‘more segregation is needed’ and speaks of a ‘no longer justifiable lack of discrimination’, most people would raise their eyebrows. This however is the message of Patrick Wautelet in a paper dealing with a very particular issue: the traditional presentation of the concept of dual citizenship as a monolithical one in most research and policy documents.


Wautelet submits that ‘we should abandon once and for all the use of a catch all-concept conflating all situations of dual nationalities in one category. The various categories of dual nationals possess their own features. The stakes may not be identical when dealing with birthright and voluntary dual citizenship. These categories deserve a specific treatment’. In particular, he stresses the relative weight of the two nationalities held by an individual by arguing that ‘dual nationals rarely have exactly the same relationship with the two nationalities they possess’. He additionally claims that current international law and domestic practices turn a blind eye to the respective merits of two nationalities whenever a concrete situation requires one nationality to be balanced against the other.


Giving the example of citizenship deprivation, Wautelet feels that introducing some kind of mechanism or test to allow for differential treatment between nationalities, thereby allowing to take into account the relative value of two different nationalities, would in practice mean that States should abstain from citizenship deprivation if this would leave the person with a totally ineffective nationality.


While referring to the domains of private international law and diplomatic protection, where such a test has traditionally been applied, Wautelet recognizes that introducing a similar test for the field of citizenship more broadly will not be an easy task. Whatever form it takes in the future, the test would need to be compatible with the international principle of State discretion in matters of nationality law. Moreover, the process cannot ‘mechanically follow from the application of a legal standard. It requires a thorough review of all the circumstances of the case. A citizen should therefore have the opportunity to submit his case to a court for a final assessment’.


After finishing reading Wautelet’s clear analysis, what initially appeared as an outrageous claim therefore makes considerable sense:


The lack of discrimination among the various nationalities of a dual national is no longer justifiable. The law should change, to make it possible to take into account, at the margin, the relative weight, both objective and subjective, of the two nationalities at hand … More segregation is needed. The tools to help distinguish between competing nationalities already exist. Putting them to work will probably require going to court. States will indeed not easily accept to give priority to one nationality above the other if this limits their ability to deprive somebody of his nationality.

Author: Olivier Vonk

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