Precarious citizenship and ‘in-between’ statuses


Those whose citizenship status does not fit any particular category or whose status is uncertain can be said to hold ‘precarious citizenship’. Their position contrasts quite dramatically with those enjoying the security of full citizenship. Noora Lora uses the following definition in her analysis of ‘in-between’ citizenship statuses:


[Precarious citizenship refers to] people who are unable to gain access to secure citizenship rights and instead inhabit ad hoc and temporary legal statuses for protracted periods. Precarious citizenship is primarily experienced by two groups: (1) migrants and (2) internal ‘others’ who are not recognized by the states in which they reside.


The FCI has published extensively about the relation between citizenship and precarity when discussing the concepts of statelessness, noncitizenship, the lack of legal identity, temporary guest workers in the Gulf States, persecuted or ignored minority groups such as the Rohingya in Myanmar, the Dominicans of Haitian descent and the Roma in Europe as well as the effects of neoliberalism and marketization – which according to Lora ‘have led a growing number of people who are formally citizens to be stripped of the social protections associated with citizenship, rendering them socially excluded and “internally stateless”’. Global inequality, climate change and citizenship revocation practices also contribute to the growth of the phenomenon of precariousness.


Lora’s chapter explains how these are all aspects of the wider notion of precarious citizenship and points to the irony that today’s ‘heightened security imperative to accurately categorize people … comes at a time when more and more people do not neatly fit into pre-existing national categories [due to the mass displacement of record-breaking levels]’.


Lori’s analysis is particularly useful for zooming in on four forms of precarious citizenship, namely (1) stateless populations, (2) illegal/irregular immigrants, (3) those holding ad hoc protected statuses on humanitarian grounds, and (4) guest workers. She concludes that ‘states increasingly adopt ad hoc and temporary statuses because they represent a strategic government response to avoid resolving larger dilemmas about citizenship, especially questions about the incorporation of minorities, refugees or labor’. Her case studies clearly demonstrate that documents are a key variable in determining livelihood outcomes, as they enable access to state services, employment and travel. To this we can add, as recently argued on the project syndicate website, that the potential of digital IDs – the electronic equivalent of physical identification – is enormous and that implementing them on a larger scale is likely to bring substantial economic, social and political benefits.


Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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