Saturday, February 18, 2017

World Citizens?

Switzerland recently held one of its regular referendums. Some 60% of Swiss voters voted in favor of making it easier for third-generation immigrants to obtain citizenship. Children born in Switzerland do not automatically become citizens. The recent measure doesn’t change this, but it does speed up the approval process for Swiss-born people whose parents and grandparents have permanent residence status in the country. The measure is expected to benefit around 24,000 people, most of whom are Italian, followed by people from the Balkans and Turkey. 

People moving across the world, be they immigrants or refugees, has sparked concern in AustraliaEurope and the United States.

Debates over what it means to be a “true” American, Australian, German or other nationality have often highlighted the importance of a person being born in a particular country. But contrary to such rhetoric, a Pew Research Center survey finds that people generally place a relatively low premium on a person’s birthplace.
Only 13% of Australians, 21% of Canadians, 32% of Americans and a median of 33% of Europeans believe that it is very important for a person to be born in their country in order to be considered a true national.

There are some exceptions – Hungary (52%), Greece (50%) and Japan (50%) – where about half the public considers birthplace to be very important. But in other nations – Germany (13%), Australia (13%) and Sweden (8%) – very few people make a strong connection between the locale of one’s birth and national identity.

In 2015, 13.9% of the U.S. population was foreign born. This proportion has increased from 4.7% in 1970. An additional 11.9% of those living in the U.S. are second-generation immigrants. So roughly a quarter of the public are immigrants or the sons and daughters of immigrants. Against this backdrop, only about a third (32%) of people in the U.S. believe that to be truly American it is very important to have been born in the United States. Nearly a quarter (23%) say it is somewhat important, while a fifth (21%) think it is not important at all.

In Canada, where 20.0% of the population is made up of immigrants, about two-in-ten say it is very important (21%) that a person be born in Canada to be considered truly Canadian. 

In Europe, relatively few subscribe to idea of birthright nationality. Notably, in the Netherlands (16%), Germany (13%) and Sweden (8%), fewer than one-in-five believe birthplace is a very important component of national identity.

Despite recent public debate about limiting immigration, just 13% of Australians say a person’s place of birth is very important to national identity – perhaps reflecting an acknowledgement that roughly one-in-four Australians (27.7%) were in fact born overseas. Nearly seven-in-ten Australians voice the view that where a person is born is not very important or not important at all.

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