Letters & Opinion

Citizenship – We need not fear!

Last year, our Head of State announced Government’s intention to establish a Task force which would examine the case for the introduction of an economic citizenship programme in Saint Lucia. The announcement came on the heels of a recent upsurge in the number of countries introducing such programmes. For example, in 2008 there were eight (8) programmes, today there are twenty (20). The United States (yes the United States) and St. Kitts/Nevis have the two oldest programmes. Whilst most countries do not share data on the number of applicants who have been granted citizenship, there is acknowledgement that the number of persons seeking and, who have been granted second citizenships has surged.

The trend towards multiple citizenships raises some interesting issues of how our concept of citizenship is being transformed, as the world around us is itself being transformed. Consequently, understanding the issue can help open our eyes in Saint Lucia.

When men roamed the lands and seas as nomads there really was no concept of citizenship. Back then, Man simply went where he could obtain food and basic human comforts without ties to any geographic region. The rise of settled and sedentary lifestyles changed that necessity as life became characterised by settled agriculture and small-scale services and production. The notion of ‘belonging’ to some place and to something started to be part of defining who we are. This settled lifestyle saw man building more permanent structures to house himself and his family. A new sense of belonging evolved, and was reinforced with the Industrial Revolution. Quite obviously, without even necessarily thinking about it, we were also identifying with an administrative and political system. Therefore, that land space by which we defined our national identity and belonging within the international system became known as the nation state. The state, our nation, as such had to have its own identity within the community of nations and, therefore had to be recognised as independent (guided by its own rules and laws; in effect having its own constitution), and sovereign (capacity to make its own decisions). That identity or belonging gave rise to an overarching relationship which, for all intents and purposes, we now call citizenship.

Since then a plethora of academic literature can be found which engage in a rich debate on citizenship. However, there seems to be three main lines of debate – the emphasis on individual rights and law; the focus on belonging and the focus on collective action and responsibility. In essence, citizenship can be seen as a status – the right and responsibility to practice life in a particular way and in a particular place.

Becoming a citizen meant that individuals living in a nation state or country (as the geographic contours of a nation state) expected that the state would guarantee a number of social, political and legal rights, which some now claim are indivisible rights. Principally, the state is expected to protect you and provide for you – if not by handout, as in a Welfare state, but by creating the conditions for you to fend for yourself. It is a feature of the international system that these rights have expanded over generations from the right to be free (not enslaved) to the right to choose one’s sexual orientation.

In order to belong to the nation state the citizen was expected to behave in a particular manner; that is, with a sense of civic responsibility. Respect for law and order; respect for the rights of others; respect for the institutions of the state; participation in civic processes, were all some of the obligations of being a citizen.

Citizenship created identity. You were no longer nameless or faceless Ordinary Joe. You now had an identity documented by the state, which belonged to you and you alone. The state even provided laws to protect that identity as yours. But perhaps most importantly, it gave the right to be identified with that collective. In our case, you are a Saint Lucian or “Looshan!!!”

Our laws recognise four ways in which you may become a Saint Lucian – by birth, marriage, descent or naturalisation. Firstly, anyone who is born in Saint Lucia automatically is a Saint Lucian, regardless of parentage or the length of time the parent or parents have resided in Saint Lucia. Secondly, anyone who has a parent who was born in Saint Lucia has a right to become a Saint Lucian. Thirdly, anyone who marries a Saint Lucian has a right to citizenship. The only caveat is that while a wife has an automatic right, the husband is subject to the discretion of the Minister. Fourthly, anyone who has lived in Saint Lucia for a prescribed number of years can qualify for citizenship.

The requirements for citizenship in Saint Lucia raise some interesting issues which force us to start a rethinking of what should constitute citizenship. For example, as already mentioned, a man can marry a woman and she automatically has a right to be a citizen! A woman marrying does not convey the same automatic right to her husband. This is clearly discriminatory and insulting of the judgement of women. In the twenty-first century, surely we need a rethink of this provision. Worse, the wife of the Saint Lucian man need not even have visited Saint Lucia or even know where Saint Lucia is and yet still can become a citizen! Counter that with a Saint Lucian who is studying overseas, is married and has a child. That child can claim citizenship by descent. But if that child eventually becomes an adult and migrates to another island, marries and has a child, his wife has an automatic right to become a Saint Lucian citizen but his child does not have that right!! Or a case where a Saint Lucian family has moved to a foreign country and a child was born in that foreign country. That child has never visited Saint Lucia and may never visit but has an automatic right to become a citizen!

What the above shows is that whilst we may not be able to change all the anomalies with our citizenship laws, surely we need to rethink, and commence the process of updating, these laws.

Citizenship, however, is an emotive subject. Forget the fact that citizenship conveys certain fundamental rights which, in more cases than not, citizens are not fully aware of or even able to enjoy; or that the responsibilities of being a citizen are not always exercised. In most cases individuals cherish their citizenship. Some will argue it is the identity which citizenship confers that is most cherished. As Saint Lucians, we are proud to boast of our citizenship even if we do not enjoy any special rights or even perform any civic duty. We believe that our citizenship is something unique and must be treasured. Equally, this makes us want to jealously guard it.

But we now live in an age of globalisation. It is a world interconnected by rapid means of communications through the internet and telephone. It is a world with massive amounts of trade in goods and services, thereby, making the notion of borders increasingly questionable. It is a world where businesses have branches and offices in multiple countries requiring employees to work across borders. It is a world where personal wealth can be saved in jurisdictions far from where one lives. It is a world of migration of peoples in search of new opportunities and higher standards of living. It is a world of people fleeing oppression, war and poverty; crying out for more developed countries to provide citizenship and the associated rights. It is a world where international organisations – both governmental and non-governmental – are functioning without much limitation across state borders.

In the case of Saint Lucians, we have had a significant number emigrating to the United Kingdom and the United States over the last few decades. They have started new lives and acquired second citizenships. They are as British or American as they are Saint Lucian. They have contributed to the development of Britain and the United States and are rightfully now citizens. We have Saint Lucians who have joined the armed forces of the United States and Britain, and have applied for and received citizenship. Perhaps our first significant modern day migration was to Guyana, ‘Cayenne’ – French Guiana and Curacao.

In most recent times, we are witness to two most distinct global trends in the quest for citizenship. Firstly, the massive movement of people, legally and illegally – away from repression and poverty, towards countries which can offer higher standards of living. Secondly, persons of high net worth who are seeking other citizenship and are willing to invest or contribute to national development using their wealth.

Whilst the first trend is not attractive and can be deleterious to Saint Lucia if we are swamped by refugees, the second presents some new opportunities for us to utilise the sovereign right to provide citizenship as an instrument to attract investment and contribute to national development. The time has arrived for us to conceptualise citizenship as a national asset which can be carefully managed, like all national assets, to ensure higher standards of living for our people.

In our globalised world, Saint Lucians, like citizens of other countries, are seeking to acquire second citizenship of countries where they can enjoy certain rights and privileges. As the world changes, new definitions and means of becoming citizens are emerging. It is time for us to explore how we can benefit from these changes. Surely, there are challenges and difficulties to face. That is an accepted fact! But there are numerous examples to learn from and ensure that we pursue a programme which receives international commendation.

It has to be mentioned that citizenship by investment is not a new strategy. This is not a proposal that we venture into an unknown, fraught with peril. There are challenges which mean that such a programme must be closely administered and monitored. Huge economies like the United States, the United Kingdom, and other giants in Europe have practiced this for years, with excellent results. In our region Saint Kitts is enjoying economic growth, largely because they have embraced the concept. The naysayers will point to some of the negative fall-out that Saint Kitts is experiencing from the operation of the programme. This simply means that we must be vigilant in our due process and management of it. Do not, for one minute, believe that the larger jurisdictions do not experience their own challenges. What they discovered a long time ago, is to ensure that the programme is properly managed.

By Stephen Lester Prescott

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