Time and time again we see how important citizenship is for individuals wanting to receive basic human rights. Take the UK’s Windrush scandal, where many Caribbean immigrants were denied their rights because they were not deemed British citizens, despite having previously been granted indefinite leave to remain. A lack of paperwork meant many were threatened with deportation, whilst others lost their homes, jobs and were denied NHS treatment.
Fundamental human rights like the right to work, vote and have access to healthcare, welfare and education can all rest upon being a citizen of a country. Answering the question “what is citizenship?”, international citizenship experts CS Global Partners explain that as a citizen, you can benefit from unique rights and obligations that exist between a nation and its citizens, rights that mere residents or immigrants may not enjoy.
Unfortunately, many countries still enforce extremely restrictive citizenship laws. For instance, some nations outlaw dual citizenship. This causes a conundrum for both foreign-born residents wanting to become citizens there and citizens who live abroad but don’t want to renounce their original citizenship. Japan, for example, decrees that those wanting to become a Japanese citizen must relinquish other citizenships.
Yet, a number of nations with historically strict citizenship laws are moving into the modern era by attempting to liberalize these regulations. From finally allowing dual citizenship to making it easier to acquire citizenship in general, we’ll take a look at how some of these countries are adapting their processes.
In October 2017, the Norwegian government announced they were putting a proposal to Parliament to allow universal dual citizenship for the first time in the country’s history. This came after the largest party in the governing coalition, the Høyre (Conservative) Party, voted in favour of the proposal at its 2017 annual conference.
Currently, only citizens in exceptional cases can be granted dual citizenship. These exceptions include: if a foreign resident’s nation of birth doesn’t allow for their citizenship to be renounced, if it is risky to strip this citizenship for reasons like war or persecution, or if somebody is born with dual citizenship. However, the law still significantly restricts the rights of many Norwegians, and those of foreign residents coming to the country.
The decision came after years of lobbying from groups like ‘Ja til dobbelt statsborgerskap’ (Yes to dual citizenship). Speaking after the announcement last October, Donna Fox, co-founder of the lobbying group said: “Thousands of Norwegian families with connection to two countries, long term permanent Norwegian residents, and future generations will benefit from the right to vote, live and reside without restriction between their countries of citizenship.”
Norway is the only Nordic nation and one of only a handful of European countries that do not currently allow dual citizenship. The nation’s position on dual citizenship is pretty pointless in many cases, with the exceptions enabling 59% of those obtaining Norwegian citizenship in 2017 to retain their old citizenship anyway. The proposal to allow dual citizenship for everyone is still being considered closely by the Norwegian Parliament, but is expected to get the green light in the near future.
Liberia’s president George Weah has called for abolishment of the country’s long-standing constitutional clause restricting citizenship to black people. Liberia was founded as “a refuge and a haven for freed men of colour”, so outlaws non-black residents from becoming citizens, and by extension, owning land. “In these circumstances, it is my view that keeping such a clause in our constitution is unnecessary, racist, and inappropriate for the place that Liberia occupies today in the comity of nations,” Weah said in his first ever State of the Nation address in January 2018.
The law as it stands seriously inhibits the roughly 4,000-strong Lebanese population who have lived in Liberia for generations. Not only does the country have racially discriminatory citizenship laws, but like Norway, it also doesn’t allow dual citizenship, something else Weah has vowed to change.
Like Norway, the Solomon Islands are also tabling a dual citizenship bill. Dual citizenship is not currently recognized there. Those who obtain Solomon Island citizenship must renounce their former citizenship within six months or face having their Solomon Island citizenship revoked.
The Dual Citizenship Bill was previously tabled in Parliament but withdrawn when the house was just one MP short of the numbers needed to approve constitutional amendments. Solomon Islands Prime Minister Rick Hou has stated he wants the law changed before the end of his premiership. “I am hoping that next month we would have the numbers for us to move this dual citizenship forward. That is what many of the communities I have met in Port Moresby, in the United Kingdom, our communities overseas… they have told us they want us to see to this,” Mr Hou said.
With citizenship so pivotal to securing fundamental human rights, the moves of these countries must be commended. Let’s hope other countries follow suit.