Global Policy Forum

Managing Globalization:


By Daniel Altman

International Herald Tribune
February 6, 2007

While global capital and trade flows continue to increase, and indeed to accelerate, labor is the factor whose mobility always seems to lag. Political and cultural constraints have slowed the formulation of economically driven migration policies. As a result, people around the world have been resorting to a much more idiosyncratic means of migration: the pursuit of citizenship.

Last week, the border crossings between Hong Kong and mainland China became the setting for one of the most extreme reactions against one of the most extreme forms of this pursuit. According to news reports, Hong Kong immigration officers are now allowed to stop women in the final stages of pregnancy from entering Hong Kong from mainland China, even using tape measures to ascertain their medical status. The presumption is that they are trying to give birth in Hong Kong so that their children will have a right to residency, and greater economic opportunities, in the wealthy special administration region of China.

This practice is by no means confined to China. Migrants and even tourists from around the world have long sought to give birth in the United States, where citizenship is the reward for newborns on American soil. Even workers planning to return to their countries may stay a little longer to ensure that their children become Americans.

The European Union, too, is picking up new migrants via citizenship claims. In many cases, a person whose grandparent is a citizen of a member can apply for citizenship as well, as long as his or her parent also obtains citizenship. So, for example, a woman whose grandfather was German can become a German citizen, providing her father does as well.

This proviso has often come in handy for recruits to major soccer clubs from South America, who usually manage to find enough ancestry in the Old World to finagle a passport. It is also becoming easier to exploit as the European Union grows - and more attractive, too. At this point, a citizen of any member nation gets the right to live and work in 27 countries. A man born in Canada who claims Romanian citizenship, for instance, may do so only to take a job in France.

"Over the past several decades there's been a rise in dual and multiple nationality," said Miriam Feldblum, who teaches in the humanities faculty at the California Institute Technology. "There are increased economic opportunities when you're also nationals of both countries." It is happening at both ends of the income spectrum, too. "We have two global labor markets," said Saskia Sassen, a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago. "One is at the top, and one is at the bottom." There are high-skilled people who use multiple nationalities to increase their earning power, and low-skilled migrants trying to avoid legal problems in their new homes.

In other words, citizenship is becoming less and less about patriotism. In obtaining a second or even third nationality, earning a living is often a higher priority than confirming a sense of identity and belonging. Seeking a better deal from society can also be a prime motivation.

"People are shopping for bundles of rights nowadays," Sassen said. "We know, for example, that most Iraqi refugees are trying to go to Sweden, because the word is out" about the benefits offered to migrants there. The story may be the same for undocumented immigrants fighting in the American armed forces and hoping to gain citizenship, she said. "We have immigrants, we now know, who have come to the United States, who have been willing to make some tradeoff: 'I will go and fight in Iraq, but in return I'm expecting X, Y, Z,'" she said.

These demand-side reasons for pursuing citizenship are fairly well known. But there are supply-side factors that are increasing the number of people eligible for multiple nationalities, too. More countries, especially in Europe, have begun allowing women to hold on to their original nationalities after marriage, said Feldblum, and then to pass them to their children. And more countries have also been allowing migrants of all types to hold on to their original nationalities after they obtain new ones in foreign countries.

More Turks, for example, are pursuing German citizenship because Turkey allows dual nationality. "Now that they can have dual nationality, it makes them feel better about being Germans, because they can keep their land back home," Sassen said. The same is true in Latin America, she said. "The sending countries - Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico - have granted their diaspora voting rights in their national elections," she said. "You have a whole new, sovereign attempt to gain some traction on the overseas migrants, no matter how poor they are."

Even though people may pursue multiple nationalities for economic reasons, the results do not necessarily serve the interests of the countries whose nationalities they gain. It may be that a mainland Chinese mother who gives birth in Hong Kong is economically ambitious, and will pass that spirit on to her child. But her action is likely to yield far more idiosyncratic results than the state-of-the-art in immigration policy: highly targeted programs that try to select the most talented immigrants whose skills match the needs of local industries.

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