Multinationalism remains far from acceptance in Japan


Third in a series

In a country notorious for its exclusive immigration policy, the question of whether to allow Japanese to hold dual citizenship became a surprisingly hot policy topic last year after members of the ruling party breached the issue.

In many other parts of the world, it’s a matter that has already been discussed in great depth, and observers agree that an increasing number of countries are moving toward allowing citizens to become multinational.

As of 2000, around 90 countries and territories permitted dual citizenship either fully or with exceptional permission, according to the “Backgrounder,” published by the Center for Immigration Studies in the United States, and “Citizenship Laws of the World” by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Since the reports came out, several countries have lifted bans on dual nationality. As a consequence, there are more than 90 countries backing dual nationality by default today.

“The trend is dramatic and nearly unidirectional. A clear majority of countries now accepts dual citizenship,” said Peter Spiro, an expert on multi nationality issues at Temple University Beasley School of Law.

“Plural citizenship has quietly become a defining feature of globalization.”

Countries such as the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom who go by the principle of jus soli, which gives nationality to everyone born on their soil and territories, have long been lenient in permitting dual citizenship.

The shift is also being seen in countries that have traditionally adhered to jus sanguinis, which says that a child’s nationality is determined by his parent’s citizenship.

The change in jus sanguinis countries first grew prominent in European countries, followed by some South American and Asian states, largely as a result of economic globalization and the expansion in people’s mobility over the past few decades.

Europe’s general acceptance of dual nationality is stated in the 1997 European Convention on Nationality, which stipulates that while member states can define their own citizens, they must at least allow children of international marriages and immigrants to hold dual nationality.

This was a major shift from traditional attitudes in the region, stated in a 1963 convention that supported the single nationality principle.

Atsushi Kondo, a law professor at Meijo University, explained that the economic growth after World War II and the formation of the European Union are two major reasons driving the change.

After WWII, the western European countries, who had been a source of emigrants, began accepting foreigners in their labor forces to deal with the rise in economic development they were enjoying.

Contrary to the initial presumption of European states that immigrant workers will eventually pack up and leave at some point, many foreigners have stayed longer and settled. They not only brought in more family members to their new homes, but married citizens of those countries as well, Kondo said.

As more immigrants virtually became permanent residents, many governments eventually reached the conclusion that securing the rights of foreigners and integrating them with society was unavoidable if they were to bring about a fair and democratic society, he explained.

“These countries have become aware that leaving the status of foreigners unstable was violating their human rights and making society unfair” and wanted to avoid that, Kondo said.

Meanwhile, countries whose citizens are migrating to other countries have also granted dual citizenship to the Diaspora.

Among them are many Latin American countries, who took this step in the 1990s because many of their citizens were immigrating to the U.S.

For example, Colombia acknowledged dual nationality in 1991, the Dominican Republic in 1994, Brazil in 1996 and Mexico in 1998.

Joining the club in recent years have been Asian countries, such as the Philippines, India and Vietnam.

Since September 2003, native Filipinos who have become citizens of other countries through naturalization have been able to reacquire Filipino citizenship by taking the oath of allegiance to their motherland.

In 2005, India began granting people of Indian origin living in other countries, except Pakistan and Bangladesh, “Overseas Citizenship of India” if their habitual resident countries recognize dual citizenship.

While voting rights are not given, OCI holders will be allowed multiple-entry visas and hold equal economic, financial and educational benefits.

And from this year, some 3.5 million Vietnamese living abroad will also be able to obtain citizenship thanks to legislation passed by the Vietnamese parliament in November allowing dual nationality.

Last year, South Korea began reviewing ways to permit Koreans to hold dual nationalities under certain conditions. This is in line with the policies that President Lee Myung Bak has said he wanted to actualize.

Spiro of Temple University, who recently wrote the book “Beyond Citizenship,” said states that are major producers of immigrants have been looking into cementing ties with emigrant populations, largely for economic reasons.

“Embracing dual nationality is like a tool for harnessing the economic power of external citizens,” Spiro said.

“Instead of forcing emigrants to make a choice, or treating them like traitors to the homeland, emigrants can both integrate with their new place of residence at the same time that they maintain the citizenship tie with their homeland,” he noted.

While simultaneously holding citizenship in more than one country can bring more opportunities to individuals, it also brings risks, such as mandatory military service or taxation obligations.

But both Spiro and Kondo said many countries have reconciled this on the basis of residence.

For example, in European countries, if one holds citizenship in two countries where military service is mandatory, the person only need serve one of them, usually the country in which they reside.

People with dual nationality are also warned about the risk of running into trouble or accidents when one of the two countries does not acknowledge dual citizenship. In those circumstances, the other government is limited in what it can do for the person.

Kondo, however, said that in many cases, especially emergencies, many governments take humanitarian actions and make claims to the other country in a peaceful manner to secure the safety of the citizen.

Jus sanguinis countries like Japan have traditionally been less tolerant of dual nationality because people tend to regard themselves as an exclusively racially homogeneous, Kondo explained.

While Japan does not allow dual citizenship, people can acquire more than one nationality upon birth if the parents are a Japanese and a foreigner, or if a Japanese couple have a baby in countries where citizenship is given to those born on their soil.

In such cases, Japanese nationality law stipulates that the child must select one of the nationalities permanently before turning 22 years old.

While the law is rigid about this rule, the reality is that the Justice minister has never strictly imposed it on anyone who actually has two nationalities.

“It’s not favorable to force a citizen to choose one among his parents,” Kondo said.

“It will take a very, very long time before Japan becomes a jus soli country, but at least it is possible to gradually set the bar lower” and accept dual citizens as other countries have done, he said.

Even in countries like the U.S., for example, there are voices calling for scaling back birthright citizenship to children of illegal immigrants.

However, Spiro said that there is very little real political support in U.S. for opposing dual citizenship.

This is partly due to the rise of dual citizens among powerful political constituencies, such as Irish-, Italian- and Jewish-Americans, but also because dual citizens pose very little threat of any description to local society, he said.

“The U.S. and many European nations now understand that dual citizenship doesn’t pose much of a threat . . . In many states, the acceptance is now nearly absolute,” Spiro said.