Citizenship For Sale

“For Sale: 3+1 Villa, Comes With EU Residency Permit” or “REDUCED GOLDEN VISA OPTION: Hurry, selling fast!” 

There are real ads like this on the internet. You can buy yourself European citizenship – if you are willing to invest €500,000 and wait a couple of years for naturalization. The reduced option mentioned here is a 30% reduction in the investment cost for buildings that are more than 30 years old and in need of renovation. That is, €350,000 instead of €500,000.

“Cash-for-passport” started in the Pacific and Caribbean in the 1980s, and today, many countries give out such Golden Visas. They are called golden visas because, just like gold credit cards without limits, people with money can get access to the world without borders.

Even the US and UK have them; they’re just a bit more on the expensive side. In most cases, you don’t necessarily need to reside in these countries – you go and stay there for a short period of time, then go on living your normal life in your own country. After about 5-6 years, you can apply for citizenship. Your family can get citizenship through you as well.

In her book The Cosmopolites, Atossa Araxia Abrahamian writes how the United Arab Emirates bought citizenships in order to solve its bidoon problem. Bidoon means “without” in Arabic. The bidoon are stateless people within the country, so therefore don’t have citizenship of any place. The Emirates did not know what to do with them. The bidoon people had a right to citizenship, but were unaware at the time that they needed to apply for it, or simply did not bother, thinking that they’d go on living the way they were. Then, there came a point where bureaucracy got more complex, and they couldn’t live their normal lives without papers.

So why didn’t the UAE simply give them papers? The answer lies in basic economics and politics. An Emirati has a house provided, a fixed regular sum paid to them, and gets extra cash when getting married. Being an Emirati also means getting a share of the oil money that the UAE earns. Giving Emirati citizenship to the bidoon would mean providing all of these perks to everyone granted citizenship, costing the state largely.

The other side of the coin was politics. The Emirates did not wish to grant citizenship to people who could potentially be their opponents. Yet, they were being pressured by the international community to solve the problem of stateless people. UNHCR has an #IBelong campaign to end statelessness by 2024. 

So the Emirates found a better solution – buying citizenship from a poor neighbor country, the Comoro Islands. A place where most of the bidoon had not even heard of and would never set foot on in their lives. In fact, that was a part of the deal – the Comorans were not going to be burdened with their new “compatriots”.

The president of the Comoros was excited about the offer – this was money that the poor island could use to fix its roads and build some infrastructure. It was a win-win for both parties.

The “genuine” form of citizenship can be attained in a number of ways. This can be by blood, jus sanguinis, through your parents, or by being born within a country where jus soli is recognized. There is even birth-tourism to countries that recognise jus soli, such as the US. Trump has being talking about ending this birthright, however.

There is also citizenship by marriage, jus matrimonii, as well as naturalization for people who reside in a territory for a certain period of time.

As Encyclopædia Britannica states, citizenship is the “relationship between an individual and a state to which the individual owes allegiance and in turn is entitled to its protection.”

There are duties, rights, and privileges of citizenship. Your political and social rights derive from the contribution you make to the community. You participate in the economy by working, and by consuming goods. You pay taxes, you do your military service or abide by other social obligations that the state imposes on you. Then you have rights like access to public services, and the right to have a say in the political arena by voting or being eligible for elections yourself. When you are travelling abroad, you have a right to protection by your state. This is comparable to an active membership to a club.

Now, at the other end of the spectrum is the citizenship by investment, or Economic Citizenship. The wealthy can buy citizenships, but countries cannot really buy loyalty. When the proposal regarding the UAE’s bidoons was first made by the Emirates, some Comoran parliament members opposed to the plan. They claimed it would be like selling a piece of the country’s soul.

Today, many rich Russians and Chinese have gotten foreign “Western” passports this way. Some businessmen even carry a portfolio of 5-6 different passports. The question to ask is: when there is a price tag on citizenship and passports, what does nationality even mean?