Saturday, March 4, 2017

Nationality as a Practical Tool: Is the Future of Citizenship not Tied to Patriotism?

What does being "American" mean?  When hearing the word, one can usually conjure the pictures of loud being with distinctive accents proudly talking about the wealth and power of their home country, the global ubiquitous pop culture, and voicing their worries at the current political directions.  Inevitably (and often quite obviously), these same people will have citizenship of the USA.  Without the need to elaborate, the fact that they have the citizenship of the USA makes them America, and entitle them to speak of the country's culture, politics, and wealth in a matter-of-fact, this-is-my-business manner.

Switch out the word "American" and "USA" with the equivalent of any other country, and the previous statement would also hold.  For the normal people who were born and grew up in a particular country, their identity and allegiance to the country is evidenced by deep knowledge and interest in the country, and backed up by the fact that they hold nationality and citizenship rights to the same country.  For immigrants, to be able to call themselves a person of a particular country, the journey is often not felt as complete until the passport of that country obtained via whatever legal means.

By in this age of global movements and employment, the previously widely accepted notion of deep correlation between one's nationality and national identity is starting to break down.  There is slow emergence of a class of global nomads for which the citizenship is but a tool for easy travel and access to global work opportunities, and has no direct ties to their individual identity.  To put more simply, there are more and more people who consider themselves a person of country A while exclusively holding passport of country B.  These people, unlike the case of generations past, are showing no interest in cultural affinity to B.

There are two reasons for this desire for changing citizenship but not national allegiance.  On one hand, for many immigrants, there is a growing gap between the economic reality of their homelands and the inconvenience associated with their passports.  It is widely known that a poor country would have a less powerful passport given the higher chance of travelers holding those passports becoming illegal immigrants in wherever they are going.  But the power of the passport is "sticky," even as a country becomes richer, the passport will remain weak for the foreseeable future.

This presents a massive problem for the newly wealthy of the previously poor countries.  They now have both the capacity to travel abroad for pleasure and the genuine need to cross national borders for international business negotiations and transactions.  The time and costs associated with visa application and scrutinization simply become more and more of a burden, a hindrance, and disadvantage to pent-up demand for international travel.  In the long-term, for these newly wealthy, it is much cheaper and more convenient to seek a foreign passport so that such bureaucratic needs are avoided.

On the other hand, for professionals seeking permanent employment in another country, the continuing increases in anti-immigration sentiments in certain parts of the world will, in matter of time, be translated to actual policies that hinders employment while being a foreign citizen.  To be more specific, the very status of being a foreigner will become a disadvantage for getting employed in the first place as the cost of sponsoring visas by employers increases over time.  For employees who are genuinely interested in working in a foreign country in a prolonged period of time, it becomes more sensical to obtain the passport of that country.

In both of the above cases, the need to change citizenship is genuine but is also purely based on practical, economic considerations.  In the latter case, the employee's desire to work for extended periods in a foreign country may imply some degree of love for that country, but even then, that love may not be based on interest for that country's cultural or social norms but on its ability to provide higher incomes and standard of living for its employed residents.  In the former case, even that sentiment is not present since the persons in question are primary beneficiaries, and hence would be more proud, of a more enriched, wealthy homeland.
Of course, countries can restrict providing nationality to such practical minded individuals.  But in the global economy, a country can only stay competitive by acquiring more talented and skilled labor to power innovation.  Getting foreigners who already have desired skills and talents is certainly cheaper and faster than having to revamp educational systems to train such talents at home.  And when many of such individuals already wealthy enough to invest and create jobs, there is just too much of an incentive for countries to embrace such new citizens with open arms no matter how indifferent they are to the culture of the country.

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