Consider giving citizenship for long-term immigrants

Consider giving citizenship for long-term immigrants

By: Prof. Dr. Mohammad Tariqur Rahman

Aristotle famously described human beings as ‘political animals’ for their natural tendency to live in political communities such as in a city or a state.

In ancient Greece, being a citizen was a privilege of a selective group of people and not a right for everyone. During the Middle Ages, the Greek concept of citizenship was replaced by the system of feudal rights and obligations. In the late Middle Ages, citizenship became a social contract between the subject and his sovereign.
In modern times, common policies of citizenship are based on the principle “citizenship is a privilege not a right”.

Nonetheless, to some, citizenship is neither a privilege nor a right, rather a loyal and legal status in a state. For others it is both privilege and right to obligate one with the loyal and legal status. Yet for others, citizenship, in contrast to the age-old principle of inalienable human rights, is a ‘conditional’ right and that it should thus in principle be revocable.

This conditional right is applicable mostly for those who are naturalized citizens or popularly known as ‘immigrant’ citizens who might become a threat to national security or harmony. Theoretically, the principle of conditional right is not applicable to one whose past record of citizenship is not traceable.

In most countries, becoming a naturalized citizen is not easy. In the process towards that citizenship, many countries offer permanent residentship, based on skill and performance. In reality the process leads many migrants to remain stuck in an immigration purgatory to become a permanent resident, let alone a citizen.

And that often raises the question: if immigrants are humans? Albeit, in their anatomy and physiology, immigrants are no less than humans. Yet, as residents in their new homes, their rights are not as par with the citizens.

Hence, an immigrant remains as a “sub-citizen” even after becoming a permanent resident or serving a nation for 20 years or more as a tax payee resident. As if immigrants are meant to deserve less.

Briefly, that tells the life of many immigrants in many countries.

As an immigrant employee, in one way or another, they seem to have less privilege than citizens for the same job scope. For example, permanent residents are practically ineligible for any permanent position hence are deprived of retirement benefits. Policies to support health care and children’s education of immigrants have additional clauses, i.e., imposing additional burdens on parents’ shoulders. There are often restrictions on owning immovable properties by the immigrants.

In countries there are restrictions to hire a foreigner after 10 years of service. Ironically, those countries do not stop recruiting new immigrant workers. Then why such a “10 year” policy?

Perhaps it is expected that in 10 years the dependency on the immigrant workforce in a given job sector would be abated or at least lessened. Or, perhaps the Government wants to avoid any obligation to offer citizenship to the immigrant workers living in their country for a long time.

It hatches the riddle, what is so wrong to offer citizenship to those who are contributing to build the nation by serving for decades?

If the country needs additional workforce that is met by recruiting immigrant workers, then why not facilitate those who are already here for a long time?

The answer lies in the open secret, keeping an immigrant workforce is economically more “productive”. Furthermore, some nations are “afraid” of losing their culture and heritage by naturalizing a mixed population as citizens.

Here comes the dilemma. While the immigrant workforce gives the most valuable time and best efforts of their life in building a nation for a long time, where else would they go afterwards? Is it then too much to expect citizenship for long-term immigrant workers after all necessary background checks such as criminal records, loyalty to the constitution, or language proficiency?

Well, as it famously goes to say, citizenship is a privilege not a right. Nonetheless, to what extent this should be applicable for those who spent the best time of their life for decades contributing to the development of the nation – remains an enigma.

If citizenship is a privilege for those long-term immigrant workers, then the Government should rethink their humane rationale behind the policy to recruit immigrant workers and exploit them and the best of their time in life goes into oblivion.

No matter how policy makers or the politicians define citizenship, any long-term term immigrant worker who spent most of their valuable time in their life for a country, deserves to have rights as a human, not just a sub-citizen.

Defying that rights could be legally justified but can’t be humanely endorsed. Holding a legal authority to defy such rights does not make anyone right unless they act humanely right.

This becomes morally more problematic when a nation offers residentship or citizenship based on a golden visa or second home. In such cases, the given legal status is given based on the dollars invested by the incumbent immigrant. A million dollars seems to be more valuable than serving for a decade as an immigrant.

Indeed, no nation is obligated to take foreigners as their own citizens. But as long as that nation exploits that foreign workforce for their own benefits they have the moral obligation to facilitate their human rights too.

Such an obligation is more crucial for any Muslim nation. Simply because Mohammad (peace be upon him) the final messenger of Allah lived his prophetic life as an ‘immigrant’ in Medina, preached Islam from Medina as an ‘immigrant’ and finally died as an ‘immigrant’ in Medina.

If that obligation deems their right as a human, then so be it without any red-tape.

The author is the Associate Dean (Continuing Education), Faculty of Dentistry, and Associate Member, UM LEAD, Universiti Malaya. He may be reached at [email protected]


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