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Can you be a Dual Citizen and also a Patriot and what does this mean for Development?

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Some people view citizenship as like marriage – allegiance to more than one country at once is akin to disloyalty and cheating, and if you want to love a new country you have to give up any allegiance to your old one. For example, an article on Mexican immigrants notes that “Loyalty concerns with respect to immigrants from Mexico also increased because of a change in Mexican law in 1998, which for the first time allowed Mexican citizens to acquire dual citizenship” and adds

“On both the theoretical and symbolic levels, dual citizenship poses a problem, as countries are quite protective when it comes to the political loyalty of their citizens. In the event of a conflict between obligations owed to two states, it is not clear what the person with dual citizenship would do…On the symbolic level, however, dual citizenship is a sign that the attachment to either country is potentially compromised by other ties.”<--break->

This issue is becoming even more relevant as talk continues of a path to citizenship for undocumented migrants in the U.S. as part of a comprehensive immigration reform. Although this may not be the most important part of the reform, talk of citizenship for 12 million more migrants is bound to raise questions about divided loyalities. A New York Times debate asked “can dual citizens be good Americans?”. And it is not only developed countries which worry about this, in the news this week from Zambia one reads:

“Chief Government Spokesperson and minister of Information and Broadcasting Kennedy Sakeni has maintained that government is not comfortable with the existence of the Dual Citizenship clause in the Zambian constitution and wants it dropped grounds of patriotism.”

Likewise one reads from India concerns that “those holding dual citizenship are a threat to national security”

If you can love more than one of your kids, you can love more than one country

However, perhaps a better metaphor might be to view countries as like your kids – you can love, honor and defend more than one of them, and when they fight, you want to break it up, not join in on one side or the other. Having a lot of Indian-Pakistani or Palestinian-Israeli dual citizens might be much better for global peace.

Moreover, from a development perspective, dual citizenship seems the better option, helping migrants maintain closer ties with their countries of origin and thus have developing countries better benefit from their diaspora. While selection is a big issue, countries which allow for dual citizenship receive more remittances than those which don’t, and dual citizens also are likely to contribute to the development of their home countries through more engagement in diaspora activities than those who give up their home country citizenship, and through voting in home country elections and thus helping transfer attitudes about governance from abroad. For example, a symposia on Liberians noted that:

“The majority of the diaspora population in the US immigrated as a result of the Liberian Civil Wars, which ravaged the country and destroyed its infrastructure. Many applied for US citizenship in order to benefit from scholarships and find employment that could support their families back home. Because Liberia does not allow dual citizenship, however, the diaspora is now unable to fully participate in the reconstruction and development of the country.”

Given this, it is ironic that World Bank employees face large disincentives to become dual citizens with the U.S., since taking up U.S. citizenship entails losing a number of expatriate and tax benefits. So as we watch this debate play out in different countries, maybe it is also a debate we ought to be having a little closer to home…



David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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