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How do citizenship and legal residence differ?

The Future Citizen Institute has previously reported on the phenomenon of citizenship tests as a condition for naturalisation. However, there seems to be growing consensus that what matters most to immigrants is legal residency, not citizenship. As noted by Kieran Oberman in a philosophical exploration of ‘what is wrong with permanent alienage?’, ‘the trend in western liberal democracies is towards greater parity between citizens and residents’. Many civic and social rights that used to be linked to citizenship are now also granted to permanent legal residents; it is only in respect of political rights that citizenship still clearly matters.

As citizenship seems to have lost some of its appeal and relevance, the use of citizenship ceremonies (where newcomers have to pledge an oath of allegiance) and civic and language tests have been interpreted by some scholars as an attempt by states to re-nationalize citizenship in order to counter the lightening of citizenship. One of the features of this ‘citizenship light’ is instrumentalization, which we have discussed in the context of compensatory citizenship and long-distance naturalisation.

The practical difference between citizenship and legal residence has recently been studied by Irene Bloemraad and Alicia Sheares in Understanding Membership in a World of Global Migration: (How) Does Citizenship Matter? Somewhat surprisingly, the authors note,

few studies systematically interrogate whether and why citizenship affects migrants

and their children, or the societies that provide or withhold it. Citizenship is posited as normatively important in liberal, democratic states, or functional for securing rights and benefits. The first argument restricts the study of citizenship to democratic states; the latter equates citizenship narrowly to “on the books” benefits.

The authors then theorize a variety of mechanisms by which citizenship could matter, but underscore that ‘empirical work on the impact of citizenship relative to permanent residence status is limited’. Moreover, while finding evidence that holding citizenship can for example increase political and civic engagement and socioeconomic inclusion, the authors stress that ‘the effects appear modest in the aggregate’. Despite this caveat, Bloemraad and Sheares feel sufficiently confident to suggest that citizenship does provide ‘access to opportunities, rights, and benefits; it connotes legitimacy; it leads to mobilization by other actors; it spurs personal investment or more rapid socialization in the economic, civic, or political life of the country; it signals to others particular skills, motivations, or time horizons; and it carries social psychological effects for social identity and collective solidarity’.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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