In his book Beyond Citizenship: American Identity After Globalization Peter Spiro takes a good hard look at what citizenship is worth in the world today. He concludes (a bit reluctantly I think) that:
Becoming a citizen entitles one to little more than the right to vote, eligibility for some public benefits programs, and freedom from any threat of deportation.”
This is not something that is unique to the United States, this is true of ALL democratic nation-states today. There just isn’t that much difference between what you can do as a citizen versus what you can do as a legal permanent resident. I live in the EU and about the only things I can’t do here as a long-term legal resident of an EU member-state are vote (and this may change soon since the Socialist Party has promised to give us foreigners the vote if they win in 2012), work in the public service sector (no big deal since I’ve never aspired to be a “functionnaire”) and more rights against deportation (though I already have some rights in this respect granted by the EU). My decision to become a French citizen predates this discussion and my support for Isaac Brock. Becoming a French citizen is not going to change my life dramatically and I explain this and my motivations in this post I wrote for the Flophouse, The Narcissism of Difference.
This fact, I think, is what has driven so many nation-states today to relax their naturalization rules and to become more tolerant of plural citizenship. It’s becoming (if it isn’t already) a “market.” If you have a profile that a state is genuinely interest in attracting to its shores, you can examine the different offers and compare. Some states like Singapore, Denmark, New Zealand, Canada even advertise their benefits to potential immigrants . Some of the differentiators they cite are: social benefits, quality of life, low crime rate, ease of starting a business, opportunity, family friendliness and, of course tax regimes. About the only leverage a country really has these days against losing a citizen to another state are the few remaining benefits to citizenship (the right of return) and an appeal to emotion – that sentimental attachment to the place of one’s birth or naturalization which I will admit is a powerful argument in my case. I love my country of origin.
Now, injected into this market, information is circulating about the real costs of American citizenship and the cat is truly among the pigeons. Armed with this knowledge people are having to make decisions. There are two populations involved: potential immigrants to the United States and U.S. emigrants who are residents of competing states. For the latter group it is made even worse by the rhetoric coming out of the U.S. which characterizes American overseas as liars and tax evaders. It’s hard to read some of this stuff and not ask yourself, “Does our country despise us?” and would they prefer that we check out of the hotel? I don’t think Americans at home understand what a powerful “push” all this is. Some of us are wondering if they even care.
In his recent article, FATCA Fallout: Mass Renunciations?, in Opinio Juris, Peter Spiro examines what he thinks are some possible outcomes. Yes, there will be renunciations – a quick read of this site will give anyone a pretty good feel for how likely this is. It just remains to be seen how many go this route and whether or not (and how) the media in the U.S. report it. Will it reduce immigration to the U.S.? I personally think not so much but it will have an impact on naturalizations which are pretty low in the U.S.compared to other states like Canada. Already a surprising number of long-term legal residents in the U.S. are NOT choosing to become citizens. Spiro says that the U.S. naturalization rate dropped to 37% in the year 2000. In 1970 it was nearly 64%. On one side there are few compelling reasons to bother to seek citizenship and on the other there is now a huge reason not to. This is nothing less than the complete destruction of the American Immigrant Story which says that everyone wants to come to the U.S. and become a citizen of the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”
I think Peter Spiro’s analysis is dead right and I would add a few other things worth considering:
1. American diaspora organizations like American Citizens Abroad and AARO will see a dramatic drop in membership.
2. Fewer Americans abroad in these organizations and voting in U.S. elections means even less representation for those who remain U.S. citizens and live outside the country. Any power or influence we have now will be greatly diminished.
3. Cross-border professionals will lose most of their clients and some will not survive. This will make it harder for Americans abroad to get help with taxes or legal advice. A population that was already very poorly served will be even less so. And it will probably cost more for service.
4. Other states will pick up some of the most well-educated, enterprising, productive and skilled Americans abroad who will now be working exclusively on their behalf.
5. Public renunciations of U.S. citizenship will spur others to renounce. One of the most dangerous things to U.S. interests (and I think this is why the Expat forum was closed) is the fact that people are being more and more open about their decision to renounce or relinguish. As Americans abroad see others renouncing and note that the sky didn’t fall in on these people (they can still visit family in the U.S. and so on), folks who had never EVER considered the question are going to think again.
6. And, last but not least, the perceived value in the world of American citizenship will drop even farther and that will have an impact on ALL Americans. It could translate into less protection, less influence and less regard for Americans who travel as tourists or those who try to do business abroad.
I’m sure there are others I haven’t thought of yet. What do you think, folks?