Expat/citizenship Filter
November 30, 2008 3:02 AM   Subscribe

Expat/citizenship Filter: Before I became eligible to apply for citizenship in the country I live in, I was all for it. Now that it's six months past my first date of eligibility, I'm not so sure. Anyone else been through this process? Any advice? Any advice or stories from you wonderful Mefites to help a girl make up her mind?

I have permanent residency, so it isn't a question of needing to apply to be able to stay. In short, I can't see many practical reasons to apply. The only thing I can't do here is vote, but I can contact my MP if an issue fires me up. If I need to work outside the UK, the company sending me files any necessary visa paperwork for me.

If I were to apply, it would be for personal reasons only, at this point... or because the idea of not having a vote really started to bother me. It was my principal reason for considering an application in the first place, but now I'm not even sure who'd get my vote if I had one. Barring this past presidential election, I already have citizenship in a country where I often hold my nose and vote.

I'm not used to this kind of doldrums, so I fully admit that there might be something going on in the back of my head about commitment to the country I'm in now or conflicted feelings about my home country. The recent changes to immigration law in the UK won't affect my application (aside from the possible new volunteer hours provision). They have left a bad taste in my mouth, though, and brought up all sorts of thoughts about my own foreignness and the shaky sort of acceptance I've been able to win. Just what does that all mean? In other words, a lot of money and hassle and a new passport later, just what will citizenship change?

I'm getting a little tired of questions from friends and family on both sides of the Atlantic asking me about this application. The Americans seem to be divided convinced that I'd be nuts to not grab the chance to get an EU passport and dual citizenship. The Brits seem to be equally divided between people who see it as my final commitment to living here and people who don't understand why I'd want to cement ties to this country.

So, what says the hive mind?
posted by Grrlscout to Law & Government (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The main thing about being a citizen is they can't take it away from you. You have ILR now, presumably, on the basis of your workskills originally. If you leave the country for longer than two years, you may lose your ILR status. When you work abroad, you need to arrange visas to ensure you still have ILR when you re-enter.

Citizenship, and a passport, means you can truly call the UK your home. You can leave, and come back, as often as you like without having to file any more paperwork than carrying a passport. You're saying that the UK, and Europe by extension, are where you wish to rest your head. That it is *your* home. That government officials can't use you as a sacrifice to appease the baying tabloids.

My fiancee is French. She lives here because I live here, but she'll always be French at heart. We're thinking of finding somewhere else to live, as England seems to be getting less and less the country of my childhood. There's a darkness, a meanness of spirit that seems to be growing. I'll always be english, but I may not be living here that much longer myself.

In the end, you have to ask yourself - where am I going? What do I do next? If your plans don't include going away for a while, or only going elsewhere in Europe at least - or even if you imagine yourself leaving, but then coming back - get a passport.
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:30 AM on November 30, 2008

So, if I understand correctly, you are an American citizen and thinking about getting UK citizenship?

Do it. No doubt about it. An EU passport opens up the entirety of Europe for travel, work and living. Combine that with 'hassle-free' access to North America and you're safe as houses.

A UK passport/citizenship does not tie you down to a country; quite the opposite. A South African friend of mine got her citizenship in the UK and coincidentally got offered an opportunity to go work in Spain for a few years. Had she only had her South African passport, she would not have been able to do that.

My theory is that the more countries you can freely go to, the better. I'm having trouble seeing the bad sides (aside from the exam you have to take).
posted by slimepuppy at 3:37 AM on November 30, 2008

Best answer: I'm in the same boat you're in, and my reasons for going for it are:

1. Voting. Yeah, you can harass your MP without being able to vote (and believe me, I do), but you're paying your taxes, you're a part of your community, and you should have the right to vote him or her out if you're not happy.

2. Immigration Law. Yeah, right now, you're in your cushy permanent residency status, and it doesn't seem like much'll affect you, but with all the "crackdowns" and new legislature being brought in, it's better to be a citizen and have that security blanket than to see what new and exciting fucked-up rules they bring in. I mean, hell, we've already got "citizenship tests" and volunteering provision -- what's next? How much more is the price going to go up?

3. Passport Control. The amount of time I've had to stand in the "Non-EU" queue and wait and wait and wait while my husband just breezes through. And then they look at me funny when I have to point out my residency sticker, and it's just such a hassle.

4. That permanent residency sticker. Did you know it costs £160 just to have that little sticker transferred from one passport to the other? Sure, they say you can carry your old stickered passport with your new one, but how long is that going to last? And what are you going to do if you get the one cranky immigration officer who decides that, no, you're not the same person?

5. Anti-immigration hysteria. It will get worse during a recession. And while there's nothing you can do about the Daily Mail reader on the street, you can protect yourself against any legislation that the Daily Mail reading MPs bring into play. From the border control agents to the bored clerk at your local benefits office, being a UK citizen will help immensely.

Okay, maybe I'm a little paranoid. But, nonetheless. Better now, when you know what they want of you, than later, when all sorts of trouble could emerge.

(And if you need to commiserate with someone, just let me know...)
posted by Katemonkey at 3:48 AM on November 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

Go for it, if only because you lose it if you leave the UK, as ArkhanJG mentions.

I have a British passport, and whether I live there or not, the ability to travel easily around Europe is a huge bonus.

I can't deny there are issues of identity involved. I know others who have decided not to get the passport and have decided to leave, rather than what they felt as being tied to the UK forever. But passports are not permanent - you can renounce a citizenship if in the future you feel strongly that you no longer want to be a citizen.

Are you apprehensive about the KOL test? I lived in the Netherlands and they have a similar test, plus language requirements. I knew people who had been there for 15 years who baulked at having to take the test, but sadly it seems most countries are introducing similar tests these days. I'm planning on moving to the UK this year and my spouse will have to pass the KOL, which he's not too happy about.

Citizenship won't change you, but it should (hopefully) make life just a little bit easier, just one less thing to think about.
posted by wingless_angel at 3:50 AM on November 30, 2008

Voting - I've always been a non voter 'politicians are all the same' etc, but then I thought about what's changed since the last government was in power and decided that I will vote in the next election. You might not draw the same conclusions, but if you're staying here you might want to have a look at that, ask people who remember etc.
posted by Not Supplied at 4:00 AM on November 30, 2008

I don't see what you lose by accepting british citizenship. are you perhaps from a country that will require you to give up your old citizenship? if not - you gain the right to live and work anywhere in the european union and it's for life. emigrating to many commonwealth countries becomes easier as well. it's a deal for you with very little downsides.
posted by krautland at 4:04 AM on November 30, 2008

Best answer: For a few years, this had been an ongoing discussion 'tween me (U.S. citizen) and a friend from childhood, a Canadian citizen living in NYC who was on the fence about pursuing U.S. citizenship. He's long been politically active, in terms of being well-read, speaking his mind, was wishy-washy about getting U.S. citizenship. The thought, "If you don't vote, you don't get to complain" seemed to sink in.

In more directly pragmatic respects, he's not a human trainwreck or close, but he has been known to ingest things the law says he shouldn't. He realized that if he got caught as someone with legal-resident status, said status could change.... A good point someone above made; they can't take it away from you, relative to the individual's actions or those of politicians.

More ephemerally--and maybe this counts for nil among some people--there is a thought that it's more of a commitment than being somewhere in the muddled middle, relative to things operational and otherwise. It's along the lines of, "If someone has bacon and eggs for breakfast, the chicken was involved, but the pig was committed."

Wait, that doesn't cast committment in the best light, but hopefully the point is clear.

As an aside, It's struck me as a big enough deal that I always told my friend I'd go to the ceremony if he went for it and got it--thinking it would involve flying from Calif. to NYC for a long weekend or so. Then I moved. It'll be 14,000 miles r/t, but he's getting his mind around the thought that it's a big deal and I've always thought it was so I'll do it.
posted by ambient2 at 4:14 AM on November 30, 2008

It seems to me there are two parts to this question: One part is the patriotic 'love of country' type thing - you know, pledges and oaths of allegiance, flag-waving and all that. Are you willing to recite the oath, for example? That stuff is pretty much up to you personally.

The second issue is the practical things that will change. These are things we are more able to quantify.

As other people have identified, if you have a UK passport you can travel throughout Europe with no further documentation. You can also use the 'EU only' lane at customs.

Your legal status will become more mundane while in the UK as a UK citizen. This may make it simpler to fill out forms etc. For example, if someone wants proof of your right to work in the UK, show them your UK passport and that's all the proof they need. Or if you go to a university you will be a home fee payer without having to look through lots of documentation to see if your personal legal status qualifies.

You might qualify for a few additional things - for example, some research council funding for PhD students is only available to EU residents.
posted by Mike1024 at 4:42 AM on November 30, 2008

Do you think you will stay in the UK (or the EU) for the rest of your life? If so, then citizenship makes a lot of sense. And getting while you can also makes sense -- rules can change, quite quickly, in ways that can close doors that had seemed like they would always be open. Like people have said, it gives you pretty much unconditional access to the rights and privileges of a place, rather than the conditional access you have now.

But if this is a temporary move, something that you can see lasting a decade but then you might want to return to your home country to take care of aging parents or something -- in other words, you have more connections there than you do here -- then citizenship probably isn't the right move at this point in time.
posted by Forktine at 6:41 AM on November 30, 2008

Ok, something that hasn't been directly raised here yet but is a big deal - taxes.

Once you're a UK citizen you're open to global taxation. Got assets of any kind now - or expect to in the future - that aren't physically present in the UK? These aren't largely taxed on the UK side at present and if they are you can employ various constructs (e.g., Personal Asset Trust) to exclude them the UK taxes. While Inland Revenue is slowly chipping away at these tax shields, the simple fact of the matter is at present UK citizenship will come at an annual price.

Not only should you talk to an accountant to run the numbers, but you've got to keep in mind the bigger picture, the longer term view of public finances.

Keep in mind the absolutely dreadful state of the public purse here in England; so bad they are raising the top tax rate to some 61%!! Nobody really knows how long this will persist for and even if you leave the UK for another country, as a citizen they possible could assess taxes on you even if you're living in Australia, for example. Inland Revenue certainly have done so to UK born nationals, so don't expect to get treated any differently.

Without UK citizenship you leave and your tax obligation to England ends at a specific date. Its that simple.

I've lived in the UK for almost twelve years now so I've got the same decision, but mine is complicated by a couple of different factors.

First of all, non doms, as we're called, lose all right to exclude foreign assets from taxation after seventeen years continuous residence. So that decision is coming up.

Secondly, and this is highly personal but somewhat relevant; I'm married to a Dutch national and, truth be told, tax rates are somewhat more competitive in Netherlands than the UK, especially so after recent spate of changes. I may just opt for Dutch citizenship, but I'm still running numbers to see precisely which option I'll chose.

The flip side to all of this (as I've been looking at this from both perspectives) is that as non doms we don't vote so are an easily exploited minority here in the UK. They could, for example, sharply raise our taxes if they wanted to (indirectly of course) drive non citizens out the the labour pool.

Something to keep in mind if unemployment does spike to 10% or so as some have predicted.

No easy answers I'm afraid, but lots to chew on.
posted by Mutant at 6:54 AM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

It may not be relevant now but you may want to consider any potential children you may have. If my mother or her parents had registered her natural Irish citizenship (by birth through her Irish-born grandparents) earlier in her life, I would have been born automatically eligible for Irish citizenship. Instead, I'm ineligible for automatic (i.e. natural) Irish citizenship despite my mother's Irish citizenship. As I'm married to a European citizen, being an EU citizen would make my life considerably less complicated. Even if you have children with a non-EU citizen, your naturalized citizenship prior to their birth would generally guarantee your children's eligibility for natural citizenship.

Anecdotally, I'll soon be eligible for citizenship in a European country and I'll apply the day I'm eligible. For me, it has nothing to do with voting and revolves entirely around freedom of movement to and from my adopted home country and Europe as a whole. My wife is a European citizen only, my children are dual citizens, and we've moved to and from Europe multiple times (with attendant visa hassles), so I may have more incentive than you. But on the whole the positives seem to outweigh the negatives for anyone who is eligible for EU citizenship.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 8:09 AM on November 30, 2008

You are bonkers to think about this in terms of "cementing ties" and as a solemn anything, or to question what it means to your original citizenship, or anything like that. Neither the US nor the UK will ever give up anything of value to help you out; you should not give up something of value out of loyalty to either. You should think of this in straightforward win/loss terms for you.

You win: the right to live in Britain, or anywhere else in the EU, for the rest of your life, even if you're caught committing some crime.

You win: a more competitive position as a worker, since now it doesn't cost the firm that sends you a small pile of money to help you do visa stuff.

You win: a vote.

You win: maybe, a greater ability to get jobs with the UK government.

You lose: some taxes, possibly.

brought up all sorts of thoughts about my own foreignness and the shaky sort of acceptance I've been able to win

After you take UK citizenship, you will be no more foreign than you are now, and you will have at least as much acceptance as you have now.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:22 AM on November 30, 2008

Your ILR is only valid while you make the UK your home. If you're away from the UK for > 2 years the immigration authorities can, and likely will, revery ILR status. No such thing will happen with citizenship.
posted by gadha at 8:43 AM on November 30, 2008

another one - you can't stand for election, serve as an election agent or even be a member of the community council in some places if you ain't a citizen! This is royally pissing me off right now.
posted by By The Grace of God at 11:17 AM on November 30, 2008

My wife and I are originally from the US. We have lived in London since 2001, and became British citizens earlier this year. In part this was because of the practical advantages others in this thread have described; in particular, the freedom to live and work for a while anywhere in the European Union without needing a corporate sponsor to help me navigate the visa process was very appealing. But, for me, the more compelling motive ("bonkers" though it may have been) was because I wanted to express my solidarity with the people among whom I live and work, to become more fully a member of the community, the polity, in which I've deliberately chosen to live.

The British people with whom I've shared our decision to become citizens have almost uniformly expressed bemusement as their initial reaction, but they are almost always pleased as well. The decision has mostly had the effects I wanted it to have, and I recommend it. Feel free to MeFimail me if you'd like to discuss further. Good luck with whatever you decide. . . .
posted by muhonnin at 12:38 PM on November 30, 2008

To be clearer, the people I think are mildly bonkers are the ones who refuse to accept a new citizenship even though their home country allows or tolerates dual citizenship because doing so feels traitorous, or because they'd find citizenship in the new country to be somehow embarrassing.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:22 PM on November 30, 2008

I'm an American who got Australian citizenship a few years back. I didn't think much about it at first; I mostly did it so they could never kick me out. I was telling an older Australian friend a few weeks before the ceremony though, and she said something that really surprised me. She said, "Thank you. I really mean that. Thank you. I think it's wonderful when people decide to join us." It meant a lot to her that I was willing to stand up and pledge to be a part of the community, to take the good with the bad, to vote and serve on juries and fulfill all the responsibilities of being a citizen. And that completely changed it for me. These are people who've welcomed me for many years now, and the least I can do is stand up and be counted among them. This is where my life is now, and I'm glad I was able to commit to that.

I know it's pretty cheesy, and folks are probably right that you should think more about taxes and what's best for you. But for me, the symbolic gesture ended up being more important than anything else.

Plus, it's awesome AWESOME to piss off right-wingers back in the USA by blogging about how you get to vote in two countries. They hate that.
posted by web-goddess at 2:16 PM on November 30, 2008

Best answer: I totally know where you are coming from. I didn't jump at becoming a U.S. citizen at once when I became eligible, because at the time it would have meant resigning my Swedish citizenship. When the rules changed so that I could keep both, however, I pondered it a while and then decided to start the process. The Pros of the decision were all the things people have said generally in here. Plus it made a lot more sense, given that I don't see myself going back to Sweden anytime soon.

But it was still a very emotional decision for me, because it DID feel like betrayal of my roots, which translated to feeling like I was betraying my family and friends that I left behind. It was pretty irrational, but it wasn't as easy to just "shake it off" as it sounds. However, in my case, it was clearly the right decision - I am now happily a dual citizen. Know that you don't have to give up your culture and who you are just because of the paperwork going through. Living overseas, I find that I have become much more careful about continuing traditions from back home and much more interested in retaining my unique "Swedishness". It is a huge part of who I am, and will always be so, even if I now happen to have a U.S. passport.

Just try to weigh the pros and cons for you, and do what feels right. If you decide that it's better to just keep it like it is now - fine, just wait until you are ready (if ever). Or if you decide to go ahead, just do it. Forget about the people pestering you about it. Just say that you are still making up your mind, and you will tell them once you know more. I know it's an important decision, but it shouldn't be something that you walk around and worry about. Make a decision, and you'll feel a whole lot better - no matter what you ultimately decide to do.
posted by gemmy at 2:33 PM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

In my experience, you pay a ton of money and spend a ton of time getting the permanent residency. It's great, except for one thing -- it's not realy permanent. To me, getting the dual citizenship was like the icing on the cake. It took very little efforrt, didn't change much about my privileges -- but it made sure that all the paperwork I worked so hard to get done wouldn't be undone if I decided to go back home and live there for a couple years.

The cons: you have to maintain two valid passports (can be a pain in the butt.)

The pro: everything else.

I honestly don't know why anyone wouldn't cement their hard-won permanent residency with citizenship, which is REALLY permanent (unless, of course, they'd have to give up their original citizenship, which you wouldn't have to do.)
posted by peggynature at 2:49 PM on November 30, 2008

Best answer: Are you maybe in two minds about where you see yourself living long term, or do you feel guilty about missing family holidays and things back home? I can relate to that, but have been able to separate all that from my citizenship.

I just downloaded application forms for Canadian citizenship (I'm from Ireland) and it's purely for the practical stuff listed above. I did feel a bit bad about this at first too, because I have a number of friends who consider themselves Irish citizens and canadian/american "passport holders", and realistically that's what I'll consider myself too. But I live in Canada and contribute to the place so I will apply.

I used to live in the states and would have to run into the Irish consulate in NYC every so often. I would always meet people applying for Irish citizenship who'd never even visited the damn country - the closest they got to contributing to Ireland was having some tacky phrase as gaeilge tattooed somewhere visible. If you were in their situation, wasting government time and money for vanity passports, you might feel some guilt and unease (not that they ever did). You and I are okay.
posted by jamesonandwater at 4:32 PM on November 30, 2008

Response by poster: Wow - thank you, all of you, for taking the time on a Sunday to give me such thoughtful advice. (And to vacapinta for sorting out my newbie post snafu) I don't want to go all oversincere beauty pageant contestant here, but I'm impressed and grateful in equal measure. :) I'm being mauled by a kitten as I type this, so if it cuts out randomly, please forgive!

I came on here on a spousal visa, and am here for as long term as you reasonably can predict. My husband's family was the principal reason we decided to move to the UK, as they're elderly (FIL is 83, MIL is 75). They're healthy and active, but they are just at that age where it's best to have their kids close by. My own parents haven't hit retirement age yet, so it wasn't a tough choice. My English husband also did not really like it that much in the States. It just didn't suit him - from the politics to television to the overwhelming niceness and lack of casual sarcastic banter. If I moved from the UK, I'd be leaving without him. That isn't in the cards, so... here I stay. He himself is neutral about the idea of me becoming a citizen. If there are practical reasons to have me apply, fine, but he's made it clear that he really isn't in the "love me, love my country" camp. After all, he loves me and he doesn't exactly love my country.

I think the main ambivalence comes down to the fact that if I became British through citizenship, I'd never consider myself British. English? Never. Not in a hateful way, but just that I'm not of the tribe. I married into it, but that's kind of where it begins and ends. American citizenship is more inclusive than that, I think.

You all have given me a lot to think about. I do live here, and though I pay taxes and play nicely in the sandbox, I do think it might be time to make that extra step of commitment. The oath is an issue, true, but as laws have to be signed by the queen anyway, if I uphold the law I am defacto upholding her authority and wishes... I can wiggle a bit and find a way to make that oath. As it stands, it does seem that the current situation is a little lopsided. I live here as long as someone says I can, despite my contributions or wishes or commitment or pets or family ties.

Right, time to take that immigration attorney friend of a friend out for a pint, methinks!
posted by Grrlscout at 11:13 PM on November 30, 2008

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