• Emma Quasar

Why birthright citizenship

This is an introduction to birthright citizenship and why it can be such a valuable option for expecting parents to consider.

In our first article, we shared our background. The main idea is that as parents we aim to provide our kids with the best opportunities in life, similarly to what our parents did for us.

There are many important gifts that we want to offer our baby: a loving family, great education, support into adulthood etc. These are all ongoing efforts that bear fruits long into their lives and even the next generations.

But there’s one more gift that generates lifelong benefits. One that very few consider: a second passport.

So what are the benefits of dual nationality?

Having two citizenships means you have both rights and obligations in two countries.

First of all, as a dual citizen, you can live and work freely in both places. No country imposes residency or work restrictions on its nationals. If the living or working conditions in one country deteriorate, you can always move to the other. Similarly, if one country develops at a much faster rate than the other, you can again decide to pursue this new path of opportunities. Also, in the likely situation that - at some point in your life - one of your countries goes into crisis or conflict, you always have another place to travel to and call home; a place where things might be more stable and peaceful. Some might say this is an insurance policy in case of a Black Swan event.

With two nationalities you have access to two sets of public services. If you think the public health care of one country is not up to par, you can use the other one. Similarly, you can decide what pension fund you’d like to contribute to - if you think that’s a good idea altogether. You can also assess and decide what education model or environment best fits your children. Basically, you always have at least 2 options when it comes to public services, and you can choose the one that best aligns with your values and needs.

One of my favourite things about dual citizenship is that it holds governments to a higher standard of responsibility and so it strengthens democracies. How so? If all citizens had a second passport, they could more easily leave if they were unhappy with their government. A populace that is not completely bound to an area, but is free to vote with their feet is one of the strongest forces of the 21st century. This enables competitive governance and leaner, more efficient governments across the world. The positive externalities of having multiple nationalities are small, but they can add up quickly, as more people seek and obtain a second citizenship.

Furthermore, as an individual, you can easily enter into contracts with partners, clients or service providers, open bank accounts, buy assets, and even invest in both jurisdictions, without the additional bureaucracy that foreigners typically go through.

If you do remote work or even become a digital nomad (a path that more and more people take), you can decide to spend some seasons in one country and others in the second country, thus optimising your personal comfort. For example, I really enjoyed spending time and working from Latin America or Africa during the cold and rainy European winter.

Living in two (or more) countries also exposes you to different ways of life. As a dual citizen you get to truly immerse yourself in two cultures and extract the best out of both.

Speaking of exploring the world - with double nationality you will increase your global mobility and have less travel restrictions. You will discover that an extra passport unlocks more travel destinations visa-free or visa-on-arrival. Double citizenship not only enables more seamless travels, but can also enable easier / faster access to a study / work visa, or even residency in a third country. It might even reduce the time or requirements it takes to obtain another citizenship. For example, in Spain it takes 10 year of legal residency to apply for citizenship. Unless you come a Spanish speaking country - in which case it only take 2 years.

You can even alternate passports to “fly under the radar”. If you come from a NATO country, for example, in some parts of the Middle East or the former Communist bloc you might not have the same positive reception as you would if you came from a neutral Latin American country.

Also, dual nationality expands consular coverage. As this dual American-German guy found out, having two passports can potentially literally save your life. An interesting side fact is that EU citizens abroad can access similar levels of consular service from any EU embassy, if their home state doesn’t have a presence in that country.

How about the disadvantages of dual citizenship?

Now that we’ve listed some of the benefits and privileges of being a subject of two states, let’s also look at some drawbacks.

Being a citizen of two countries effectively means you have to obey two sets of laws, some of them potentially very restrictive (things you are not allowed to do even abroad) or imposing (mandatory military service). I know people who could - and would - enjoy being citizens of Israel or Singapore, but they do not want to join their armed forces.

Moreover, holding a second nationality might impose some additional restrictions that don’t apply to single-nationality citizens. For example, you might not be able to run for elections in any of the two countries (until you give up your second citizenship, that is).

Although there are currently only a handful of countries that impose worldwide income taxation (the US being the most known example), it is possible that you might end up having (tax) liabilities in both countries. But with some planning, and if you live/work in neither of the two countries, you will most probably not pay taxes in either.

Last but not least - and probably the most important drawback is that - obtaining an additional citizenship is a complicated and sometimes long or expensive process. Whether you go through the residency track and wait 3-5-7-10 or even 20 years to apply for citizenship, or you buy your way into it through “Citizenship-by-Investment” programmes, becoming a dual national is no easy feat.

There are other tracks to obtain a second citizenship, besides naturalisation and investment. Most countries offer citizenship by descent - that is if your parent(s) or grandparent(s) or even earlier ancestors were nationals of a country, you too might qualify to be a citizen. If you happen to fall in love with someone from another country and decide to marry, you might also get their citizenship (though it might not be straight-forward or fast).

But an often overlooked and underappreciated option is to get citizenship by birth (also called birthright citizenship). So if you were lucky enough to be born in a country that offers citizenship based on Jus Soli, even though your parents might have been foreigners, you would have gotten that country’s nationality. Unfortunately, you couldn’t have decided where to be born. What you can do is decide the place where your children will be born. Giving birth in a country that offers (unrestricted) birthright citizenship means your baby obtains a second nationality at birth, without the hassle and costs of going through naturalisation or investment.

This is your one time opportunity to offer your baby a lifelong present. Unless they qualify for multiple citizenships by descent, they will never have the chance to get a second passport so easily and so cheaply.

As parents, it is our duty and privilege to provide our children with the best start in life. My partner and I have done exactly that by deciding to give birth in a Latin American country - where our baby obtains a second citizenship at birth.

It was not an easy decision to leave our home country and come here, and it was definitely challenging along the way, but it was well worth it. We would be happy and honoured to assist you in this journey!

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