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Dual Citizenship Worldwide

By | July 17, 2012

When the Dutch government proposed a law last fall designed to severely restrict dual citizenship, some were quick to declare the start of a European trend, spurred by the increasingly heated political rhetoric surrounding immigration. Despite efforts in the Netherlands, many countries in Europe, Latin America, and other countries as diverse as the Philippines and Ghana have moved towards tolerance of dual citizenship in recent years and away from restrictive citizenship laws.

The Dutch case represents not only an exception, but a retrogression of policy. The Dutch government and the far-right Freedom Party (PVV) behind the legislation justify the move by clinging to concerns that have lost relevance worldwide.

The Dutch Case

It is unlikely that the Dutch proposal restricting dual citizenship will set a trend. On the political level, the only other parties to espouse similar rhetoric on dual citizenship are highly conservative and scattered throughout Europe. Among these parties, the PVV has unusually high political clout. Countries like France and Switzerland that have witnessed some similar rhetoric are unlikely to move towards similar restrictions.

From a broader perspective, however, the main reason why other countries are unlikely to follow the Dutch example is the shaky rationale behind the policy. In an interview with the HPR, Auke Zijlstra, a member of the European parliament for the PVV, focused on three main issues that his party sees with dual citizenship: loyalty, legal conflicts, and integration. On the issue of integration, Zijlstra claimed that allowing immigrants from ”Islamic countries” to retain dual citizenship had allowed the integrity of Dutch society to worsen over recent years. As he and his party see it, the aim of the legislation is merely to reduce such imbalances by putting tighter restrictions on those who will be allowed dual citizenship in the future.

Fading Concerns

Similar concerns regarding loyalty, legal conflicts, and integration made restrictive citizenship laws and prohibition of dual citizenship the worldwide norm for much of the last century. They have, however, largely lost relevance in today’s world. With the decreasing likelihood of wars between modern-day democracies, countries today worry less about loyalty. Likewise, more modern conceptions of multiculturalism hold that individuals can have various identities and loyalties, rather than needing to show absolute loyalty to one state.

On the topic of integration, Elizabeth Collett, Director of the Migration Policy Institute Europe in Brussels, told the HPR that far from being an impediment to integration, many recent studies, including ones commissioned by previous Dutch governments, have found that allowing dual citizenship actually promotes integration.  By incentivizing immigrants to apply for citizenship in their country of their residence, dual citizenship may actually help preserve the national unity that opponents of dual citizenship are trying so hard to preserve.

Conflating Issues

In an interview with the HPR, Olivier Vonk, an expert on dual citizenship at Maastricht University, argued that to be fair to the PVV, the Dutch dual citizenship proposal should be viewed more broadly and in terms of the party’s long-established tough immigration policies. Nevertheless, by conflating immigration with dual citizenship issues, the party is still ignoring emigrants, a key group of potential citizens whom the policy might hurt most.

Lucas Hoogduin, a prominent member of the Dutch emigrant community in New York who was actively involved in discussions on the proposal, lamented the fact that the policy’s effect on emigrants is merely seen as “collateral damage” in the Netherlands, even though, as he told the HPR, the proposal may actually end up affecting more emigrants than immigrants.

The Pragmatism of Dual Citizenship

With more and more children of multinational couples today automatically eligible for two citizenships, as well as the children born to foreign parents on the territory of a country with birthright citizenship, dual citizenship is more popular than ever. Therefore, a more relevant question to ask might not be whether dual citizenship should or should not be permitted, but whether it should be more actively encouraged. After all, the current move towards toleration of dual citizenship has almost always meant removal of restrictions on holding multiple nationalities, rather than any explicit recognition or encouragement.

 In many ways, such a move would indeed seem to be the next logical step. Encouraging dual citizenship can help net-emigration countries retain a connection to their emigrants. Likewise, net-immigration countries can benefit from recognition of its citizens’ multicultural origins. After all, in today’s globalized world, it is unrealistic to expect anything but a further rise in dual citizenship.

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