The future of citizenship in times of immobility

As the disruption caused by the coronavirus continues, it also becomes increasingly clear how crucial aspects of the relationship between citizens and states that we call citizenship are changing. From the world which we inhabited a few decades ago in which people were neatly allocated to one state and where non-citizens had a limited number of rights, more recent times have led to a growth of dual citizenship, human rights regimes and a large diversity of different statuses. In particular, as states handed out citizenship under favourable terms to certain groups– be it co-ethnic communities in neighbouring countries, descendants of former emigrants or foreign investors – they are suddenly confronted with the fact that these policies may be conducive to their political or financial goals, but also entail a new kind of responsibility. It raises questions regarding who should be allowed to return, be evacuated or who is deserving of protection inside the state’s borders. There are signs that states will have to start making these decisions soon, with Reuters reporting that “US government officials are concerned that dual US-Mexico citizens may flee to the United States if the coronavirus outbreak in Mexico gets worse, putting more stress on US hospitals, especially near the border”.

Jelena Dzankic has explained why citizenship may become a burden for states in a situation where a pandemic has expanded the role of the state not only as a regulator, but also as a provider of essential services. She predicts that Covid-19 will change the way states look at persons who acquired their citizenship for strategic or instrumental reasons and points to recent examples where states seem to shift their “responsibility to provide” towards settled residents rather than strategic citizens living abroad.

The impact of Covid-19 on certain industries and regions cannot be underestimated. Warren Buffett feels that the aviation industry has changed in such a way due to corona that he has decided to sell his entire firm’s holdings in four major American airlines. In other countries, airlines can only survive because of government support – such as in Germany where Lufthansa was thrown a €9bn lifeline in an attempt to save jobs. It is also widely recognized that emerging markets – that is, fast-growing poorer countries that are able to make rapid strides towards developments – will be hit hardest by the global crisis, to a large extent because they rely heavily on tourism.

While Citizenship by Investment programmes may come to thrive by advertising “pandemic” passports, it is also possible that the combination of reduced mobility, airline bankruptcy and collapsing emerging markets will have its effect on these programmes. As Dzankic notes, “commercialization of the passport is a direct outcome of the dynamics of luxury consumption in emerging markets”. For now it is unclear how long the current situation of immobility, meaning that hardly any passport can be deemed better than another for the purpose of international mobility, will last and what the long-term impact will be – especially with the looming threat of future lockdowns and second waves.


Edited by: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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