How To Become the Citizen of Another Country?

How To Become the Citizen of Another Country?

As a rule, we only start thinking about citizenship when we want to change it or acquire another one. In extreme cases this also happens when we clarify the visa requirements for citizens from different countries. However, citizenship involves a broad range of relations between the individual citizen and the country. Read on to find out what this means and how you can become the citizen of another country.

What Is Citizenship?

International law defines citizenship as a strong legal bond between an individual and a state which entails certain mutual rights, duties and responsibilities.

For example, in most countries citizens have the right to live and work freely, vote in elections, hold public office, receive social assistance and protection abroad. Key duties may include military conscription and the payment of taxes.

Usually, the relations between an individual and the state within the framework of citizenship is regulated by the constitution of the country, as well as various regulatory documents. For example, many countries have a specific Citizenship Law.

According to a number of historians, the concept of citizenship originated in the city states of ancient Greece, was developed in ancient Rome and transformed into allegiance during the period of monarchical rule. As a matter of fact, this principle is still relevant for modern monarchies, at the very least formally: allegiance differs from citizenship in that legally the individual is not bound to the state, but instead directly to its leader.

At the same time, some researchers think that citizenship is a relatively modern concept which only developed over the past few centuries. Either way, the principles of citizenship are considered to be purely a creation of Western civilisation which only became global in the modern age.

Rome, Italy. Photo: Carlos Ibáñez (Unsplash)

Criticising the Institute of Citizenship

The basics and rules of citizenship are neither universal nor immutable even within one state. They modify over time and continue to do so. 

The concept of citizenship is not always considered a public good. The proponents of open borders, libertarians and other public figures criticise this institute because it is built on inequality. Even though the citizens of one state are as a rule equal in the eyes of the law, the rights of the citizens of another state can differ significantly. As a result, people enjoy completely different opportunities depending solely on their place of birth or parentage.

For example, the children of German parents receive by right of birth one of the world’s strongest passports and also enjoy the right to live, study and work in developed European countries (and many other countries as well), freely visit 190 countries, and also benefit from countless social guarantees. At the same time, the citizens of Bangladesh (one of the world’s poorest and most densely populated countries) do not have access to these benefits simply because they were born in “the wrong place”.

Critics of citizenship highlight the fact that this system was based and still functions on the principle of feudal privileges, the caste system, or a regime of racial segregation granting people completely different rights and opportunities based on their origins.

Sonargaon, Bangladesh. Photo: 🄰llauddin 🄼iajee (Unsplash)

Filiation: Citizenship by Birth or Descent

Most people acquire citizenship automatically simply by birth. This is called filiation, from the Latin filius, “son”. There are two types of filiation: by descent and by birth.

Descent, or the “right of the blood”, is denoted by the term jus sanguinis. Under this principle, an individual acquires citizenship on the basis of their ancestry, which is the same as both their parents or one of them. The country of birth of the child or residence of the child’s parents is irrelevant, because the citizenship of the parents is the only factor that matters. 

In some countries, the citizenship of not only parents, but also grandparents, and even more distant ancestors, matters. For example, in accordance with the Israeli Law of Return, it is possible to repatriate to Israel and automatically get citizenship for descendants of Jews up to the third generation, that is, those who had at least one Jewish parent or grandparent. Kinship in the fourth generation is taken into account as an exception and only if the great-grandmother was Jewish (in Jewish society nationality is passed down through the maternal line).

Portuguese legislation went even further,granting citizenship to the descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled during the Portuguese Inquisition in the 16th century. In this case, applicants must confirm the presence of Sephardic surnames in their family tree and prove the connection with their ancient Portuguese roots (usually it is enough to provide a letter from an Orthodox rabbi).

Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: André Lergier (Unsplash)

Either way, today “the right of blood” is key in citizenship laws in virtually all states.

Another principle for granting citizenship automatically is birth right citizenship, or the so-called “right of soil” (in legal language jus soli). Here, the place of birth of a child, and not their descent, is of paramount importance. In other words, all children born in the country, regardless of the nationality of their parents, acquire citizenship. Unlike the predominantly mono-ethnic states of Europe and Asia, where the “right of blood” takes priority and often the only factor that is considered, jus soli is common in the countries of North, Central and South America, where there is a mixture of racial and ethnic groups and where some states were actually created by immigrants. Consequently, citizenship is granted to foreigners born in the United States, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Costa Rica and other countries of both continents.

The legislation of some European and Asian states also contains the principle of jus soli. However, it is only applicable in exceptional cases: for example, when the identity or citizenship of the parents of a child born in the country is unknown. For example, there are a number of exceptions in the legislation of Vietnam, which is based on the principle of jus sanguinis. The right to Vietnamese citizenship is granted to a child born in the country if both parents are stateless or if the mother is stateless and the father is unknown. Vietnamese passports are also issued to abandoned babies or children whose parents are unknown. However, if one or both parents are found subsequently and turn out to be foreigners, the child will lose their Vietnamese citizenship.

Citizenship by Naturalisation

If you are not fortunate enough to have been born in a family with the “correct” passports or in a suitable country, you can get a different citizenship by naturalisation. This tends to be a fairly protracted process: in addition to the voluntary desire to obtain another citizenship, the applicant must have resided legally on the territory of the country whose passport they intend to obtain for a certain period of time.

The length of such legal residence varies greatly in different countries. One of the shortest (just two years) is in Argentina. The longest is in the United Arab Emirates and San Marino: a foreigner can only apply for citizenship after 30 years of legal residence in these states. In most European countries it takes 5 to 10 years to obtain citizenship, while in Switzerland this period is extended to 12 years.

In some countries, only certain categories of foreigners are eligible for naturalisation and the process tends to be extremely difficult. For example, naturalisation is almost impossible in India or Malaysia. Naturalisation is impossible in Myanmar, Uruguay or Palau. Furthermore, there is no mention of naturalisation in North Korean legislation.

The grounds for legal residence may also vary, depending on the country: official employment, one’s own business, study, marriage to a citizen of the country, refugee status, and others. As a rule, the right to legal residence in a country must be confirmed by certain documents: long-term visas, temporary or permanent residence permits.

However, it is not enough to simply stay in a country for a certain period of time. Financial independence, law-abiding behaviour, knowledge of the language, history and laws of the host country also tend to be required. For example, to obtain a residence permit in Denmark (which precedes naturalisation),  you must earn at least DKK 375,000 (USD 55,000) a year, the salary must be transferred to a Danish bank account and comply with standard salary levels in the specific industry.

All applicants for Georgian citizenship must pass tests in the Georgian language, Georgian history and basic law. Anyone who wants to become a citizen of Vietnam must prove their knowledge of the Vietnamese language at the basic level, while applicants for a Portuguese passport need a language certificate confirming a level of proficiency at least A2. In addition, most countries will expect you to have a certificate from your home country which confirms that you have no criminal record.

Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo: Dmitry Rodionov (Unsplash)

Some countries are also interested in the health and moral standing of applicants for citizenship. For example, the receipt of a residence permit in Belarus would require a medical certificate on the state of health, confirming the absence of mental illnesses, tuberculosis, certain infectious and venereal diseases. Similar medical records will be required in Malaysia and some other countries. More than 40 countries prohibit the long-term stay of HIV-positive individuals (long-term visas or residence permits require a medical test). These include Australia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Dominican Republic, Jordan, Kazakhstan, New Zealand, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, etc.

Regarding moral qualities and good conduct: some countries require citizens who know the applicant for citizenship to vouch for them, or assess their reliability in other ways. For example, under Thai law, a candidate for citizenship has to respect not only the laws of the country but also public morals. At the interview, a government official can assign an additional five points to them on the basis of appearance, speech and knowledge of Thai etiquette (in Thailand, a point system is used to assess candidates, you need to get a certain amount of points to obtain citizenship). Philippine law requires the applicant to have good moral qualities and play an active role in Philippine society. And applicants for Vietnamese citizenship must respect the traditions, customs and habits of the ethnic Vietnamese.

Citizenship by Marriage

The norms of international law often consider the acquisition of citizenship by marriage as a form of naturalisation. However, in most countries the spouses of citizens (and in some cases partners) enjoy significant preferences over other categories of naturalised citizens.

As a rule, the qualifying period (the required period of residence in the country) is significantly reduced for anyone who marries a citizen of the respective country. For example, the spouses of British citizens who have legally resided in the country for at least three years may be eligible for a British passport, whereas the standard period for naturalisation is five years. In Belize, you only have to live with your spouse for one year instead of the five-year requirement for all other applicants. There are no additional requirements, and the spouse of a Belizean automatically acquires resident status from the moment of marriage.

Some countries do not even require the spouses to reside in their country. For example, a Portuguese passport may be claimed by the spouses of citizens if they have been married for at least three years. While there is no need to live in Portugal for the whole period, such a candidate must provide evidence of ties with the Portuguese community and confirm their knowledge of Portuguese.

In some countries the rules for women and men married to local citizens differ. For example, a foreign man married to a Thai citizen can apply for a passport after three years unlike other categories of applicants who must wait five years. During these three years, he must not only legally reside in Thailand, but also have a work permit, work for a Thai company and receive a monthly minimum salary of THB 40,000 (USD 1,200), and learn Thai. By contrast, the requirements for foreign women married to Thais are far less stringent. There is no minimum period of residence, and there are no requirements for compulsory employment, qualifications and income. However, certain requirements are placed on the Thai spouse: he must work and his income must be at least THB 20,000 (USD 600) a month.

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Thailand. Photo: Marek Okon (Unsplash)

Some countries treat a partnership in the same way as a marriage: for example, the Netherlands, Denmark, the UK and other countries. However, the simple fact of declaring that you are in a partnership is not enough to apply for and acquire citizenship, you also have to prove that the couple is in a long-term relationship and has a joint budget.

A number of countries scrutinise whether the marriage is voluntary or not. In Denmark, for example, the Immigration Service checks not only the financial situation of the spouses and whether they have a joint budget, but also if their age and education match, if they have common interests and spend their leisure time together. The employees of the service find out what the relationship was like before the wedding, whether their families maintain contacts, how the marriage ceremony was held, inquire about any previous marriages and request other personal information.

Citizenship for Investments

Issuing passports to wealthy people who have made a significant contribution to a country’s economy is a relatively new idea. The pioneer was the small Caribbean state of Saint Kitts and Nevis, which offered citizenship for investments back in 1984. This programme has undergone several changes, but remains popular due to the relatively small amount of investment and the rapid processing of documents.

To become a citizen of Saint Kitts and Nevis, you need to donate at least USD 250,000 to the Sustainable Island State Contribution Fund or invest the same amount in social or infrastructure projects. As an alternative, you can buy property worth USD 400,000 or more. To obtain a passport, you do not have to live in the country or even come there: everything can be arranged remotely. The average time required to review and prepare the documents is three to six months.

Turkey, Montenegro, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, Malta, Jordan, North Macedonia, and Vanuatu offer similar programmes. The amounts and methods of investment vary, as do the terms and procedures for obtaining passports.

For example, you can become a Vanuatu citizen in just one month by making a minimum investment of USD 130,000. The money should be donated to the National Development Fund or used to purchase government bonds. You can pay in various ways, including with cryptocurrency.

The passport of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan can be obtained in three months and will cost at least USD 750,000. You can invest in a local enterprise creating jobs, securities, treasury bonds, or place an interest-free bank deposit with the country’s Central Bank for three years.

When it comes to EU countries, only Austria offers citizenship for investments. However, here the entrance threshold here is much higher, starting at EUR 10 million. You can only invest in promising existing projects involving job creation: investments in real estate and securities do not count. The country’s authorities approach each case individually: everything is checked, both the origin of the money and the reputation of the investor. 

A number of countries offer investors long-term residence which can subsequently lead to citizenship. This is a longer method, but the choice of passports in this case is much bigger. Investors are issued residence permits by Spain, Portugal, Greece, Great Britain, Cyprus and other countries.

Vienna, Austria. Photo: Anna Hunko (Unsplash)

Granting of Citizenship

In a number of countries, there is another way to get citizenship: a country may grant it for special merits and achievements. It is sometimes called honorary citizenship. The legal consequences of getting such a citizenship may vary drastically depending on the country. For instance, in Georgia honorary citizenship can be given to a foreigner who has special merits to Georgia and humanity in science or public activities. It is granted with the consent of the distinguished individual and does not engender the rights and obligations of a Georgian citizen, as it is to all intents and purposes purely nominal. At the same time, for instance, in Ireland honorary citizenship gives the holder all the rights enjoyed by the country’s citizens. 

Dual Citizenship

In some cases, a person can have two or more citizenships with different legal consequences. The term “dual citizenship” has two different meanings. In the first case, two countries have concluded a treaty, acknowledging their rights and duties to each other from the perspective of the holder of the passports of both states. In other words, a citizen of two states pays taxes, serves in the military and gets social aid in only one country, but with the knowledge and consent of the second country. In practice, such bilateral treaties are rare and mostly exist between countries which have had close ties historically or between ex-colonies and the mother country. Such agreements exist between Canada and the UK or Russia and Tajikistan.

The following scenario is far more common: an individual has two or more independent passports. For instance, a child of two citizens of different states may acquire the citizenships of both their parents.

It is also possible to obtain two passports through naturalisation. In this case, each state considers the individual to be their citizen, and the states may not even know that the individual has a second passport. Laws on dual citizenship vary significantly in different countries. Some countries, such as India, China, Singapore, Thailand, Belarus, Monaco, and others, are strictly opposed to the idea and compel individuals with dual nationality to renounce one of their passports (or deprive them of their citizenship). Other states allow multiple citizenships, including the USA, Canada, Argentina, Belgium, Denmark, Czech Republic, Portugal, and many others. Some countries only allow dual citizenship in exceptional cases stipulated by the law. For example, this is the situation in Georgia, Latvia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, and the Netherlands.

Prague, Czech Republic. Photo: Lachlan Gowen (Unsplash)

Stateless People and Citizenship as a Duty

Currently, there are about 12,000,000 stateless persons in the world. This category includes the children of stateless parents, people who were deprived of their citizenship, anyone who renounced their citizenship voluntarily, as well as the citizens of the countries that no longer exist.

Modern international law is combating statelessness and prohibiting people from renouncing citizenship voluntarily (if it is their only citizenship), de facto equating citizenship to a duty. There are two documents for this purpose: the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the European Convention on Nationality. By contrast, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights interprets citizenship as a right, and not a duty, which creates certain legal contradictions.

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In a Nutshell

Citizenship is a legal bond between an individual and a state which engenders mutual rights and duties. For instance, the right to live and work freely in the country, to vote at elections, and to get social aid. Such duties may include military conscription and the payment of taxes. You can get citizenship automatically by birth, or voluntarily through naturalisation.

Cover photo: Vienna, Austria. Dan V (Unsplash)

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