Viewing Multi-Citizenship as an Asset

Boing Boing pointed me to Kevin Kelly and Brian Eno’s “Unthinkable Futures” list, which included a disaster scenario that fired some neurons (it’s Saturday morning before ten, this is unusual):

People begin leaving the U.S. Many arrivals to the US keep resident status but choose not to adopt citizenship. The world sees more people without allegiance.

Whenever people ask me “where are you from?” I’ve always had difficulty answering the question. I was born in Australia, grew up in Canada, and hold Irish citizenship and US Permanent Residence status. Technically, I’m from somewhere around 30 countries.

I’ve always viewed multi-citizenship as an imperitive in an increasingly interconnected world. The ability to easily move and work in another country has always struck me as a logical complement to my highly transportable skill set as an engineer. While international treaties, such as NAFTA, typically simplify the process of moving between countries for highly-skilled workers, citizenship reduces the complexity even further.

In fact, one might even view citizenship as a new asset class. Not only is it an easily transportable asset, but it also can be passed on to descendants in most cases. When Ashley and I have kids, they could have as many as four citizenships: Canadian, Irish, Australian, and US.

That said, I, as many others, are wary of US citizenship. The primary reason for this fear is the draconian US tax law, which demands its citizens file taxes on their world income regardless of whether they are in the country or not. The US always wants its share in exchange for the benefit of citizenship. Other countries, in contrast, generally don’t require you to file taxes unless you’re actually in the country for a significant portion of the year.

I could see this becoming a liability for the US, leading to the outcome that Kevin Kelly and Brian Eno predict. US citizenship is only an asset so long as the US is a highly desirable labour market, and supports a high quality of life. In the absence of those attributes, the asset of citizenship is outweighed by the liability of onerous over-taxation.

Of course, in the long-term this hopefully becomes a non-issue as international borders and nation-states become increasingly irrelevant. Maybe.

Kiss Me, I’m Irish

A couple months ago, I started down the long road to obtaining my Irish citizenship. Well, longish road. Actually, in retrospect, the road was pretty short, though marred by some ludicrously bureaucratic procedures. For those who don’t know, Ashley has her Irish citizenship and hence I was able to obtain it by making an application for post-nuptial citizenship. Lucky me, too, given that this route to Irish citizenship will cease to exist at the close of November 2005.

In a weird way, this is a return to roots. I believe my mother’s side of the family is originally from County Cork, though they’re from Scotland more recently. What goes around comes around, I guess.

What does this mean for me going forward? Well, for one thing, I now have the right to live and work in the 25 EU member states. Add that to being a Canadian engineer (which, through NAFTA, allows me to easily work in the US and Mexico), and it adds up to a pretty interesting map of places I can work with little or no hassle (image built using the World66 map tool):

Hmm. Maybe that’s not quite as impressive as I thought it would be. Then again, it’s not too shabby either. If I could regain my Australian citizenship it would be augmented a little more, but unfortunately I fail the residency requirements necessary to resume the citizenship I lost when I became Canadian (I was born in Australia, but at the time I became a Canadian, Australia didn’t allow multiple citizenships).

What I’d be really interested in know is how prevalent multiple citizenships are these days (and I’m not the only one interested in the topic apparently). It appears that more countries are allowing multiple citizenships – I know that the UN is starting to recommend that census organizations start to gather data to study the trend. Imagine the ramifications of a world in which not only do information workers have the skills required to allow them to easily find work anywhere, but also have the work authorizations to eliminate the last remaining barrier that would prevent an employer from hiring them. Interesting? Yes? Scary? Undoubtedly.

I predict we will see citizenships become a new asset class, one which is exempt from the usual inheritance taxes, but may ultimately bestow more value in the long term. I mean, just look at Ashley and I – if we spent a year in Australia, we would be up to four citizenships between us! Imagine the opportunities our kids will have because of that freedom. Then again, perhaps countries will have ceased to matter long before our kids even have need of this asset. Perhaps the dream of telecommuting will have come true already, or perhaps the EU and NAFTA trade zones will have expanded to the point where the globe is one giant free trade zone. Who knows?

That’s no excuse not to plan in the meantime. I would suggest anyone with an interest in maximizing their opportunities investigate how they might increase the number of citizenships they hold. The easiest way to do this is to look at your grandparents – where were they born? Do those countries allow you to obtain citizenships because of your grandparents’ birthplace? Check it out, you might be surprised the opportunities that await you!