Passport and ticket (details blurred).

Making your own rules for national citizenship

There is no unified agreement around the world, or even within Europe, on when or why a person can become a citizen of a nation. But, what do you think is important when deciding what makes someone a citizen?

In this activity, imagine that you have been given total control over the laws concerning citizenship in an imaginary new country. Come up with some rules which you think should be applied for people wanting to become a citizen of your country.

We don’t expect you to be able to come up with a complete list. To start, look at the different factors presented below and choose one or two that you think are important. Use the questions under each heading as a starting point to come up with some rules you think would be fair. Then, post your rules in the comments to join the discussion.

What do you think is fundamental to the idea of citizenship?

Factors to consider:

How long does a person have to live in your country before they can apply for citizenship?

  • Should there be a time limit?
  • If so, how long should it be?

Is language important for citizenship?

What language requirement will you set:

  • A basic level of language: eg being able to understand an announcement at a train station or ordering in a cafe or restaurant.
  • An intermediate level of language: eg being able to hold a casual conversion, and understanding simple articles in a newspaper.
  • Advanced language skills: eg being able to read advanced and complex texts, and being able to debate complex issues
  • Being a native speaker of the language.

Does marriage affect citizenship?

  • Should marriage or a civil partnership be a direct route to citizenship?
  • If a person marries a citizen, do they automatically get citizenship even if the couple do not live in the country, or only if the couple are living in the country at the time?
  • Do they only get citizenship after a set number of years of marriage? If so, how long do the couple need to be married or in a civil partnership?

Can you inherit citizenship, even if you do not live in the country (and were not born there)?

Is a person automatically given citizenship if:

  • Either of the parents are citizens?
  • Either one of the parents or grandparents is a citizen of the country?
  • They can prove any ancestor was a citizen of the country, however far back in time?

Wealth and investment in the country:

  • If this is a factor, how much would a person need to invest in the country?
  • Is there criteria for what kind of investment it has to be (property, industry, government bonds)?

Participating in military or civil service:

  • How long would someone need to serve to achieve citizenship?
  • Would service in the military give automatic citizenship, or just affect other factors (for example, reduce the time a person needs to live in the country)?

Knowledge of the country’s political or governmental systems:

  • How important would it be for a person to have a good knowledge of political and governmental systems?
  • How would this knowledge be judged?

Good character:

  • Can citizenship be affected by evidence of ‘bad’ character, such as a police conviction or time spent in prison?
  • If so, what are the criteria?

Contribution to society:

  • Do you want to set requirements for active participation in society, for example volunteering or charity work?

What other factors might you wish to consider?

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This article is from the free online course:

Unleash Your Potential: Global Citizenship

University of Bristol