Saturday, December 8, 2007

Dual Citizenship

I often get email from students asking me questions about my science-fiction writing, but today's email contained questions from a student on an entirely different topic: dual citizenship (I hold both Canadian and American citizenship):
In my Honors Colloquium on immigration, the discussion arose about the merits and problems with dual citizenship. My instructor said he was against anyone having dual citizenship because of the loyalty issues.

If you have time, could you quickly answer a few questions for me?

How easy was it for your parents to get you dual citizenship? Were there extra steps they had to prove to get US Citizenship for you?

Do you find having dual citizenship is a benefit? Are there any concerns others have when they know you have dual citizenship?

Would my instructor be correct in that loyalty to both countries would be an issue, though Canada and the United States are not enemies?

And finally, concerning global issues and politics now, do you feel that dual citizenship should be as easy to acquire as it was forty years ago, or do you lean more toward limiting new dual citizenships to the point that they are almost eliminated?
My reply:
My mother was a US-citizen graduate student temporarily resident in Canada when I was born; mine was a foreign-soil birth to an American national temporarily abroad. She reported in person to the U.S. embassy in Ottawa upon giving birth in that city, and had my birth registered as such, which, in 1960, was sufficient to grant dual citizenship.

The benefits are obvious: I can freely live and work anywhere in Canada or the United States, and since my job is portable, and since I travel so much, that's a real plus. No one has ever reacted negatively to my circumstances, which, frankly, simply aren't that unusual anymore.

(The downsides: I file tax returns with both the IRS and the Canada Revenue Agency (although because of reciprocal treaties, I'm not doubly taxed, but it's still a pain); when US selective-service registration was reactivated in 1980, I had to -- and did -- register and was at risk of being drafted.)

Your instructor may be right about loyalty but is misguided in asserting its value, I feel; many of the world's problems today are caused by blind allegiance to a single country or block -- whether it's Iranian extremists, or "Homeland" security. When the European Union decided to simply walk away from a millennium of warfare among its members, the first step was making citizenship essentially EU-wide, eliminating much jingoistic partisanship.

And, just as the spread of multinational companies has ended the threat of much international war (it's impossible to conceive of the U.S. and Japan ever being in a shooting war again, since so many businesses have major presences in both countries), the deployment of people around the globe with larger-than-local allegiance gives us the wider perspective needed to tackle environmental issues that know no borders.

Indeed, your instructor is a bit of a throwback and misguided; it's easier today to acquire dual citizenship as an American than it was 40 years ago; 40 years ago, you essentially had to be born with it (as I was) -- now, the United States, very much in response to pressure from the rest of the world, which has long had a more enlightened attitude about this, much more readily recognizes dual citizenship.

Forty years ago, my mother could get her children dual US-Canadian citizenship, but there was no mechanism for her herself to obtain it; today, she could easily have both if she wanted to (and my great friend, SF writer Robert Charles Wilson, born in the US, but resident in Canada for four decades now, got his Canadian citizenship last year without the US requiring him to relinquish his American citizenship).

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


At December 08, 2007 6:02 PM , Anonymous XineF said...

I have UK/US dual citizenship via same route as you, plus Cdn citizenship since my parents took out Cdn citizenship on my behalf when I was too young to have any say in the matter.

What is interesting is that my Mum gave up her US citizenship when she became Canadian, as was required at the time (ca 1972). However, she has recently gotten it back and once again, holds a valid US passport.

At December 08, 2007 6:12 PM , Anonymous don said...

Interesting Rob. Thanks for that.

At December 09, 2007 12:41 AM , Blogger Edward Willett said...

I didn't know that about Robert Charles Wilson. In a bit of a coincidence, I just got my Canadian citizenship (thus making me a dual citizen) in October, after--yes--four decades' residence in Canada.

Is it the four decades, or the fact we're both SF writers whose names begin with Wi? probably all ties in to the Da Vinci Code somewhow...

At December 09, 2007 1:43 PM , Anonymous Don Quijote said...

And, just as the spread of multinational companies has ended the threat of much international war (it's impossible to conceive of the U.S. and Japan ever being in a shooting war again, since so many businesses have major presences in both countries)

There was no shortage of people who had similar thoughts pre-WWI, they were wrong, and I strongly suspect that you are too.

At December 09, 2007 1:51 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

We'll compare notes a few decades down the road, Don Quijote, since we're both on record now with our predictions (and me, with my identity not hidden, either). :)


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