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Empirical data finally explains the wider acceptance of dual citizenship

We keep coming back to the subject of dual citizenship for an obvious reason: the wider acceptance of multiple citizenship is radically transforming our societies and has facilitated many of the contemporary trends that the FCI has been reporting on, including active diaspora and cultural policies, investor citizenship, and the position of athletes.

While a clear global trend could be witnessed of countries increasingly accepting dual citizenship, few studies existed which explain this phenomenon using longitudinal data. New research by Maastricht University on the international diffusion of expatriate dual citizenship (available for free download) has therefore been welcomed by the field as “a huge contribution to the literature” which empirically confirms the broader acceptance of dual citizenship. As the research paper touches on many causes and effects of dual citizenship, we use the opportunity to present its key findings while simultaneously linking them to previous FCI episodes that have a bearing on the issue.

The research shows that from 1960 onwards dual citizenship toleration has increased from one-third to three-quarters of States globally, and this is attributed to international interdependence and diaspora governance. The acceptance of dual citizenship represents a radical rupture with the dominant view until the mid-20th century which considered dual citizenship an anomaly comparable to polygamy, although primarily for emotional and psychological reasons. Legal arguments for the inconceivability of dual nationality were not really brought to the fore, apart from the claim that it troubled interstate relations and that the emotional loyalty between individual and State stood in the way of its existence.

If dual nationality was the object of demonization and approached with hostility for so long, which factors explain the more tolerant approach of the last 50 years? The authors identify five distinct phenomena, namely 1) a more “individual rights” approach to both acquisition and loss of citizenship; 2) the gradual eradication of the discrimination of women with regard to the transmission of citizenship, as explained in our post on women’s rights; 3) pressure from expatriate communities who wanted to acquire the citizenship of their host state without having to give up their citizenship of origin; 4) fewer intra-state conflicts due to economic development and democratization (see also our post on dual citizenship and military service); and 5) the world becoming increasingly “post-national”, meaning that individuals no longer exclusively belong to only one State.

The paper is particularly focused on one crucial element that is generally overlooked, namely “that the changing normative context underlying the global trend implies that policy decisions in one country are not independent in space and time but are conditioned by those made in other countries at other points in time”. Policies in neighbouring countries are particularly influential in this respect, as they share more cultural, economic and political affinities than distant countries.

If the global acceptance of dual citizenship can be clearly witnessed, what then explains why some countries are frontrunners and others latecomers? The paper hypothesizes that this can be explained by three factors: external franchise, regime type, and received remittances.

As for electoral rights, on which FCI reported in posts on active and passive suffrage, the idea is that dual citizenship reform is often triggered by political demands from expatriate communities. This is indeed confirmed by the data, with the authors writing that “dual citizenship extension is driven by, or at least associated with, a diaspora engagement agenda where the influence of politically active expatriates may be strengthened by their enfranchisement”.

Moving to the analysis of different regime types, the authors speculated that democratic regimes would be more susceptible to demands from their expatriate communities than authoritarian regimes: “those in power in authoritarian regimes are likely to be insensitive to political demands from the diaspora to extend dual citizenship or even politically motivated to ‘resist’ demands that may strengthen political opposition to the regime”. While previous research did seem to hint at democracies being more likely to move to a more tolerant dual citizenship policy, this was not confirmed by the data.

The role of the third and final factor, that of received remittances, is also confirmed by the data, as the authors conclude that “higher remittances increase the likelihood for a country to move to a tolerant dual citizenship regime”. This hypothesis was based on research by David Leblang, which we referred to on an earlier occasion here, which demonstrated “that expatriates from countries extending dual citizenship are more likely to remit than expatriates from countries that do not provide such right”.

Although three-quarters of States globally now accept dual citizenship, it is hard to predict how the position towards the phenomenon will develop in the future. Two factors make it likely that the remaining quarter will grow more tolerant too. First because they will be accused of not accepting the “new reality” and may not want to give the impression of “lagging behind” the global trend; and second because dual citizenship toleration is a self-sustaining phenomenon, making it very difficult to remove certain rights by reverting back to restrictive dual citizenship policies. On the other hand, the nationalist, conservative, anti-globalist and populist turn that many countries have taken in recent years may equally lead to the rebirth of the idea of exclusive allegiance and have countries “back-slide” into the previously dominant position of mono citizenship.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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