Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Dual Citizenship: Germany and Japan

In conclusion, a comparison of countries with very different geographical and historical situations demonstrates the weight of legal tradition in the establishment of rules for citizenship.  Substantive convergence takes place within preexisting legal frames and occurs only when states are subjected to important contradictions,  Historical traditions in the matter of citizenship were in fact modified when disjunctures appeared between the consequences of traditional law and either the interest of the state itself or that of individuals who could legitimately claim a right to become citizens.  Despite much academic writing to the contrary, there is no causal link between national identity and nationality laws.
Patrick Weil
Citizenship Today:  a Global Perspective
Despite traditional aversion to the idea of dual (or plural) nationality, it has become more and more common. No state seems to like the idea very much but most have come to some accommodation with it. There are many good reasons for this:  the desire to maintain some hold over one's diaspora, the hope that some will eventually return, the possibility of losing citizens permanently to another nation, the wish to bind immigrants and their children tightly to the state in which they reside, and the sheer impossibility of controlling the creation and application of other state's citizenship laws.

And, of course, things change: a country of emigration becomes a country of immigration or vice versa, borders settle or are reset, other institutions arise (like the EU) and must be accounted for,  and, let's face reality, people today are on the move more than ever.  I think Patrick Weil is right, national identity may be one of the least important factors when it comes to making citizenship law.

However, a few countries have had the reputation of being rather stubborn about dual nationality. Germany and Japan are known to be rather hostile to the idea and what I had seen up to now seemed to confirm that.   Then I realized that much of what I have read about German and Japanese citizenship law is fairly dated and so I thought it would be interesting to have a look at what these countries are saying today on the subject.  And what I came up with, using information from the their foreign consulate websites, showed a far more nuanced position.....

Germany:   Germany has a reputation for very strict application of jus sanguinis citizenship laws and some of the more scathing attacks on plural nationality that I have come across in my reading came from German courts.  However, a look at the Canadian German Consulate General website's page on dual nationality reveals something quite different:
While the German rules on citizenship are based on the principle of avoiding dual citizenship,this principle does not apply to children who receive dual citizenship through descent from their parents (e.g. a German mother and a Canadian father). Also, children born in Canada to one or more parent(s) who hold the German citizenship at the time of the birth of the child may be dual citizens by law. From a German legal perspective, children who have held two (or sometimes more) citizenships from the time of their birth for the above described reasons will not have to decide for either of the citizenships when they turn 18.  
Another German Consulate website (U.S.) confirms this.  In addition it appears that any German wishing to acquire another nationality through naturalization can also ask to retain German citizenship.  The request is called "Beibehaltungsgenehmigung" and is granted (or not) on an individual basis.

So Germany does allow for dual citizenship under certain circumstances. This has not always been the case and so one has to wonder why it was changed.  Patrick Weil's take on it was that German citizenship law was for many years influenced by its unstable borders (the division of Germany), the large German diaspora abroad and the presence of large numbers of immigrants on her soil.    So one could argue that unification meant that laws could be reviewed and modified within the context of jus sanguinis tradition to reflect new realities.

Japan:  The Japanese Ministry of Justice webpage, The Choice of Nationality, seems to be very clear on the subject:
A Japanese national having a foreign nationality (a person of dual nationality) shall choose either of the nationalities before he or she reaches twenty two years of age (or within two years after the day when he or she acquired the second nationality if he or she acquired such nationality after the day when he or she reached twenty years of age). If he or she fails to choose either of the nationalities, he or she may lose Japanese nationality. So, please don't forget the choice of nationality. 
Are there exceptions to this? Yes, it appears for example, that a Japanese national who is granted citizenship in another state for extraordinary service to that state (which many states do - including Japan) may keep it since he/she did not actually request it.

Also a quick pass through some of the message boards on the Net on this subject shows that at least some Japanese nationals simply fail to report the acquisition of another nationality to the Japanese government and continue to renew their Japanese passports.  And this reveals an important weakness in all laws limiting plural nationality by a state - just how is that state going to enforce such laws beyond its borders since, to my knowledge, there is no such thing as a worldwide citizenship database, in which all countries declare its citizens to other states.

A Japanese citizen abroad probably would have to do something very public in the host country for the Japanese to be aware that its citizen has naturalized in another state.  Something like election to public office or winning the Nobel Prize for Physics, for example.  The latter did in fact occur in 2008 when Yoichiro Nambu won and it was initially reported in the Japanese press that a Japanese had won the prize and then the unsettling news came in:  Nambu was born Japanese but at the time he won the Nobel he was a naturalized citizen of the United States.  This meant that, under Japanese nationality law, he was not a Japanese citizen, and so Japan was deprived of any claim to having a Nobel Prize winner that year.  

In response to this a committee was set up by the Liberal Democratic Party to review the nationality act with the idea of examining the possibility of allowing dual citizenship under some circumstances.  I was unable to find more information about the results of their deliberations.  If anyone has more information, please feel free to leave a comment and links.

As much as states would like to eliminate plural nationality, they face enormous obstacles in making this a reality.  Enforcement is simply impractical in many cases and may even be against national interests.  Over the years there has been a convergence toward tolerating plural nationality and, for all the rhetoric that comes out during election cycles, it seems highly unlikely that this trend will be reversed.  It is simply not in anyone's interest to do so.

4 comments:

Le Chroniqueur Berliniquais said...

I'm not an expert on the question, but as a foreigner living in Germany, I can even add some info regarding the history and current legal situation here on this topic: until the late 1990s, acquiring the German nationality was a very complicated business unless one could prove German ancestry (the notion of "jus sanguinis"), which meant foreigners' prospects of becoming Germans were quite slim even after decades of presence in the country. This also applied to their children and grandchildren. Germany lived in the illusion that it was not an immigrant nation. Indeed, it had not been much of one until the 1950s, so this was never meant to be an issue. Since the 1960s, the number of foreigners established here has swelled, but Germany was in denial, believing that most of these immigrants/expats would eventually go home, after 2, 5 or 10 years - they were the "guest-workers" (Gastarbeiter), the name says it. However, surprise, surprise, they didn't. And something had to be done about the problem of having so many people who now called Germany home but few prospects of acquiring citizenship. Naturalisation laws were eased in the 1990s, but because of conservative elements among lawmakers, the ban on dual citizenship was maintained, so residents eligible for naturalisation still had to renounce their home citizenship, except if some loopholes allowed them not to (there are some citizenships you cannot renounce, for example if you're a Moroccan or a Mexican by birth, no matter how many nationalities you acquire during your lifetime, the Moroccan or Mexican authorities will never cease to regard you as a citizen). This also has been evolving, but quite slowly because of the general hostility of the centre-right parties to the idea of dual citizenship.

Over the decade from 2000, Germany granted the possibility of dual citizenship to French people, then EU nationals, Swiss citizens and Israelis, and I read in some papers that this may also change for foreigners coming from some other countries outside the EU (possibly North America), although on this I suppose it is more a theoretical debate than actual changes. The elephant in the room is Turkey of course: at the moment, there is no end in sight to the current situation of not permitting dual citizenship for Turks who want to acquire the German nationality. The following article gives the point of view of an American living in Germany on the question: http://www.thelocal.de/opinion/20111026-38467.html

Unfortunately, all comments on this thread have been removed, because the discussion had been swamped by the usual right-wing bigots (mostly Americans...). It's a pity because some of them were actually more informative than the column itself.

Greetings from Berlin! :-)

Victoria FERAUGE said...

And thank you for another great link and for adding to my knowledge about dual citizenship in Germany.

You made an excellent point which is that countries can't make their citizenship laws in a vacuum. It really does depend on what other states do and enforcement outside states' border is almost impossible.

Question for you: I know that Germany has not traditionally considered itself a "country of immigration" but do they think of themselves as a "country of emigration"?

Le Chroniqueur Berliniquais said...

Hehe, this is "une colle", what you're asking me. My impression is that Germans seem to be a bit more comfortable with the idea of large numbers of nationals settling abroad than French people are. Most Germans I know (and with which we had a reason to discuss the coming point) have relatives in North or South America, Australia, South Africa, etc. The country was so destroyed and abjectly poor after the war that many people left. I'm under the impression that they're a bit less sentimental than the French about people emigrating, even if they like their country of course: if a better life awaits you abroad, then just go for it. There's this TV show called "Bye Bye Deutschland" which I think has quite an audience, but I never watched it.

But I could be kind of wrong.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

I didn't mean to put you on the spot and it was not at all meant to be a trick question. But it is something I am curious about because different countries have very different relationships to their diasporas (and all countries have them). My sense is that people from the UK are like Germans - they do expatriate and there does not seem to be any overt disapproval of this by other nations. The Americans, on the other hand, are (in my experience) very judgmental about their emigrants and treat their diaspora as though it was invisible. It's a discordant note in the music that is the American narrative.

But I was very interested take on the German perception. I've heard the hypothesis that countries that have large numbers of emigrants tend to like jus sanguinis laws because it allows them to keep the link alive with their diasporans and their descendants. I tried thinking about this using my own family as an example. My grandmother on my father's side was a second-generation German-American. Her parents had immigrated in the 19th century to Missouri and she herself was born in the US. Under jus sanguinis laws my grandmother was German. Under jus soli she was an American citizen. Her identity clearly incorporated both since she knew some German and was willing to self-identify as an American of German blood. On the other hand she, to my knowledge, never visited Germany and had little or no contact with the family in Europe. I know that never entertained any idea of leaving the US. Nevertheless in her was this tenuous connection to a place she had never lived and it did make a difference - she was (for want of a better term) "pro-German." That link made her more trustful of Germans than French, for example, and more inclined to see good intentions even in the middle of the darkest conflict. Multiply that link and that attitude by hundreds of thousands of people in a host country and you have something quite powerful on your side. Your diasporans are a real asset.

Now if I could just convince Americans of this. :-)