Nuance needed when it comes to citizenship in the modern world

Some similar questions regarding Canadian policy and consular obligations with the Canadian tendency to more inclusive approaches as seen in the government’s response to the Ukraine International shoot down and Iranian Canadians and the evacuation of Chinese Canadians, including some permanent residents to keep families together, from Wuhan:

While the initial debate about the Australians in Wuhan has focussed on details such as whether or not evacuees would (or should) pay something towards the cost of the flights, and whether the controversial immigration detention facility at Christmas Island is the appropriate housing area for quarantine, another curious matter sits in the background. What is our country’s responsibility, if any, for evacuating citizens, permanent residents and others from the site of a pandemic, or other crisis overseas? And what does citizenship mean in these circumstances?

Australia has a curious relationship with citizenship. As a migrant country, Australia has long seen citizenship as a key pillar of our economic policy: attracting people from around the world to join the population, offering a better life in return for enhancing the nation’s future prosperity.

But citizenship is not always a simple, one-way story that ends with life in Australia and single Australian citizenship. And the dynamic of multiple citizenships in the modern world means that migrants and refugees might not just stay put in Australia, but may split residence between countries.

The legal term of Australian citizenship is only 70 years old. It was established in 1948, with Australians remaining British subjects – a status that was removed only in 1984. From 1986, dual citizenship was established, with people from other countries allowed to take up Australian citizenship and retain their original nationality. It was only in 2002, that Australian citizens were allowed – under Australian law – to assume citizenship of another country without first renouncing their Australian citizenship.

Some 33.3 per cent of Australians were born overseas, which provides one indication of some of numbers possibly at play with multiple citizenship.

But outside economic policy, changes in citizenship law in Australia and overseas, and changes in an increasingly complex strategic environment, have thrown up some thorny problems. The 2017 federal parliamentarian citizenship crisis and the fate of the children of Australians who travelled to the Middle East to join the self-proclaimed Islamic State are recent examples.

Reporting around the coronavirus outbreak, with headlines such as “Aussie kids trapped in Wuhan”, show a simplistic perception of citizenship. It suggests those affected only hold Australian citizenship and have been inadvertently caught in a crisis overseas and need the help of their government. The reality is often more complex, with many dual or other multiple citizenship holders affected by this and other crises. Some of those Aussie kids are also Chinese. As are their parents. They may be long-term residents of Wuhan or on a first visit to family.

And as longstanding government policy – easily found on DFAT’s Smartraveller website – makes clear, it is an individual’s responsibility, not government’s, to manage their own safety and well being when overseas. In the case of the current outbreak, however, the government has done the right thing in enabling those Australians who wish to leave to do so.

Despite the sometimes-changeable nature of Australia’s bilateral relationship with China in recent years, the movement of Australians, including dual-nationals, out of China has not presented as an issue.

But this latest experience throws in to question what we do in the future. Do we need a more nuanced approach to how we deal with dual nationals located in their other home countries?

Do the challenges of conflict, pandemics, and strategic tension in our region and in the rise of non-traditional threats such as global terrorism, mean that we need to maintain awareness not only of how migration affects economic development and jobs, but also how it affects security. As the coronavirus reminds us, this includes health security.

Perhaps now is the time to talk with countries such as China, India and the Philippines, which many Australians also call home, about a shared approach to how we each look after our shared citizens in health and other crises.

We have arrangements with Canada, New Zealand and other countries on reciprocal assistance evacuating our citizens from conflict areas, natural disasters and other emergencies. The coronavirus could be a useful reference for similar discussions on deciding when it’s appropriate for Australian dual nationals to remain in country, and how all countries involved can work together to ensure the best assistance is provided in place.

The recent establishment of the Home Affairs portfolio to include immigration along with security, emergency management and other roles, and raising it to a central agency of government, means that we have the policy levers to consider how migration and citizenship works with security and other roles.

A future Home Affairs White Paper could provide strategic direction on where and how Australian citizenship and immigration could and should support how Australia engages globally.

Regardless of government policy, we need better awareness within our community of what citizenship currently looks like, and what our policy settings are, in order to better inform the public discussion of what we expect our government to do for our citizens, wherever they chose to be around the world. Here, the media plays a pivotal role in explaining what’s going on, and ensuring we don’t fall into a simplistic representation of Australians.

Australia’s success is due in part to the continual change in what it is to be Australian, and what constitutes Australian interests. But as we deal with complex challenges, like coronavirus, we need to be mindful that what it is to be Australian is not always simple.

Source: Nuance needed when it comes to citizenship in the modern world

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

2 Responses to Nuance needed when it comes to citizenship in the modern world

  1. Robert Addington says:

    Yes, this resonates in Canada, too. As soon as we start making invidious distinctions between ‘real’ Canadians (those we happen to like) and ‘others’, we have a de facto two-tiered system of citizenship — politically untenable and probably unconstitutional.

    Every applicant for a Canadian passport pays a consular services fee ($25, I believe). If you pay the fee, you’re entitled to the service. That said, Canadians who want to be treated as Canadians when abroad should travel on a Canadian passport.

  2. Andrew says:

    Agree but the question of what level of service for what circumstances remain as GAC has limited public service standards. Some have to travel on both their Canadian and other passport. For examples, the Iranian Canadians on the Ukraine International flight who entered Iran on their Iranian passport and left Iran on their Canadian passport (to prove they can enter Canada) as Iran does not dual nationality.

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