A market is an area or arena in which commercial dealings are operated, suggesting if there were a market for citizenship the main aim would be to make profit, which I wholeheartedly disagree with. In this essay I will argue that a market for citizenship is not justifiable because I do not view citizenship as a commodity, and I also believe treating it as a commodity could diminish the moral value of citizenship.
To answer this question it is important to know what citizenship means, especially what citizenship means to me. I align myself with the republic concept of citizenship which seeks to focus on the community as a whole instead of just the individual (Isin and Turner, 2011). It emphasises the important of democracy, and to have a democracy is to self-rule and self-govern which requires “a willingness to sacrifice individual interests for the sake of the common good” and “the ability to deliberate well about common purposes and ends.” (Schäfer, 2011). I think that having citizenship imparts a sense of duty to respect the democracy and the fact that it demands more from its people; its members need to be prepared to make necessary contributions in the form of “treasure (in taxes) and sometimes in blood (war)”. (Haas, 2019). I also hold the view of citizenship being a right along with a duty in the sense of democracy itself having a duty to respect its members. As part of a democracy I have the right to vote, freedom of speech, the freedom to practise my religion and multitude of laws that offer me protection. And the same cannot be said for the rest of the world, therefore it is a right that needs to be held in high regard. In my opinion, I do not believe that a market for citizenship can be justified given the importance of it which I think is becoming less recognised.
As of today a market for citizenship exists; an increasing number of countries are offering immigrant investor programmes to wealthy individuals in exchange for citizenship or rights to residency. A specific type of investor program involves the applicant giving money directly to the government in the form of a non-refundable fee or low interest loan. This could be seen as having major economic benefits for government, especially those which are less economically developed.
However, a vast number of countries offering these programs – such as Malta, the UK and Australia – can be considered wealthy countries with a high level of economic development. This heavily suggests that a market for citizenship should not be justified, as this method of selling citizenship encourages the increase of wealth into the part of the world that is “one-fifth rich” and potentially removing resources from the “four-fifths poor”. In addition to that, the growing gap between the rich and the poor objects to the republican concept of citizenship, an abundance of money or lack there of corrupts the character of people disallowing them to forgo their own interests for the sake of the republic, destroying the commonality required to self-rule. An alternative viewpoint stands that market for citizenship through immigration investment programmes is substantially insignificant in increasing the disparity between the rich and the poor. For example, in 2013 this exclusive method of acquiring citizenship made up less than 0.5% of UK immigrant applications, which is equivalent to 1600 applications (Dzankic, 2015).
Instead, they would say the real market for citizenship comprises of substantial legal fees (immigration lawyers), sham marriage and human smuggling trade. It has been reported that the value of the human smuggling industry is worth $35 billion worldwide, whereas the average investment made for the immigration investment programme per applicant in the UK is $1.6 million (Dzankic, 2015). This alternative view sustains that a market for citizenship is justifiable due to their already being a heavily unregulated multi-billion dollar industry in it, but the hope for the market is to become legitimate and equitable. An idea of selling citizenship, proposed by Becker in 1982, through the government where immigrants could gain citizenship by paying a fee to the government, and if immigrants weren’t able to pay they could secure a loan from government (Lister, 2008). In this way, the government is investing in the immigrants themselves in an effort to maximise the economy of the country. However, I do not think this constitutes a market as the government is effectively acting as a monopoly, the government being the only seller of that good with no close substitute, with the ‘profits’ made being reinvested into the government (Lister, 2008).
Through the sale of citizenship, it is easy for people to forget the significance of citizenship considering the motivations behind acquiring citizenship could include: monetary gain, establishing residence in a low tax jurisdiction or perhaps even to wield influence on government. Motivations such as these make citizenship nothing more than a status symbol of power and wealth, which greatly undermines what the role citizenship plays in a country. It is supposed to unite people by breaking down the barriers between social class, but marketing citizenship exacerbates the issue. Moreover, immigrants such as these hold no ties to the country they are being nationalised in and immigrant investment programmes largely undo the work of countries to re-establish “citizenship through tests and integration requirements”. (Shachar and Baubock, 2014). Alternatively, others may argue that the way citizenship is obtained through jus soli (birthright citizenship) or jus sanguinis (citizenship determined by place of birth of parents) is arbitrary and should not be treated any differently to people who are prepared to pay for it (Shachar and Baubock, 2014). I would argue that people who acquire citizenship through jus soli or jus sanguinis provides protection to citizens for life considering that these birthright rules makes them equal and unlike social status their place of birth, or the place of birth of their parents is absolute and it cannot change.
A market for citizenship is not justifiable because it desensitises people into treating it as a commodity and it also has a severely negative impact on democracy by increasing the gap between the rich and the poor thus failing to put personal circumstances aside to be able to work together from the greater good of the republic.