Effect of Transnational Communities and Diasporic Identities on Citizenship Rights
Traditional definition of citizenship has a confinement within the state, defining the term (citizenship) within the auspices of state legislation and policies. In the real world, however, the conceptualization of citizenship transcends the territorial and institutional precincts of the nation-state, particularly under the consideration of today’s travel and immigration (Hua 2011, p. 45). The current economic and social status of the world makes it difficult, therefore, for a nation-state to be sovereign in the determination of its internal and international affairs, with the inclusion of making as important decisions as political and social rights. Gravitating this situation is the continued travel and immigration of people for a variety of reasons including economic, social, political and security concerns. For that matter therefore, communities, identities, citizenship and personal affiliation continue to take on a more intricate significance (Hua 2011, p. 45). The very nature of the current global migration trends, which have occasioned the presence a significant number of diaspora communities residing outside their countries as well as transnational ties has brought into focus the effect of the phenomenon on citizenship and citizenship rights.
2.0 Effect on Citizenship Rights
By definition, citizenship refers to “status of full and equal membership in a self-governing political community that entails rights and obligations and is supported by certain virtues” (Bauböck 2009, p. 4). Significant to note therefore is the fact that not only does citizenship refer to nationality and the sense of belonging within a territorial space; it also entails certain rights and virtues enjoyed by the members of a particular nation-state. Transnational ties (and specifically migration) on the other hand, break synchrony between territory and citizenship. The result of the break in synchrony is the creation of problems for both the originating and the receiving country, as it concerns with the provision and the protection of the rights that should be enjoyed by the migrants (Bauböck 2009, p. 4).
One of the most evident problems is the choice on “which rights and obligations states can assign to their emigrants without interfering with the host state’s territorial sovereignty” (Bauböck 2009, p. 4). Emigrant countries are therefore relegated to a state in which they only provide external citizenship to their citizens, which involves the right to protection by the nation’s diplomatic detail, and the re-admittance to the homeland. These sometimes extend to voting rights, exercisable abroad and the duty to perform military service in the motherland.
The second and most significant challenge lies with the governments of the receiving countries, whose instruments have to guarantee protection and equal freedom for every person under their rule, to achieve legitimacy. The significance of this challenge lies in the fact that external protection may turn out inadequate especially in the case where the immigrants face subjective legislation aimed at discriminating against them in diaspora (Bauböck 2009, p. 4). A solution to this problem, and of great significance to citizenship, involves the redefinition of citizenship rights and privileges into universal human rights (Bauböck 2009, p. 4).
Further, these privileges have also been tied to residence and employment by the receiving governments, and extended to the immigrants. Of importance is that through transnationalism, the list of rights extended to the immigrants “includes civil and political liberties and social welfare entitlements as well as rights that are specifically relevant for migrants, such as family reunification or immunity from deportation” (Bauböck 2009, p. 4).
Such sweeping concessions to the protection of the civil liberties and citizenship rights are considerable in the current globalized world. However, much as the foreigners enjoy the rights and privileges extended to nationals, they remain wholly subjected to the laws of the land—apart from diplomats. The discrepancy here lies in the fact that, while they are subject to the laws of their country of residence, they remain largely unrepresented in the formulation of the laws that govern them (Bauböck 2009, p. 4). Seeking solutions to this problem has resulted following two paths that have had tremendous effects on the very core of citizenship rights.
Part of the solution has been the inclusion of the immigrants, even in their transnational form of constant communication, transaction and interaction with their families back home, into the receiving nation citizenship. In this sense, most receiving nations have accelerated and facilitated reception of citizenship to these migrants through naturalization or birth in the receiving nation state. Another solution has been allowing the migrant population to vote. While this remains highly improbable for most countries, several have extended these privileges and rights to the foreigners. As an example, New Zealand has given its permanent residents the right to vote in all elective positions, although it remains conservative on the foreigners’ right to run for office. For other countries such as Britain, “citizens from Commonwealth countries and Ireland can vote and run as candidates in elections at all levels (Bauböck 2009, p. 4). Ireland grants the national franchise to British citizens and local voting rights to all foreign residents”(Bauböck 2009, p. 4). Such rights have been extended by countries, among others, Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, and Finland.
With an increased number of foreigners in the diaspora, it is becoming increasingly necessary to extend certain rights to these groups of people who make significant contribution in the host country’s economy and cultural diversity. Of interest has been the maintenance of diasporic identities by a bulk of the migrant population. Significantly, “the ideas of place and home live on in the imaginings of many diasporic collectivities” (Hua 2011, p. 45). These identities have been shown through different practices spanning social interactions, cultural, religious, economic, and political activities (Goldring et al. 2013, p.5).
Migration into foreign lands has therefore catalyzed some provisions, within the host countries, to allow privileges to the foreign nationals. The privileges have transcended the base citizenship privileges for diaspora communities, into allowing them to hold functions with cultural significance. In essence, it has become increasingly easy for diasporic communities to celebrate ethnic, religious and national holidays associated with the motherland in diaspora (Goldring et al. 2013, p.5). Even among the most conservative of countries, the diaspora communities continue to maintain their religious identities, in addition to performing rituals linked with specific leaders or institutions with foundations back home, as well as soliciting and giving financial support for faith-based organizations and projects (Goldring et al. 2013, p.5).
There is however, a significant change in the way transnational communities have presented arguments on citizenship and citizenship in itself. Most of the transnational communities are drumming for the provision of dual identities, dual citizenship and in other instances, multiple citizenship. A number of countries have provided dual citizenship for the transnational communities, especially within the European Union (Brandt & Layton-Henry 2012, p. 9). The establishment of the EU shows several aspects of transnationalism, providing for multiple citizenship. Even more is the fact that the need for citizenship rights goes beyond the nation-state debate into negotiation among the member states. At the base however, the EU confers the rights of the citizens such as residence, education, voting and working to the citizens regardless of their nationality (Brandt & Layton-Henry 2012, p. 9).
Although the EU context may provide a biased picture given that the region has custom union among the member states, entry and exit into and out of countries remains significant. With an influx of diaspora communities however, the free entry, as a citizenship right has been curtailed in some countries. The US and Canada are explicitly curtailing entry into the countries, with Canada specifically controlling the flow of transnationals into the country. Yet this is not a Canada-only move. Several western countries, including the US, have begun controlling flows into the countries, particularly for asylum requests and people without identification papers.
The governments’ hand in controlling the flow of people into the countries is seen as biased and in a larger sense, as a limitation in the exercise of citizenship rights and freedoms. Even as some of these rights and freedoms are set within the international human rights provisions, transnational communities and diaspora identities have begun facing difficulty in the guarantee of their citizenship rights. The difficulties have been blamed on security concerns, and the need to therefore control the number and type of transnationals entering the countries. This has largely worked to the advantage of “privileged” actors, who include strategic workers, investors and entrepreneurs, to who the governments have been biased towards. Discrimination is however evident to the disadvantaged group that includes refugees, asylum seekers, sponsored immigrants and unqualified workers.
Thus, while citizenship remains as a right, mainly for asylum seekers, diasporic identities especially for those hailing from Arab countries has proven a hindrance to the provision of citizenship rights. Not only are such individuals discriminated against, they continually find it difficult to get jobs, are victims of harassment and more often than not, are denied entry into the western countries. The assumption here (for tightening and sometimes denial of entry into western countries), is that national governments are tightening their immigration as a way of reinforcing the feeling of belonging among the nationals, and provision of security following the increase in the number of terrorist activities.
Transnationalism is a reality in the modern world. It is a wave sweeping across the globe, and with it comes a new perspective in citizenship. Although many countries continue to provide citizenship rights to transnationals and diaspora communities, some of these rights remain as a preserve of the nationals. It is however considerable to note that the presence of transnationals and diaspora communities have had a significant impact in the provision of citizenship rights in host countries. Thus, while originating countries may not have significant power in influencing some citizenship rights in the immigrant countries, the presence of the diaspora communities has had a significant impact in ensuring that the diaspora communities, in the least, enjoy the basic of citizenship rights.
European Union: Threat or Opportunity
The European Union is perhaps among the oldest international unions and trade blocks. With plans to give up the national currencies for the Euro, except for the UK, which has held on to its sterling pound, the EU also stands as one of the strongest trading blocs in the world (Stanković 2013, p. 38). The customs union, the EU presidency and parliament have made the operations of the EU seem like a huge confederacy. Debates have however been rife over the necessity of joining the union especially among new members such a Lithuanian, as well as Turkey, an aspiring member. With the Eurozone crisis, and Britain debating whether to remain in the union, even more questions abound on whether the union presents an opportunity or threat to its members. The defeat of the EU integration referendum, additionally casts doubts on members’ feelings on the very existence of the Union, especially among key members such as France and Germany, while it comes as a disappointment to members drumming for the integration, especially those from Eastern Europe, which are bound to profit from such an integration. At the center of the debate is however, the uncertainty of the prospects of the Union with new membership from advanced EU enlargement considerations and the Eurozone crisis. Does the union therefore present a threat or opportunity to the member states?
- The Opportunity
A common drive has been the establishment of a monetary union among the EU member states. With a monetary union therefore, most of the members will see a reduction in transactional costs and as well as the eradication of the need for currency exchanges (Stanković 2013, p. 34). The reduction in transactional costs presents an opportunity for both visible and invisible savings. According to Stanković (2013), “Visible savings are household and company savings due to the reduction in transaction costs, associated with the exchange of currency by firms that import or export. Invisible savings are obtained in the accountancy, because the evaluation of financial report positions is done in one currency” (p. 34). The elimination of the exchange rate fluctuation in its very sense allows both the corporate and the civil worlds to enjoy lower costs. For the corporate world, the elimination is important in direct and accountancy costs reduction. For citizens, the reduction in transactional costs means that they can travel within the Eurozone at lower costs regardless of the nature of their trips (Stanković 2013, p. 34).
Perhaps the less developed of the EU members have more prospective opportunities by virtue of their membership to the Union. The membership has not only given these countries, such as Hungary, competitive advantage, given the foreign direct investment in the country from foreign companies, but also given it access to funds that were previously out of their reach. According to the Hungarian chamber of commerce, the country attained full membership of the Union in 2004. From 2007, the country has had access to more than €22 billion from the Union’s European Structural and Cohesion Fund (Hungary Chamber of Commerce 2014, n.p.). These funds have been instrumental in catalyzing enterprises within the country, in addition to finding their way into government institutions for development plans that have included state reform, social renewal, regional development, economic and transport development, in addition to energy and environmental development. Such immense amounts of funds are only available to the Unions’ member states, which also present an opportunity for the member states to develop both socially and economically through the funds.
Membership to the Union opens access to one of the world’s largest single market. The very idea of a single market, driven by a single currency, makes it easier to do business in the Union for member states at competitive rates. The idea of a single currency is “excludes further competition devaluations, make foreign direct investments easier, and help the development of long-term business deals” (Stanković 2013, p. 38). The single market and legal tender therefore prepare the ground for reciprocal trade, social and economic integration in addition to the merging of business, resulting from the presence of a single legal tender. Stanković (2013) asserts that with the adoption of the euro under the European Monetary Union, trade among member states is predicted to increase by 50 percent (p. 38). The singularity in currency “brings more efficient capital allocation and works through efficient functioning of a single market. The result of that is more competitive European economy”(Stanković 2013, p. 38). As a single economic bloc, the EU gives its member states get an upper hand in trade negotiations, in addition to a buffer against economic turbulence. The current Eurozone crisis is a good example of a buffer against economic turbulence since the EU has been, and continues to be instrumental in attempts to bring back stability in Greece.
The EU also stands as one of the most powerful institutions in the world political sphere after the US (Stanković 2013, p. 38). Membership in the Union therefore means that through the EU parliament, it is possible to influence transnational issues ranging from trade, security and the environment. With the backing of influential countries in the Union such as Britain, France and Germany, any member state therefore has the opportunity to have their views heard on a global platform through the Union. Such an opportunity is influential in making policy changes and changing the course of international events. This is far more than an opportunity, but an entitlement to the decision-making organs in the world. Additionally, by membership to the Union, individual member states have the opportunity to create allegiance and partnerships with other non-EU countries for fair bilateral trade agreements, largely influenced by their very membership of the Union.
The EU has also been instrumental in the transformation of European nations into democracies, especially the new members from Central and Eastern Europe. By transforming these nations into democracies and liberal economies, member states have seen an increase in trading partners as well as trading volumes, but most importantly the guarantee of security in the region (European Union Committee 2006, p. 7).
- The Threat
The call by the Union for not only customs but political union as well spells doom for individual member sovereignty. Political integration would mean the dismantling of the traditional national governments of the member states in preference of the integrated government. It is also possible that most of the member states, given the integration will lose their national identities to the promotion of a united Europe. Britain, Denmark and France have been particularly vocal on the integration as a threat to national identity, sovereignty and democracy, to the extent of the British premier promising a referendum in 2017 to pull out of the EU (BBC 2013, n.p.), while the Dutch and French voted against the establishment of the European Constitution (European Union Committee 2006, p. 10).
Recently the EU has been on an enlargement spree that has brought Central and Eastern European countries into the fold. Turkey is currently in the process of applying for accession into the Union, a process that has raised questions on wages, religion, culture and security in the Union. Given their high population, and therefore low cost of labor, most member states have seen the acceptance of Central and Eastern European countries as a threat to wages, especially among the EU 15 (European Union Committee 2006, p. 10).
The EU presents among the most competitive opportunities for its member states. The single market, customs union and the suggested political integration present opportunities to the member states. The ease in trade from the customs union, the strength in numbers and diversity in market structures and population are even the more reasons for the desire to stay as members, and the request for accession from other countries. There is however minimal threat from the less developed Central and Eastern Europe countries, which present a threat especially on the wages for the more developed countries in the Union. This is in addition to the threat on national sovereignty with political integration. It is however important to note that national culture and sovereignty are complex aspects that are not pegged on regional integration. It is possible that the most fundamental aspects of a nation will remain intact in the people.
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Stanković, Milica, 2013. “The Advantages of Being a Member of the European Monetary Union and Its Influence on Trade in the Eurozone.” Škola Biznisa, Vol. 2: 30–46