From the very moment one disembarks a plane, it is obvious who the non-nationals are. They are the ones darting through the crowds with a sense of anxiety and foreboding. The ones with an urgency in their step, hopeful to make it as close to the front of the long queue typical for ‘alien passports’. Packed closely together, in a long line snaking around the corner, everyone waiting is conscious of the ticking clock. In line, my mind wanders to a daydream of spies; fantasizing about wielding multiple passports, using whichever to go wherever.
My pleasant reverie is interrupted as I am finally called forward. Anxiety starts bubbling in my gut, knowing I can be detained for any small concern. Handing my navy blue passport to the official, I mentally search the 64 pages for the one holding my visa. Instinctively I feel myself brace, preparing for the slew of questions. Behind me, people fidget impatiently while I frantically search my folder for evidence of university enrolment, financial stability, medical health, and so on.
Eventually exiting the airport, having my worst suspicions reconfirmed, my only thought is of Jules Verne’s passage in Around the World in 80 Days: ‘Passports are only good for annoying honest folk’.
Except nowadays, for the right price, passports have become a commodity. With more insular societies, a new industry emerged to circumvent these regulatory controls. Economic citizenship processes range from investments in local businesses, property, or monetary donations in return for citizenship status and travel perks. The cliché of spies has transposed from the realm of novels and daydreams to reality.
However, there is considerable opposition to selling citizenship. There is little protest to offering athletes citizenships; so, how does winning a gold medal at the Olympics rank above economic citizenship programs?
Why Citizenship Should be for Sale
Ultimately, the recoil to selling citizenship is cultural and emotional. In the UK, voters’ prioritization of cultural chauvinism over rational economic arguments was a structural change that eluded social scientists’ forecasts. This identity crisis is manifest in the UK’s recent £490 million redesign project to restyle their passport. ‘Having the pink European passports has been a source of humiliation’, MP Andrew Rosindell claimed. ‘It merged us into one European identity, which isn’t what we are.’ It seems bizarre to hold the symbolic importance of belonging to a place with such high regard.
Our fervid imagination has made it possible to fixate on cultural differences, as nationality holds traction as an organizational basis for human society. Consider the Trump administration’s infamous travel ban, barring specific passport-holders from entering the US. The problem is the message this conveys: who is welcome and who is not, who is a citizen and who is an alien. Nevertheless, borders have been drawn and redrawn; national identities are not static; one member of a national community does not represent them all. We need to dispel the notion of applying nationality as a blanket definition for collective communities. Instead, assess each individual on a personal level; to engage as coequals – at the border and for economic citizenship programs.
Whenever I meet someone, I dread the question: ‘where are you from?’. I have a Kenyan passport, but Indian heritage. I have lived most of my life in the Middle East but also resided in England and the US. I do not know how to begin my answer. Does the question refer to my passport or my heritage, where I lived the longest or where I enjoyed living most?
GlobeScan uncovered that nearly one in two people, in emerging economies, identify as global citizens rather than citizens of a specific country. Unfortunately, there is considerable resistance to selling citizenship to foreigners. Theresa May said, ‘If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word citizenship means’. Maybe she is the one misunderstanding citizenship.
Our world is becoming too pluralistic and diverse to utilize nationality as an organizational tenant. Especially considering ones’ native citizenship is more coincidence than intention (at birth one is never offered the option to choose their nationality), so it hardly seems fair to exclude others on this premise.
Some claim immigrants steal jobs, lower wages, and diminish social welfare resources; arguing these benefits should not be shared. Not only does empirical data debunk these fallacies; but also, the claim implies one owes more to fellow citizens than foreign strangers – a dangerous position. However, by selling citizenships, governments can use the additional revenue to alleviate any costs imposed. Understandably, it is not feasible to relieve all the costs, but at least some.
Moreover, it has been argued that people purchasing citizenship will neglect civic duties, disintegrate national identity, and view citizenship as a temporary commodity for their convenience. This is possible, but the opposite is just as true. If someone invested a great amount into a country, it could be argued they are actually more likely to contribute to protecting their investment. Additionally, pluralism of ideas fosters innovation. This hardly seems like a bad program.
Perhaps the intrinsic properties of citizenship make its sale immoral. As the specter of great wealth coexists with endemic poverty, citizenship programs are pilloried for being limited to the wealthy – valuing some people over others. By way of example, in Britain, investments can vary between £2 million to £10 million, depending on the speed to qualify. Fixating on wealth is not a coherent criterion for citizenship. This wrongful valuation undermines other factors like education and values. In this respect, some recalibration is in order. It should be based upon what that country wants its citizens to believe and emulate.
A Vantage Point from the Moon
The iconic photo of the Apollo lunar landing, ‘Earthrise’, conveys the fragility of Earth, hurtling through space alone. The image is significant for what it reveals, as much as what it does not. What is not evident, are political borders. Unfortunately, zooming in, a patchwork of separate polities come into focus. Goods seamlessly traverse the globe, yet people remain caged by artificial, arbitrary lines called borders. It makes sense for governments to sell citizenship in this world. To offer a chance to relocate for reasons concerning security issues, economic instability, or just freedom of travel.
When used correctly, open borders can be a tool to battle inequality between countries. This would require free movement to be equally enjoyed by rich and poor countries. There is always the argument poverty in some states result from endogenous factors, such as corruption and bad governance, to justify a lack of responsibility and action. However, that is not always the case. In an interdependent global order, countries are embroiled in webs of transnational, mutual vulnerability. In short, external factors now affect the domestic. Thus, this is a matter of fairness – not charity.
And if that was not compelling enough, economists estimate allowing free movement between countries would increase global GDP by 67 to 147% – increasing GDP by $100 trillion. In one measure, there exists the framework to combat inequality and poverty, while reinvigorating the global economy. Seems like the obvious solution.
After all, do we not have a responsibility to help each other? Citizenship, when used correctly, can be an instrument for integration and equalization. We should aim to have a world that looks the same from the moon’s vantage point. The current application of identity politics is often antithetical to the integrative aspirations of liberal democratic order. And quite frankly, sometimes just plain unfair.
Featured Image Source: https://www.cntraveler.com/stories/2016-03-31/this-is-the-worlds-rarest-passport.