What does it mean to be a citizen? Listen to find out!

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Vocabulary List

Citizenship (n) – the state of being a member of a particular country and having rights because of it:

He was granted Canadian citizenship.

Universal (adj) – Existing everywhere or involving everyone

Music is often thought of as a universal language 

allegiance (n) – Loyalty or support for a ruler, country, group, or belief

Soldiers have to swear allegiance to the King

inclusion (n) – the act of including someone or something in a group

She is being considered for inclusion in the Olympic team

exclusion (n) -the act of not allowing someone or something to take part in an activity or join a group

Her exclusion from the list of Oscar nominees was shocking 

To naturalise (v) – to make someone a legal citizen of a country they were not born in

He is a naturalised US citizen

mutually exclusive (adj) – to things that cannot happen together, or incompatible 

Flexibility and productivity are not mutually exclusive 

contribution (n) – something that you give or do to help produce or achieve something together with other people, or to help make something successful

All contributions, no matter how small, will be much appreciated 

benefits (n) – money given by the government to people who need financial help, for example because they cannot find a job

Unemployment benefit

What does it mean to be a citizen of a country? How do you become a citizen of a country? What are the roles and responsibilities of a citizen? These questions are not as easy to answer as you might imagine. From a young age, we are taught through national education, our families, and even the media what it means to be a citizen, but what we are taught is not universal. In fact, the answers to these questions vary dramatically between different countries, states, and regions. 

Let’s start with the question, what is a citizen? What does it actually mean to be a citizen? According to the Oxford Dictionary, a citizen is ‘a legally recognized subject or national of a state or commonwealth, either native or naturalized.’ In more simple terms, it is a person who belongs to, gives allegiance to, and has the rights and protections of a country. As a citizen your country has a responsibility for you, and you also have a responsibility to your country. Moreover, Citizenship can be thought of in terms of inclusion and exclusion to different parts of a society. In return for accepting a country’s laws and values, citizenship gives rights including social welfare, political representation, and basic freedoms to the citizens. Maybe this explanation has been a little confusing, so i’ll try to make it a little clearer. As a citizen, you agree to obey the country’s laws, pay tax, and represent your country. And in return, you might be able to vote in elections, receive free health care, and get a pension. 

So, how do you become a citizen? Well the Oxford dictionary definition of a citizen i mentioned earlier talked about native and naturalised citizens. What is the difference? A native citizen has always been a citizen of a country, since they were born. While a naturalised citizen was born a citizen of a different country but changed as they got older. Ok, that doesn’t seem too complicated, right? But how do you become a native citizen?

There are 2 main ways, often called jus soli and jus sanguinis. But these are Latin terms and my Latin language is very bad, so let’s just say by birth and by blood. Traditionally the most common form of citizenship around the world has been by blood. This means that if your parents are citizens of a country, so are you. Normally it only has to be 1 parent, but there are some countries which only allow citizenship to be inherited from fathers. By birth citizenship, however, is very common in the Americas but rare everywhere else. Often referred to as birthrights, it means anyone born on a country’s territory is a citizen. It doesn’t matter if your parents are citizens, workers, or illegal immigrants, as long as you were born there you are a citizen. These 2 systems are not mutually exclusive, countries like the USA have both by birth and by blood citizenship. 

So how about naturalized citizens? How do you change your citizenship? Well, the answers to these questions are very different around the world. Some countries are relatively easy to become a citizen of. For instance Mexico. People can apply for Mexican citizenship after five years of residency in the country.  This can be reduced to two years if the applicant is of Mexican descent, has Mexican children, has been married to a Mexican for two years, or has contributed (culturally, athletically, socially, scientifically, artistically, etc.) to Mexico.

Other countries allow you to buy citizenship. The Caribbean islands of St. Kitts & Nevis, for example, are currently offering a 23% discount on citizenship through the end of 2020. With a $150,000 contribution to the country’s “Sustainable Growth Fund” and a minimum real estate investment of $200,000, a family of four can obtain passports. The contribution is usually $195,000.

However, in other countries it can be extremely difficult, almost impossible, to become a citizen. In the middle eastern country of Qatar, if your father is not Qatari, then neither are you, even if your mother is. If you have been a legal resident of Qatar for 25 years without leaving the country for more than two consecutive months (among other requirements), you can apply for citizenship. The Doha News reported that Qatar only naturalizes about 50 foreigners a year. Additionally, naturalized citizens are not treated the same way under the law as citizens born in Qatar, likely because the country provides very generous government benefits that would be costly to extend to all citizens.

So why naturalise? Why change your citizenship? In many countries immigrants are not able to access the same benefits as citizens. For long term immigrants and permanent residents, who often live in a country for 20 or more years, they might want to vote, access a national pension, receive unemployment benefit, free health care, education, or anything citizens might be entitled to. 

Final thought

What will the future of citizenship be? The world we live in is changing. More so than ever, people are moving and traveling around the world for leisure, work, and study. There are also more international marriages, and children being born with parents from different countries. But what does this mean for citizenship? Traditional citizenship is based on loyalty to a single country. The idea of citizenship was developed long ago, when international travel was normally a one-way trip with no prospect of return. But now there are many people who are not from a single country. If your mother is Italian, your father is Korean, you were born in South Africa, but raised in the USA, which country are you from? You might feel like you are from many different countries, but maybe only able to be a citizen of one. 

So maybe, as the world becomes more international, citizenship might become more international. Actually, citizenship needs to be more international. 

What do you think?

Comprehension Questions

  1. What is a naturalised citizen?

2. How much does it cost to become a citizen of St Kitts and Nevis in 2020?

3. If your mother is from Qatar, but your father is not, are you a native Qatari citizen? 

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

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