The Marketization of Citizenship in an Age of Restrictionism

In today’s age of restrictionism, a growing number of countries are closing their gates of admission to most categories of would-be immigrants with one important exception. Governments increasingly seek to lure and attract high-value migrants, especially those with access to large sums of capital. These individuals are offered golden visa programs that lead to fast-tracked naturalization in exchange for a hefty investment, in some cases without inhabiting or even setting foot in the passport-issuing country to which they now officially belong. In the U.S. context, the contrast between the “Dreamers” and “Parachuters” helps to draw out this distinction between civic ties and credit lines as competing bases for membership acquisition. 

Citizenship 2.0: Dual Nationality as an Asset

This paper explores a key unintended consequence of the global shift towards greater toleration of dual citizenship: the creation of a new global opportunity structure of citizenship. Millions of people in Latin America, Eastern Europe and elsewhere in the global middle tier may now capitalize on European ancestry or ethnicity to secure a second citizenship from EU countries, while others strategically give birth in the U.S. to secure citizenship for their children. The second, premium nationality does not typically lead to emigration. Instead, it operates as “compensatory citizenship” that provides travel freedom, an insurance policy, global opportunities and even social status. The paper draws on extensive research that is presented in full in a forthcoming book. The project documents the rise of instrumental strategies that decouple nationality from residence and identity, and the emergence of a new attitude that treats citizenship as an asset.

Citizenship's Unnecessary Future

The core features and effects of citizenship, such as racism, sexism and randomness disconnected from the holders’ desires and desert, can no longer be accepted as possibly legitimate without any critical interrogation, posing the question of citizenship’s future. Citizenships’ key promises: equality, mutual respect and self-government, even if seemingly succeeding in select societies, potentially undermine its essence, which is the justification of randomized exclusion and the upholding of the status quo. Citizenship thus does not “improve”: the result of its evolution can only be the opening of the Pandora’s box of its basic relevance. Citizenship, while still glorified, emerges as entirely unnecessary in a context where its success can no longer be measured by delivering on the ethically and morally repugnant constituents of its essence: if we believe in the ideals it proclaims and apply those globally, citizenship is bound to perish. 

The Marketization of State Membership

Citizenship by investment (CBI) programs, which grant citizenship in exchange for financial contributions to a country, have proliferated over the past decade. Where only Saint Kitts and Cyprus had formal programs in 2012, today they are found in more than ten countries. Based on three years of fieldwork, this paper dissects the challenges that emerge and how they are confronted when a sovereign function, granting citizenship, is marketized. Theoretically, it specifies the distinct properties of citizenship as a commodity and identifies the internal and external determinants of its value. Empirically, it traces how discretionary grants of citizenship in peripheral states and investment residence programs in core states conditioned the development of formal CBI schemes, and it specifies the role of geopolitical disparities, industry actors, and extra-territorial rights in this change. It concludes by assessing program outcomes and the complex ways that inequality structures the market.