Sunday, September 16, 2007

Fellow citizens...

Having survived the recent dental work I return with another major consideration for the expat. Does one take on citizenship in the host country? And, if so, how is that regarded within that country and by outsiders?

For temporary overseas postings, contract work, etc., there have long been agreements between countries for granting visas for living and working for a comparatively short period and systems for extending those permits. However, everything needs to be considered differently for a permanent move and one's rights within a country can depend on your country of origin. I have already recounted how obtaining a Carte de Sejour (the permit to live and work in France) used to be more straightforward than trying to register overseas cars in the country! Nevertheless, the residency permits were a fairly time consuming task, requiring you to provide endless personal documents, including proof that you had the means to support yourself - and one had to go through a renewal process every few years, the duration depending on one's circumstances.

Of course, the way around this requirement was eventually to apply for citizenship of the country, to obtain all the full rights of any French person. For many going to another country this is actually the only way to obtain security in another country, assuming that the application is accepted.

Well, Brits in France have not needed a Carte de Sejour for a few years now, following European agreements passing into French law and giving people from certain other European countries the automatic right to live and work in France. Despite this, there are those who still consider taking on citizenship - perhaps for added security or even just out of affection for their adopted country. Perhaps also another level of commitment to their "no going back" decision.

It is obviously understood if people need to apply for citizenship in order to live and work in a country and that was probably the reason for which most did it. However, how is that regarded when it is purely optional. Would some outsiders condemn it as "going native"? Do nationals of the host country truly accept you as one of them after you have passed through this process? Perhaps that depends on the individual but my feeling in the case of Brits in France is that one needs to ask the question is it appropriate personally to take this step - will one feel French and be accepted as such? Perhaps if there are children this might influence the decision, especially if they are born in the country.

However, perhaps rather than trying to adopt a specific nationality we should actually embrace the notion of being Europeans, as that is where the initiatives originated to abandon all the permits and start to break down some national boundaries. If we have children born in the new country then they will have the option to make their own choice later, rather than having the adopted nationality thrust upon them. Perhaps this approach will gradually help us all to feel citizens of the world rather than trying to maintain nationalist barriers. But then perhaps we need to consider if unique cultures may gradually be eroded...

Photo: Chance Agrella

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