Allowing dual citizenship helps integration

The Dutch Cabinet is going after dual nationalities again (this link and most others in this post are in Dutch). There is a proposal before Parliament aimed at making sure no one can hold another nationality while becoming Dutch. What they are not saying is that the rules are already pretty strict and changing them will do little to achieve policy goals. Further, the change will have negative consequences for those in international relationships and make foreign partners even less likely to fully integrate.

If you only went by media coverage of the law, you might think that it is now very easy to maintain your original nationality when becoming Dutch or to hold your Dutch nationality when acquiring another. Even the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), when doing an opinion poll on dual nationality, asked the question in such a way that presupposes that that is the case. The statement they posed was: “A person who acquires Dutch nationality, must – if possible – renounce his/her other citizenship.” Sixty percent agreed to some extent (especially older, male, right-wing, less-educated people who are against the expansion of the EU). But what was not said was that this is already mostly the case – most people must already give up their citizenships to become Dutch.

The current situation is that if you become a naturalized Dutch citizen, you have to give up your original nationality unless you fall under a small list of exceptions. These include your original country not allowing it (according to the IND there are only 18 countries on this list, including Morocco and Argentina, homeland of the Dutch Crown Princess), marriage or registered partnership with a Dutch person, refugee status or major difficulties in giving up the nationality (state not recognized by the Netherlands, safety issues in contacting your original country, financial penalties or consequences, undone military service). These exceptions would be discontinued, except of course the first, since this falls outside the power of the Dutch government. I would also hope that the Dutch government would also never be so inhumane has to actually make refugees or those for whom it is unsafe to contact their home government comply. This leaves mainly those in a relationship with a Dutch person.

Similarly, the current rules state that the voluntary acquisition of another nationality means the automatic loss of Dutch nationality, unless you were born while your parents were living in that foreign country, you lived in that country for at least five years as a minor, or are married to a person with that nationality. These exceptions would also be discontinued. Again, the main target here seems to be those married to foreigners as I cannot imagine that the other two groups are sizable.

Thus in both cases, the major impact would be felt by those in mixed Dutch/foreign relationships. The CBS’s poll might have more accurately had a statement along the lines of: “Foreign partners of Dutch nationals who wish to become Dutch must – if possible – renounce their other citizenships, and Dutch nationals who wish to acquire their partner’s citizenship must renounce their Dutch citizenship.” I would think, and hope, that this statement would not get such widespread agreement.

So, why are these changes being considered if they affect such a small group? It is an exercise in cynical politics, pure optics and sound bites. Going after dual nationality is part of the current coalition agreement (pdf), a requirement of the PVV, the xenophobic right-wing populist party whose supporters are demographically similar those who answered yes to the CBS’s poll and who are not noted for their nuanced thinking. The PVV wants immigrants to go away or become Dutch, and by immigrants they really mean Turks and Moroccans. Changing dual nationality rules will make it look like they are doing that.

The supremely silly part is that, besides affecting a much smaller group than is currently believed, the double nationality law will actually have little effect on the PVV’s target groups (another part of the proposal, setting minimum income and education requirements, probably would, but is not the subject of this post). For Moroccans it is easy to see why it would have no effect. They cannot renounce their citizenship at all, now or under the proposed law, and their children are also automatically Moroccan. And Turks, just like everyone else, are currently required to renounce their nationality if they become Dutch (though apparently it’s not easy, as a PVV member of the provincial parliament found out). And despite the exceptions listed above, Turks are even required to do so in the face of unfulfilled military service obligations (every male Turk is required to serve, except those who are gay, but the service can be bought out). But since the law is not retroactive and there are no provisions (yet?) in the proposal for those who are born with multiple nationalities (which is not considered voluntary acquisition), Turks can also continue passing down their citizenships, as according to Turkish law, anyone with a Turkish parent is Turkish. The only Turks the change in laws would affect would be those who come from Turkey to marry a Dutch citizen. It could also affect their children, but only if the imported partner chooses to become Dutch (and give up his or her citizenship) and the Dutch partner does not also hold Turkish citizenship.

Thus, in order to “Dutchify” a few imported Turkish partners and possibly some of their children, the rest of us who are imported partners, here or abroad, become the unintended victims. I should note that in identifying the PVV’s target, I certainly do not agree with it. I do not think it right that those imported Turkish partners should be targeted any more than anyone else or have less right to hold on to their original citizenships (nor do I agree with the minimum salary and education requirements). Of course they are just as much part of an international family as I am, with all of the choices and challenges that entails. And, just like me, they have the choice as to whether to become Dutch at all. After all, once we have a residence permit and have passed the integration requirements, we can stay here on a long-term residence permit as long as we want, outsiders forever.

So why does it matter whether we can become Dutch without giving up our original citizenships? I would argue that by letting us hold our original nationalities we are actually more likely to acquire Dutch nationality and to feel Dutch, and that if the proposal goes through we would actually see fewer people becoming naturalized Dutch citizens, and so the proposal would actually work against its stated aims.

I have already become Dutch. I turned in my application for citizenship soon after the first reports came out last year that restrictions in the law were being considered and swore my loyalty to the Queen in January. I now have three passports, as I was already a dual citizen of Canada and the US (I was born in Canada to American parents).

Would I have done so if it meant losing my other nationalities? The answer is unequivocally no. My mother lived in Canada for more than 30 years with her second husband, a Canadian, before she acquired that citizenship because she waited until the law changed and she could do so without losing her US passport. She feels Canadian, thinks like a Canadian and teaches Canadian children, but she did not want to be unable to return to the US, just in case. Similarly, we have no current plans to return to North America, but I also do not want to close that door. Nor should I have to. If something should happen to my relationship or partner, should I be forced to stay here or apply to immigrate back to my country of birth? If something were to happen to my parents or other family members and they needed my care, should I be prevented from going back to stay there? If we want our children to experience life in Mama’s country, if only for a year or two, shouldn’t they be able to?

So, should I have become Dutch if I still have these ties? Why not? Giving up my other citizenships would not get rid of the ties or change the reality of my having grown up in Canada. It would not change my loyalty to my country of birth, especially if I only gave up the citizenship under pressure. It would not implant childhood experiences of Sinterklaas and take away my Halloweens. It would not automatically make me fit in in Dutch social situations or take the accent away from my spoken Dutch. Only being fully accepted in the culture will start to do some of those things. Having the Dutch nationality will help, at least making me feel that I am Dutch. It has already started to do.

In the same way, if we did move to Canada and my husband, for whatever reason, be it getting a job with the government, running for office (as he is prone to do), fitting in with the rest of his family, or just making travel to the US less of a hassle, decided to acquire Canadian citizenship, should he then have to give up the chance to come back? Would giving up his Dutch citizenship make him less Dutch in his experiences and outlook? How would it serve the Netherlands to permanently lose a talented and highly educated citizen just because he has a Canadian wife?

The thinking behind the law is the simplistic idea that ones nationality is the same as ones national identity. Naturally, there is a connection. I feel more American than I would if I did not have a US passport, and my Dutch citizenship does make me feel more integrated here. But it is not a direct correlation. Whether or not we give up our original passports we will always feel bound to the place we are born and raised. These things have to do with our experiences, not our citizenships. And our ties to our new country will have to do with how much we are integrated into its fabric, not just whether that country has provided us with travel documents. And, of course, it is more than possible to feel a part of more than one country, just as we can love the multitude of people in our lives in different ways.

I do not have a problem with the idea that those who choose as individuals or families to move permanently to a new country should change their citizenships (though I question its utility, preferring the Canadian and American solution of making it difficult to pass on citizenship for multiple generations). But, for those of us who came here for love, we did not as much choose to come to the Netherlands as to come to live with our loves, and that makes all the difference.

The fact of it is that those of us who fell in love internationally will always have our hearts in both places and asking us to permanently choose either our lands and families of origin or becoming part of our partner’s land and family of origin is just too much to ask. We are already all too familiar with making hard choices in just deciding where to live, which grandparents to move away from, what languages to speak, how to overcome cultural differences and blend cultural traditions. We don’t need to choose citizenships as well, nor does it serve anybody’s needs to make us do that. In fact, in many, if not most, cases, we will not make that final choice of severing ourselves from our homelands, so making us choose will actually prevent our becoming Dutch, and thus our full integration, providing for the exact opposite outcome from the intent of the proposal. For me, in any case, letting me hold on to my roots has made me more likely to fully embrace my new land. Not allowing it would hold me outside forever.

[Update: As of August, the coalition has fallen and we are due for new elections in September, and this proposal is off the table for now. But there are noises that this or a similar proposal may be reintroduced by the next government so this essay is still valid.]