Monica Porteanu, a member of our Emerging Fellows program scans the horizons of citizenship and residency in this blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Society is an instinctive human structure. Society established the concepts of nation and state to organize itself. It developed the political, economic, and social systems to govern itself. It created the notions of citizenship and residency to engage its people.
Citizenship establishes rights and responsibilities linked to a country, its democratic and governance systems, and borders. The status can be acquired either at birth, based on the parent’s citizenship and/or the territory of birth, or later, through naturalization in a foreign land. Residency refers to the physical location where a person lives. It provides a framework to exercise rights and responsibilities related to daily life, such as earning a living or education. Citizenship seems linked to the concept of nation and democratic participation in politics, whereas residency connects with economics and social matters, and the notion of state.
Citizenship dates to ancient Greece. A citizen was someone who was born and lived in a city, having rights and responsibilities linked to both the organization and governance of that city. As such, at that time, citizenship and residency overlapped. Similarly, following the Peace of Westphalia, when an individual was very likely to be a member of one nation living within the borders of one state, the citizenship and residency coincided.
Nowadays, world citizens traveling, working, and living in jurisdictions different than those of their place of birth, embrace multiple citizenships. At the other end of the scale are those who have either lost all privilege or renounced their citizenship in protest of losing trust in the system. Civic engagement allows an individual to have from one to multiple residencies and from none to many citizenships.
Citizenship has become virtually borderless in the European Union (EU), which is an international body of collaboration. In this context, citizenship now represents mostly an individual’s national origin, together with their participation in the democratic process in their country of origin. Residency links individual’s rights and responsibilities with the territory in which they earn money and access systems that support their daily life.
The concept of residency is then kicked up a notch by one of EU’s members, Estonia. In its quest for competitive advantage, the country has become a leader in digital governance. Estonia has branded itself as the “new digital nation for global citizens” through its e-residency program. Estonian e-residency is an online platform that enables anyone in the world to register a business and manage its money. For example, it provides access to a network of financial and other professional services. An applicant becomes an Estonian e-resident and receives a government-issued digital identification, based on government identification from their country of origin. In this context, e-residency raises questions about how the digital government manages one’s foreign credentials, and how the entrepreneur governs its business legally across borders.
Concurrently, e-residency seems to be a flavour of investor citizenship, offered by many other countries that aim to attract capital, for which, in turn, they provide an expedited path to citizenship. In the process, the concept of citizenship has shifted even more towards economics, losing its flair for political debate and democracy.
The Chinese social credit score has piloted another alternative to civic engagement. The program aggregates an individual’s political, economic, and social data. A high score gives priority access to higher flexibility and living standards such as career advancement, housing, or mobility. The system takes the Western versions of the marketplace and social media aggregation to a new level of profiling, social value, and societal stratification. The social credit score seems to considerably amplify the social and economic aspects while keeping an eye on political activities. Such a paradigm raises significant ethical and moral questions, questioning one’s ability to exercise civic rights and responsibilities regardless of the score.
Such emerging types of civic engagement seem to play at the intersection of several dimensions: (1) links to the physical place(s) of birth, work, or living; (2) the omnipresence of daily life; and (3) levels of trust in the societal organization, governance, and engagement.
At the same time, the concepts of citizenship and residency do not overlap as they once did. In the process, civic engagement seems to struggle with who and where one can vote so that they can have a say in the democratic process. For example, some migrants can still vote in their country of birth. Although they have lived abroad for a long time, losing touch with the realities of that state, their civic engagement influences decisions for the daily life of those who remained. Is it fair to those who stayed? Concurrently, migrants cannot vote in the country of their residency, where they are not yet citizens, although they contribute to the economic and social system. Is it fair to these newcomers?
As society continues its fluid advancement, should it consider transferring citizenship rights and responsibilities to the concept of residency related to the territory surrounding our everyday life, rather than the place of birth?
© Monica Porteanu 2018