Facilitated Naturalization

From rewarding soldiers to attracting talent and investors, states have, since ancient times, capitalized on the fact that their citizenship is a ‘good’ that is in demand. Ethnic considerations, close historical and linguistic ties, and special merit or achievement frequently drive policies in immigration and citizenship law and often constitute the grounds for facilitated naturalization. Consider in this regard just a few of the numerous examples testifying to the ethnic ideology behind many states’ provision of facilitated naturalization: Germany’s policy of granting immediate citizenship to repatriates; the Spanish laws granting citizenship to descendants of those who fled during the Franco regime and to descendants of Sephardic Jews who were expelled during the 15th century Inquisition; the Israeli ‘Law of Return’, which encourages the immigration of Jews to Israel and bestows citizenship upon their ‘return’ to Israel regardless of their age, skill set, or economic status; the preferential treatment of Macedonians in Bulgaria for the purpose of citizenship; and the provision of Hungarian passports to hundreds of thousands of Serbians and Romanians. In Croatia, a country with a large diaspora both in Europe and overseas (predominantly in the USA but also in Australia and New Zealand), it is possible to regain citizenship immediately if Croatian descent can be demonstrated. Relative to its size, Ireland has experienced one of the largest mass emigrations in history and the country now has a very generous principle of descent in place, one of the most liberal in the world, which allows anyone with at least one grandparent born in Ireland to regain Irish citizenship.

Much like ethnicity and descent, military service frequently gives access to privileged naturalization. This is the case with the recruitment of foreign military personnel, for example, where citizenship is provided in return for soldiers’ commitment. This practice has occurred throughout history and it occurs in the present day in France through the French Foreign Legion, and in the USA through the USA Army. Qualified members of the USA Armed Forces can be exempt from certain naturalization requirements, including the requirement of residence and physical presence in the country under Sections 328 and 329 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. This extraordinary naturalization option serves as an incentive and a reward for performing military service and risking one’s life.

Another example of facilitated naturalization is the recruitment of elite foreign athletes for national teams in the Olympic Games or in other world sporting championships. These foreign athletes gain not only the privilege of competing for a given state in international games but also actual citizenship rights in that state in return for their efforts. As famously named by Ayelet Shachar, such “Olympic citizenship” is focused on the “spread of the talent-for-citizenship exchange”, be it in sports, culture, science, or other fields. As an illustration of this widespread practice, the French sports paper L’Équipe gave the following account of the quarter-final of the European Table Tennis Championships in October 2013: “In the women’s singles, two-time European champion Li Jiao of the Netherlands (2007 and 2011), lost to Portugal’s Fu Yu. In the semi-finals, Fu Yu will meet Sweden’s Li Fen.”

Top foreign athletes who are of special interest to Germany are preferred for naturalization based on an administrative directive, yet a maximum of only 10 top athletes per year have been admitted in recent times. Other countries are more lenient: at the World Athletics Championships in 2005, for instance, Qatar was represented by almost a dozen elite athletes born in Kenya and naturalized in Qatar. The USA, more than any other country in the world, has gone out of its way to perfect the technique of attracting accomplished athletes by offering them citizenship in return for their pursuit of Olympic medals. Shortly before the 2006 Winter Olympics, President Bush signed a bill that granted citizenship to foreigners with extraordinary ability, allowing, among others, Russian ice dancer Maxim Zavozin to represent the USA. Zavozin thereafter became a Hungarian citizen, just in time to represent Hungary at the Winter Olympics in 2010. Iceland naturalized the former world chess champion Bobby Fischer in 2005, helping him escape custody and possible extradition in Japan after USA authorities revoked the American passport he was using to travel from Japan back to Iceland.

Other talents, statuses, and sources of fame can also form the basis for facilitated naturalization. In Denmark — a country that has one of the most restrictive naturalization regimes in place today and that, as of 2000, naturalizes only people who speak Danish and know the history and values of Denmark — the Australian bride of Crown Prince Frederik, Mary Donaldson, received Danish citizenship as an engagement gift in 2003. More recently, a young Malian migrant who rescued a child dangling from a balcony was promised French citizenship, Ralph Fiennes received a Serbian passport for filming in the country, and Afghan refugee Farhad Nouri was offered Serbian citizenship because of his skillful drawings — a privilege not extended to the many other refugees living in the country. The list of grounds and examples is non-exhaustive, since the discretion of states in the field of citizenship law is virtually plenary, an extreme example being the conferral of Saudi Arabian citizenship to a robot in 2017.

In line with the above expressions of facilitated naturalization, citizenship can also perform the function of recruiting overseas investors, who are granted citizenship in exchange for their significant foreign direct investment in (or other economic contribution to) the country. Investors are often given an easier path to citizenship than other candidates for naturalization. Applicants who pay do not have to wait for years to be granted citizenship, although, crucially, they do need to be suitably qualified and undergo strict due diligence checks. ‘First come first served’ is effectively displaced by the ethics of the market: ‘You get what you pay for’. Ius doni, the acquisition of citizenship by investment, is essentially, then, a fast-track procedure for gaining citizenship, a form of facilitated naturalization that is based on the ability and willingness to contribute economically.

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