Is citizenship an end point, a reward for being ‘integrated’, in effect a personal benefit that enables an individual to claim a variety of rights? Or is it part of a process, a social good that facilitates cohesion? Is citizenship an end in itself, or is it a means to a cohesive society?
The obvious answer is that it is both an individual reward and a social good, but they have very different policy implications. If citizenship is primarily a reward that gives access to resources its restriction is part of what gives it value, while if it is primarily a social good, that suggests that there is a benefit in facilitating the broadest possible access to it. While the current citizenship debate had its basis in concerns about cohesion, the tests and other restrictions have in practice become obstacles to achieving the legal status, rather than enablers of integration.
Most of the public debate on immigration has been conducted about entry rather than about settlement. However the new focus on net migration is concerned with ‘numbers in’ balancing ‘numbers out’. There is no explicit interest in the citizenship of the numbers in and numbers out, and in 2009/10 for instance the net migration figure increased even though the numbers in declined because fewer British nationals left the UK. The only group whose movement can be directly controlled in and out are non-EEA nationals.
The focus on net migration means that there is an interest in discouraging the settlement of non-EU migrants in particular as the one group whose movement out can be overtly facilitated. Current Home Secretary Teresa May has stated that it is ‘too easy at the moment to move from temporary residence to permanent settlement’ (Home Office 2010). As discussed above, because of the increasingly close relation between settlement and formal citizenship, this has direct implications for citizenship.
Making settlement and citizenship more difficult can help to limit net migration by encouraging churn and in effect may be used to enable long stay to be limited to those with high human capital. However, there are also risks to such policies. Increasing the proportion of migrants who have temporary stay will result in a growing number of people residing in the UK with very limited rights. For migrants who wish to stay longer than the initial period granted by their visa there are three options, overstaying, renewing their visa (i.e. extending their temporary stay), or changing to a different visa status.
Depending on how the legislation is implemented and on the particular conditions attached to their entry, this would have different consequences. One consequence of increased numbers of people on temporary visas that are valid for a period of several years is that some will become parents while they are resident in the UK. These children will not be British citizens. In this way there is a risk that citizenship and settlement policies make integration and cohesion more difficult rather than easier.