Probing “Citizenship of Convenience”: An Inquiry into the Motivations for Naturalization

Elke Winter

Tuesday, March 8th 2016
12:45-14:45 Panel 5: Selecting the “Good Citizen”

In recent years, Canadian political and public discourse have been characterized by much anxiety over the apparent “erosion” of the “value” of Canadian citizenship (Griffith 2014, Winter 2014a). A series of reforms implemented as part of the Conservative government’s Action Plan on Citizenship aiming at “enhanc[ing] the value and meaning of Canadian citizenship” (CIC 2010:23). They include a new citizenship guide, a more difficult citizenship test, stricter language and residency requirements, and a new Canadian Citizenship Act in June 2014, which deliberately makes Canadian citizenship “harder to get and easier to lose”.
The purported abuse of Canadian citizenship is often associated with the costly evacuation of Canadian dual citizens from Lebanon during the 2006 conflict, when it was alleged that many of the evacuees used their Canadian passport to escape the war zone but otherwise had no “real connection to the country” (Winter 2013, 2014b, Harder and Zhyznomirska 2012). As a consequence, “citizens of convenience” – a term coined in the course of that public debate (Worthington 2006) – evokes the image of dual citizens, mostly non-white, non-Western and – in part – Muslim/Arab, who lack meaningful ties with Canada (Winter 2014b). It is their “citizenship of convenience” – i.e. the alleged use of socio-economic opportunities and protection without a true commitment to the country – which is strongly condemned.
In this paper we probe the notion of “citizenship of convenience” from below. Drawing on 35 interviews with new Canadian citizens, we want to know 1) to what extent utilitarian considerations prevail in immigrants’ decision to (also) become Canadian, and b) who these citizens are (in terms of national background, ethnicity, and class). In analyzing the data for this paper, we employ a Weberian-style typological analysis, concerned with identifying the motives underlying social action (Thériault 2013, Schnapper 2005). Pursuing an inductive approach, we construct a typology of the motivations for (dual) citizenship acquisition. Preliminary analysis reveals two insights: First, there are different “types” of dual/new Canadians and these empirically grounded types are based on different understandings of citizenship. More specifically, in addition to socio-demographic characteristics, educational achievements and immigration statuses, the motives behind the immigration project play a key role in the way new citizens frame citizenship and understand their roles as members of the polity/society.
Specifically, we differentiate between four types of motivations/strategies: self-realization, security-oriented, (career) opportunity-oriented, and family-driven. Second, at least for the participants of our study, naturalization for exclusively instrumental reasons is rare. To the extent that we did trace some form of convenience-oriented understanding of citizenship, it is characteristic for people who, in public discourse, are the least associated with this kind of behavior: immigrants from Western Europe and the United States for whom renewed emigration (including return migration) remains a feasible option. However, in our sample, even for the overwhelming majority of this type of individuals, citizenship uptake in their new country of residence was accompanied by a sense of belonging, loyalty, and duty.

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