The Birthright Lottery by Ayelet Shachar
The Canadian government has recently taken steps towards what they deem will make Canadian citizenship valuable. In 2009, a law was passed limiting or restricting people in obtaining Canadian citizenship. Children born abroad on the date 17 April 2009 and after would only obtain Canadian citizenship if at least one of the parents was a Canadian citizen by birth or by naturalisation. Canadian parents are therefore limited in passing citizenship to children born abroad after one generation. These restrictions have raised concern over which state children born abroad fall into and the implications one has to think of when they choose go to study or work abroad.
In the book Birthright lottery: Citizenship and Global Inequality by Ayelat Shacah, the author explores the limitations placed by the Canadian citizenship. In the first part of the book the author puts forward the theory that the citizenship rules aid in increasing the level of global inequalities.
She puts forward that citizenship affects a person’s access to numerous opportunities when the acquisition of that citizenship is obtained by birth of the individual or the birth of one of the parents. The rule of citizenship therefore enhances intergenerational transfers of certain resources and wealth. In this way the distribution of wealth and resources globally remains the same. The author compares the citizenship rules to the rules of inherited property on the intergenerational transfers of wealth. To suggestions that any individual is free to migrate to countries to better opportunities the author puts forward that not all people are able to migrate.
She further says migration is not sufficient and introduces a tool known as birthright as a
Privilege levy where affluent countries will send money to the developing countries to improve the lives of children.
The author argues that since there is a tax on inherited wealth there should be a tax on inherited citizenship. Inherited wealth is taxed based on the notion one should earn wealth not simply inherit it. She proposes payment of tax based on legality and not morality since the ones who have inherited citizenship have obtained resources that are scarce. She puts forward that citizenship has become property. Economies of the world want scarce resources to be used efficiently, without waste by people who own them. The people who own scarce resources are therefore taxed to ensure efficient use of resources
Although the method of calculating the exact amount of tax is not specified, a global welfare fund would be created which would assist poor people access better nutrition, healthcare and essential services in order to reduce wealth disparities.
In the part II of the book the author discusses over-inclusion and under-inclusion. An individual born abroad becomes a citizen yet there may be no connection towards the Canadian country. On the other hand residents of the country for a long time who have not been naturalised are excluded from being citizens. Here the author proposes a new way in addition to the ones already in place in awarding citizenship. This is where an individual is also checked for community participation, self-identification and location of his or her centre life.
This method will remove the problem of over-inclusion and over-inclusion. It will also remove the inheritance of citizenship by individuals. This will ensure that “heredity”alone is not a basis for acquisition of citizenship.
Instead the individual will get citizenship based on a genuine link to the country. The advantage will be long-term residents who have participated in the activities of the country will be eligible for citizenship.
In the citizenship law that was there previously, the government had wanted to confirm an individual connection to the country. One of these laws applied to an individual born abroad and one of the parents was a citizen by birth or naturalisation. It stated that once an individual had reached twenty eight years old the individual would cease to be a citizen unless the person applied to retain their citizenship or had been living in Canada for a year before applying for citizenship or demonstrated an established connection with Canada.
Canada’s new law denies citizenship to individuals after first generation even if they have a genuine connection to the country. The country is becoming more restrictive on the individuals who will be given citizenship. At a time that trans-border mobility is at a high the country has decided to be restrictive on citizenship.
The book title is appropriate. Birthright lottery. A person just has to be born in Canada to be a citizen. The person may be born at the airport as the parents are simply changing flights and the child is automatically a citizen, even if the child does not spend his or her life in Canada. For newborns arriving in the country they have no guarantee of citizenship no matter how long they live in Canada. It is a lottery. The children born in the country have done nothing to deserve being a citizen. A lottery has been won by them.
In a society that professes moral equality the author says in the area of citizenship the law is discriminating. Thus she suggests the levy on the privileged few born in the country to assist those born in developing countries to succeed. She proposes that one’s property right to vary with ones’ closeness to the country. Grandchildren right to the property is weak and they should therefore demonstrate a link to the country. They should be taxed heavily. The third generation will even have to demonstrate more the genuine connection by meeting residency requirements in the country since the property right is even weaker (Solow, 2009) This argument is faulty though. Citizenship is not like property for example land. When one owns particular land somewhere no one else can own it. The other people are excluded from owning it. Citizenship is different though. An individual acquiring citizenship does not exclude anyone else from becoming a citizen. If citizenship is deemed to be scarce it is because governments have passed laws of under-inclusion and over-inclusion. Citizenship is not scarce.
Despite the stated objections, the book causes us to look at acquisition of citizenship by birthplace and correct this discrimination to give everyone an equal shot at citizenship. Before the citizenship law reforms in Germany in 2000, to be a German citizenship you had to be born to German parents. The Canadian laws are similar to the earlier German laws in that while for Germany the basic criteria was bloodline Canada is birthright.
Countries should not abolish borders. Governments should continue controlling immigration at their borders by passing laws. The author proposes the laws should not be on the
basis of the place of birth causing other people to lack a chance at becoming a citizen. On the citizens sending money to developing countries it is not the best method. There is a difference in sending money to a person and making the person have access to opportunities.
If a person in a Third world country is given money, he is still in a country ridden with poverty. However if the person is to be given a chance to migrate to Canada and be a citizen he will have access to numerous opportunities to make wealth.Various concerns arise with the theory. For example how does this system of distributing wealth ensure the aid does not affect the sovereignty of the recipient nations? Secondly the levy is a tax and will increase the financial burden and obligations of a country’s citizens. This may cause a lot of resistance to its implementation. There is also the issue of mismatches in the donor and recipient countries in terms of population or birth rates. The author’s suggestion of the way developed countries can equalise the benefits of citizenship by use of a levy without demanding the countries to change its immigration laws is also debatable.
Finally it will be hard for illegal immigrants to show a genuine link to the country since they will definitely be deported. They live low-profile lives. This is how they are able to avoid deportation. Demonstrating a genuine connection that can be judged by authorities for acquiring citizenship will require them to pay taxes, getting a postal address and getting social benefits. The author’s proposal again is debatable and not feasible. The author does however state that it really places possible solution options and the motive is to inspire debates on the citizenship rules.
Shacar, Ayelet The Birthright Lottery: Citizenship And Global Inequality.