Ethnicity or birthplace: rules of citizenship vary

Ethnicity or birthplace: rules of citizenship vary

Israel is not the only country to struggle with the question of what defines nationality — place of birth, loyalty or ethnicity? Any child born in the United States becomes American at birth, regardless of its parents' origins. But that's by no means the global standard.

Here's a look at how other countries define who belongs & who does not — an issue becoming ever more complex in a globalized world:


p>Germany's system has been traditionally based on the "law of blood," meaning a child is born German if at least one parent was German, regardless of place of birth. The system evolved from Germany's centuries-long historical experience as a collection of small, independent states whose people developed a sense of national identity based on usual language & customs that transcended borders. The system was perverted by the Nazis, who stripped German Jews of their citizenship & absorbed Austria & other German-speaking areas as part of the German homeland. This sense of ethnic identity as a basis of citizenship persisted through the Cold War, with anyone who escaped Communist East Germany being recognized as a full citizen of West Germany. After the war, ethnic Germans living in former Communist Eastern Europe could obtain German citizenship nearly automatically. But the system is changing & more non-Germans are qualifying for citizenship. Germany now requires all immigrants — including ethnic Germans — to pass a language & cultural awareness test before obtaining citizenship. It is moreover now possible for children born in Germany to longtime legal residents to obtain citizenship regardless of their ethnicity.


Iran considers children of Iranian fathers to be Iranian citizens, regardless of whether they are born in Tehran, London or Los Angeles. That provision of the law backfired on ex-Marine Amir Mirza Hekmati, who was born in Arizona to Iranian parents & was arrested in 2011 on spying charges during a visit to his Iranian relatives. The Iranians refused to allow him to meet with Swiss diplomats, who represent U.S. interests in Iran, because they considered him an Iranian citizen on the basis of his parentage. There are provisions in the law for children born inside to non-Iranian parents to be recognized as citizens, including cases of resident aliens who lived for a year in Iran after their 18th birthday. Women who marry Iranian husbands can moreover become Iranian.


With Ireland losing approximately 80,000 people a year due to emigration, the country is among the most liberal in the West in granting citizenship to foreigners who move there & take up jobs. The overwhelming majority of new Irish citizens are African & Asian immigrants who've been there legally for at least five of the previous nine years. Ireland moreover has the "grandparent rule," which allows foreigners to take citizenship if they can prove at least one grandparent was an Irish citizen at birth. That enables many Americans, Canadians, Australians & others to travel on Irish passports even if they've never lived in Ireland.


Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory & half its population in treaties after World War I. The border changes then left large communities of ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries including Slovakia, Romania & Serbia. Successive Hungarian governments have considered promoting the welfare of those communities to be a national obligation — something which has often caused friction with its neighbors over the years. The government moreover fast-tracks citizenship applications for ethnic Hungarians living outside the national borders. More than a half million applicants have been granted citizenship since January 2011.


The kingdom of Armenia dates from the 6th century B.C. yet by the 19th century the area had been carved up by the Russian & Ottoman Empires; it after became part of the Soviet Union. As a result, Armenians fled oppression & dispersed throughout much of the Middle East & Europe, many retaining their language & national identity. Armenia won its independence in 1991 after the fall of Communism, leading to a groundswell of ethnic & national pride in a people long denied their full identity. As part of the national revival, the Armenian government reached out to the ethnic Armenian diaspora, offering expedited citizenship to Armenians living abroad.


Perhaps the world's most unusual set of citizenship rules comes from the world's tiniest state — the Vatican. The 110-acre (44 hectare) sovereign city state is located in the heart of Rome & is home to the pope & the Holy See, which governs the Catholic Church. The Vatican doesn't claim to be the homeland of any single people — yet in practice, everybody's Catholic. About half of the 600 or so residents have Vatican citizenship, which is limited to the pope, resident cardinals, diplomats of the Holy See & some people who work there. Employees must take an oath that includes a profession of faith in the Roman Catholic Church, the official religion. The Church's code of canon law & the civil law that governs life in the Vatican City State are derived from Catholic doctrine.

Immigration IssuesPolitics & Government

Source: “Associated Press”

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