The State Strikes Back: Restricting Citizenship in the Netherlands and Canada

Willem Maas

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


The conference frame suggests an opposition between bottom-up empirical approaches and top-down state focused approaches that is a false dichotomy: governments have always designed and adapted their citizenship policies in response to real or perceived strategies of individuals, families, and groups.
Of course there are disciplinary differences in citizenship studies, and approaches in political science or law tend to focus more on the state and its laws while approaches in sociology tend to focus more on people, but viewing citizenship as public policy allows us to explain both strategies on the part of people (instrumental or otherwise) and state/government responses. This paper uses such an approach to explain the growing resistance to open citizenship in two of the previously most welcoming societies in
the world, the Netherlands and Canada. Both countries were at the vanguard of multiculturalism, openness to immigration, and support for dual nationality; but both are experiencing resistance towards all three. The Netherlands has led in introducing ever-more-stringent integration requirements for naturalization and in increasing the requirements for those who naturalize to relinquish their former nationality. In Canada, the legal opportunity for dual nationality remains sacrosanct (and Canada remains an international outlier in terms of high support for immigration), but the Conservative government in power over the past decade has fostered distrust of “Canadians of convenience” to enact
a broad range of restrictions, such as changing the immigrant mix from the fabled points system and family reunification to focus instead on temporary employment-related circular migrants (who are not eligible for permanent residence and hence nationality), lengthy processing times, new hurdles to acquiring residence and citizenship, and new provisions for loss of Canadian citizenship for those born outside Canada. In both cases, the conference theme of multiple and non-resident citizenship is under threat, and both are also at the forefront of moves to allow citizenship revocation for terror-related activities. Both have thus witnessed a politicization of citizenship – also present in other contexts in western countries – that has implications for comparative theorization and complicates the nationality- related strategies that individuals, families, and groups may pursue.

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