Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Frenchlings and the Fruits of Multilingualism

This week the younger Frenchling and I took the shinkansen to Tokyo.  The train system here in Japan is a marvel - clean, fast and comfortable,  Lovely ladies in cute caps glide through the aisle with drinks and snacks.  Conductors walk through the car making sure everything is as it should be, and when they reach the end, they turn and bow to the passengers.  From Osaka, Kyoto is a mere 30 minutes away;  Tokyo about two and a half hours.  A superior form of travel.

When the Flophouse relocated to Tokyo years ago, the Frenchlings studied at the Lycée Franco-Japonais (now known as the Lycée Français International de Tokyo).  They liked the school; I loved it.  It was this school that finally flipped on the English switch in my little darlings' psyches.

Prior to our moving to Japan the first time the Frenchlings attended French public school and their French was solid.  English, my first language, was used at home (One Parent, One Language) but it was the inferior language - the one their Red, White and Blue mother imposed on them for their own good.   That was my justification at the time  - that I was going to all this trouble to make English a living language in our house for them.  In retrospect, I see that it was a much for my benefit as theirs.  Bilingualism was a standard I set for our family that would prove that I was a good mother and a good American.  Oh, the tyranny of parental expectations!

Under my tutelage, and with the help of family in the US, they made progress and could understand spoken English and answer in the same when it was required of them.  But for all my efforts I could not make them love the language, or even force them to place English at the same level as French.  And once they left the house to go to school in Suresnes or Versailles, English was demoted to a household language spoken by an immigrant mother which had no utility - none of their friends spoke it and authority figures like teachers didn't value it.  Worse, it made them different, and what child wants to be different from her peers?

All that changed when we moved to Tokyo.  The Lycée Franco-Japonais was an international school that served the children of French expatriates and other nationalities who aspired to send their children to France for university.  This well-educated, well-heeled population had very high standards for the education of their offspring.  The parents also had a very different worldview - for many of these French families Japan was their second, third or fourth country. For all that the school followed the French national curriculum and taught for the French bac, multiculturalism  and multilinguism were the norm;  knowing only one language or culture was the exception.   (When the elder Frenchling moved to the US after university she was rather taken aback to be told by some of her American friends that her experiences in France and Japan were not what they meant by "multiculturalism".  Why, I'm not sure, but perhaps some of my readers in the US can clarify.)

This meant that there were many language options on the menu.  English was offered and for the first time in their lives the Frenchlings had grammar, literature and creative writing classes in the language of Shakespeare taught by native English speakers:  Canadians, British and Americans.  Their progress was phenomenal and was due as much to the environment and the values of their peers, as it was to the curriculum and the pedagogy.  English suddenly became not only useful, but essential.  As the Frenchlings went out and about in Tokyo with their friends, it was rare to find fellow Francophones but English-speakers were, if not common, certainly more prevalent.

The French school also had required Japanese classes.  It was here that the Frenchlings had their first initiation into that language and from the very start the younger Frenchling was captivated.  As for me, the parent who struggled for bilingualism, the idea that my children might be inspired to learn a third language was simply beyond me.  I was so invested in the language wars in our home that my linguistic world was strictly limited to the two European languages I knew;  I was simply not capable of encouraging a third language, an interloper in my grand, but strictly bi-lingual, plan.

We returned to France and the elder Frenchling went to an English-speaking university in Quebec (McGill) where she refined her English even more.  She graduated with honors and I was so proud to read her thesis  written in flawless English. The younger Frenchling on her own initiative found a French-English international program offered at a public French high school near Versailles. Delighted that she could continue her English studies, I barely noticed that Japanese was also offered and was only mildly encouraging when the younger Frenchling included that language in her program. (And I note here that the Frenchling's French grandmother was very disappointed that they never studied German - a language that she considers far superior to all others.)

In due time the younger Frenchling followed her sister to Canada.  At first it was physics, but after taking her first university-level Japanese class, she changed her major  and is now working on a degree in Asian Studies.  I find it rather amusing that she is living in Canada, attending a French-speaking university and studying Japanese.  How could I not have noticed all those years her efforts and persistence in finding ways to learn more and more Japanese?  The optional Japanese language classes in high school;  the request for a Japanese tutor in Versailles;  the hours spent watching Japanese anime on her computer.   What I dismissed as something peripheral to her main course of study is now the center of it.

When I was dreaming bi-lingual dreams for my children, I thought the sun rose and set with French and English,  My worth as a mother was to an appalling extent contingent on their language skills and I never questioned the tyranny of those expectations.  I could offer English up with every menu, but I could not make them chew on it with pleasure and swallow.  Such are the limitations of parental power.  I do not regret that they know these languages today, but I recognize that their bi-lingualism was only partly due to my efforts, and that school and peers played a much larger part.

Today what I face as a parent goes beyond accepting past truths:  in a role reversal that I was hesitant to accept, my Frenchlings have become my teachers.  From my talks with the elder Frenchling I am re-learning American culture.  It and the American language have changed in ways that sometimes irritate me, especially when I hear a word, phrase or cultural reference I don't understand  As for the younger Frenchling, she has been our guide and translator as we explored the Kansai region.  For, to my surprise, my Japanese instructor who is now tutoring my daughter during her stay, has pronounced my daughter proficient in Japanese.  She has a good accent, she said, and can hold her own in a conversation.  A conversation?

How astonishing, was my first thought, followed by harsh judgement of my own feeble efforts to learn the language.  For all that I raged all through the Frenchlings' childhood that English was not valued enough in our home, here I was making a similar judgement about Japanese.  I simply did not value the language as highly as French or English and I certainly did not see it as a language to love learning for its own sake as my daughter does.

So, when I agreed to go off to Tokyo with my daughter this week, I put myself in her hands.  I listened really listened to her speaking Japanese.  When I didn't understand or needed a word, I asked her.  And as we strolled through the Naruto exhibition at the Mori Arts Gallery and I looked up and saw a kanji that intrigued me, I turned to the younger Frenchling and asked, "What is that beautiful but terribly complicated character up there? "

And she smiled at her mother and replied, "Love, Mom.  It means 'love'."

Thursday, May 21, 2015

For Good and Evil: the Impact of Taxes

“The utopian, immanent, and continually frustrated goal of the modern state is to reduce the chaotic, disorderly, constantly changing social reality beneath it to something more closely resembling the administrative grid of its observations.”

James C. Scott

If you've been reading the Flophouse then you know that taxes are a frequent topic here. Frankly, I am less interested in the mechanics of taxation than I am in what I have heard referred to as the sociology of taxation.   Underneath all tax issues, I am learning, are a host of social and psychological factors.    

The Australian Tax Office (ATO) has done some fascinating research about this and Ken Devos in his book Factors Influencing Individual Taxpayer Compliance Behaviour does a fine job of summarizing their work.  In particular, the discussion around "tax moral" - how taxpayers view taxes in light of their beliefs and societal norms - was illuminating.  Any lawmaker or citizen who says that the feelings of the citizenry around taxes don't matter because "the law is the law" is delusional.  The lower the tax moral, the lower the rate of voluntary compliance, which means less tax revenue.  Not simply because people don't pay, but because more and more tax money must be diverted to administration and enforcement.

Perceptions, ethics, and social systems matter.   The battle for hearts and minds and wallets is conducted in the political arena where different interests squabble over the meaning of "fair" or "equitable".  For every tax or tax system there are attempts at persuasion - mostly transparent morality tales that paint the uncooperative citizens or the greedy grasping government in the blackest possible terms.  

When I picked up Charles Adams' book For Good and Evil:  the Impact of Taxes on the Course of Civilization, that is exactly what I was expecting - a polemic on good and evil taxes and tax systems - all the more since I had a vague impression that Mr. Adams was something of a libertarian.  Whatever his ideology, he did a very good job of putting those opinions firmly in the background.  A careful reading of the text will expose them, but they are not the focus of his book.

Instead Adams tells a series of stories about taxes, tax systems and strategies going back to antiquity.  It is not a definitive history of taxation by any means, but it is not a bad place to begin thinking about the historical context and to see how the social, psychological and even religious context around taxation has always mattered a great deal.

How interesting to read that taxpayers in the Middle Ages had "God on their side."  Unjust or excessive taxation on the part of kings was a sin and incurred the wrath of God.  Conversely, a king who taxed justly and modestly would enjoy peace, prosperity and be "blessed with many sons."

New (or unheard of) taxes were particularly odious.  This principle was called exactio inaudita (which we can summarize as "no new taxes")  and greatly limited the raising of revenue by royalty.  Europe's rulers were daunted by this until they found a population that, in their eyes, did not have God on their side - the Jewish people - and laid that burden upon them.

Taxes played a role in the spread of Islam. The jaliya was a tax on Jews, Christian and other non-believers.  Since Moslems did not pay it, the fastest and easiest way to relieve one's tax burden was to convert.

Adams point out that this was very close to the Greek practice of taxing foreigners, not citizens. In ancient Athens foreigners paid a monthly tax called the metoikion.  The opposite of modern citizenship-based taxation, and completely contrary to the notion that taxes are a responsibility of citizens, only non-citizens (metics) were consistently and directly taxed.  Citizens themselves were only directly taxed in extraordinary emergency circumstances like war - the eisphora.  Not only were these taxes canceled once the reason for them was over, "if there was any booty from the war it was used to repay or refund the eisphora."

Those who rail against international tax competition in our day should know that, far from being a new phenomenon brought on by 20th century globalization, it has a long and venerable history.

Around the 4th century B.C., says, Adams,  the island of Rhodes became a thriving center of banking and commerce. Internally, it was politically stable.  Externally, it successfully avoided becoming embroiled in other countries' conflicts.  Rhodes was also a port of call for ships coming from the east to deliver cargo to Rome and Greece.  The port charged a 2% harbor tax "based on the value of the cargo, even if the cargo remained on board."  When Rhodes found itself in conflict with Rome, the Romans attacked them indirectly by creating another port in 166 B.C. on the isle of Delos which, in addition to possessing good facilities and services, was tax free.  The result?
"The trade of the east immediately bypassed Rhodes and went to Delos.  In one year trade declined by 85 percent.  Annual tax receipts, which normally had run about 1 million silver drachmas, declined to 150,000."
Which just goes to show that "harmful tax competition" has at least  a 2,000 year-old pedigree.

"Tax habits could be to civilization what sex habits are to personality.  They are basic clues to the way a society behaves."  Ideas about what is "fair" and "equitable" change - surely the Christians of the middle ages in Europe found taxing the Jews to be very fair indeed, and the Athenians had no problem exempting their citizen-selves from any direct tax obligations.  What do today's most pressing tax issues tell us about the societies in which we live?

For the most part, Adams tells his stories straight without manipulative moralizing.  He believes that taxes can be a force for good, are necessary for civilization,  and have "built great nations and brought much good to their inhabitants."

But he also argues that there are taxes and tax systems so bad that they actually undermine the civilizations they are meant to support.  Tax systems that are overly complex and ultimately unenforceable generate contempt, not revenue.   Governments that approach their citizens or subjects with arrogance, and rely mostly on compulsion to fill their coffers, fare badly as avoidance and evasion become rampant.  And anyone who believes that harsher laws and draconian punishments are the only proper response to widespread non-compliance should take a few moments to look at the ATO research.

And while we are speaking of punishment -  if it is good, right and necessary for taxpayers to be under threat, then surely a case can be made that governments and their agents need it too in order to be properly motivated and compliant with their responsibilities to those they govern.

In ancient Egypt under the pharoah Haremhab "a tax-collecting scribe found guilty of overcharging a taxpayer was sentenced to have his nose cut off, followed by banishment to a desolate part of Arabia."

With that kind of punishment, and if we could convince the US Congress that taxing simply and coherently would "bless them with many sons", the bureaucrats and lawmakers just might find the motivation to undertake that politically dangerous but desperately-needed tax reform.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Nara: Buddhist Temples and Shinto Shrines

This weekend one of my spouse's colleagues took us on a tour of her hometown:  the city of Nara.

Nara is located in the Kansai region and and was Japan's imperial capital from 710 to 794. In 794 the emperor/empress moved to Kyoto but the many temples and shrines remained.   It's a city every bit as magical as Kyoto and we had a fine time walking in Nara park, feeding the deer, and visiting the Kasuga shrine (Shinto) and Tōdai-ji temple (Buddhist).

In the modern Christian countries I know best in Europe and North America there are many debates about the role of religion in society, and between atheism (there is no God) and monotheism (there is one God).  There is another, older ism and that is polytheism which posits that there are many Gods and Goddesses.  As we strolled through Kasuga I asked our guide to explain something about Shinto, a religion that was not part of the curriculum at my Catholic high school (though Buddhism was).

She confirmed that there were indeed many gods in the Shinto pantheon but there was a hierarchy with some gods being more powerful than others.  When she was a child, she said, there were several shrines in her parent's house to which she brought offerings.  Not so common today, she noted, but important life events are still marked by a visit to a shrine to, for example, present a newborn child for the priest's blessing 30 days after the birth.

Though I thought I would be on firmer ground at the Buddhist temple Tōdai-ji, I was soon confronted with just how little I knew about it.  Buddhism has many different schools with subtly different philosophies. Tōdai-ji is the center of the Kegon school of Buddhism in Japan. And I should note here that there is another ism that I should add to my previous list and that is nontheism.

 Buddhism is, in my mind, most definitely a religion but one that has "no reference to such a singular, personified deity."   But "If we interpret the nature of gods, small ‘g’ and plural, or divinity even more broadly conceived as a sacred basis of reality, then certainly Buddhism has much to say on this matter."

Walking through the Kasuga shrine and Tōdai-ji I found that "sacred basis of reality". There were many things that felt comforting viewed from my own religious tradition, Catholicism.  The use of water, for example, to purify oneself before entering a holy place; the use of fire - the votive candles lit by believers and laid around the statue of the Buddha Vairocana; and, of course, the many monks and priests in their special garb.

As we left I was stung with regret that I did not have a better grounding in either religion.  Like a cathedral, everything in a temple or shrine has a pedagogicial purpose, but I didn't know enough to be teachable.  I could only admire and speculate.

But ignorance, once diagnosed, is curable, and I like what Thomas Merton had to say about studying other traditions:  "The Christian scholar is obligated by his sacred vocation to understand and even preserve the heritage of all the great traditions insofar as they contain truths that cannot be neglected and offer precious insights into Christianity itself".

Wherever I go in the world I carry a rosary in my purse that belonged to my great aunt and I often wear a medallion around my neck with a picture of the Lady (the Blessed Mother).  To this collection I have now added a Shinto shrine charm - a talisman called omamori that, according to our guide, confers protection against bad luck or evil events.

At Tōdai-ji the younger Frenchling made an offering for a ceramic tile - one on which she was asked to write her name, the date and a desire, and will be used to replace a damaged tile on the temple roof.

And what was her request?  Her wish? Her heart's desire?

To one day publish a book.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Another Front in the Fight Against FATCA: The Alliance for the Defence of Canadian Sovereignty

"And it came to passe in those dayes, that there went out a decree from Cesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed..."

Luke 2:1, King James Bible (1611)

The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act is, in its own weird way, a kind of census.  Among other things, it tells the American government where those it considers to be taxable under US law live and work and raise families. 

Having tried and failed miserably at conducting an accurate census of Americans abroad, the American government looked for other ways to find those "US Persons" (a term that includes US residents and Green Card holders, as well as US citizens).  Their method was delegation - an admission of failure in a sense - because FATCA requires foreign financial institutions (FFIs) to do what the US government couldn't manage to accomplish on its own:  to seek out all US persons in the world (their names, addresses, and account balances).

Those of you who have already been FATCAed, know all too well what that means.  Those of you who have not yet signed a W-9 or had your accounts closed, please don't feel left out, your time will come.

Americans abroad organizations like AARO, ACA, Democrats abroad and Republicans Overseas are fighting FATCA and you can read about their efforts here.  

But I would be remiss if I did not mention other efforts which are equally important.  The one I have been following (and cheering on) is the other lawsuit filed in Canada by the Alliance for the Defense of Canadian Sovereignty (ADCS).  

This is a grassroots initiative that pushes back against FATCA in Canada. ADCS argues that the Canadian legislation that implements the FATCA intergovernmental agreement with the United States "violates the Canadian Constitution, Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the principles of Canadian sovereignty and democracy, and the fundamental rights of all Canadians."

By signing an agreement to turn over the private information of Canadian citizens to a foreign government (the United States) the Canadian government is violating, they say, the rights of those whom the US is unilaterally claiming as taxable US Persons, but who consider themselves to be Canadians first and foremost.  They reject utterly the idea that another country can simply demand that Canada provide the private information of individuals who have some connection to the United States, however nebulous it may be.  

The plaintiffs in the case are two Canadian women "who have never held a U.S. passport or developed any meaningful relationship with the U.S." but who are, nonetheless, considered to be US citizens by virtue of being born in the US."  They never consented to that citizenship and see no reason why it should be foisted on them now just because the US says so.

There are citizens in just about every country in the world right now who are in exactly the same position as the two plaintiffs:  people who thought they were "just French" living in France or "just Thai " living in Thailand.  Many are finding out that they are indeed US Persons when they receive a note from their local banks informing them that they appear to be US citizens under US law.  

I could not think of a worse way (or a worse source) for someone to learn that he or she might be a US citizen.  I find this not just shameful on the part of the US, but an extreme and worrisome delegation of sovereign power.  Foreign financial institutions should not be in any way arbiters of US citizenship or status, or be tasked with implementing a US extraterritorial national census of any sort for any purpose whatsoever.  

Among the different fronts against FATCA, this is a very worthy effort because it asks a nation-state like Canada to take a stand:  Are these people claimed by the US really Canadian citizens with all the right enumerated in the Charter? Or has the Canadian government downgraded them to semi-citizenship status based on the claims of a foreign power?  

Funded entirely by small donors, ADCS has miraculously raised enough money so far to hire very competent legal counsel, and on August 14, 2014 they filed their suit in Canadian Federal Court.  I back them 100% and have contributed even though I am not an "Accidental American" or even a dual.  

You can support ADCS by making a donation here.  They are excellent transparent communicators and you can follow the progress of the lawsuit on their website, at the Isaac Brock Society, or at Maple Sandbox

And finally I invite you to watch this superb video which they prepared after testifying last year before the House of Commons Finance Committee.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Dangerous Assumptions about Dual Citizenship

Making assumptions is hardly a mortal sin but it can get us into real  trouble when when crossing cultures or national boundaries.  The consequences on a personal level are bad enough, but they are life-altering when they touch on legal matters - the kind that come about when the laws of different countries are different (even subtly so) or when they collide.

Citizenship law is one where making assumptions is downright deadly.  Most of us have only a broad understanding of what our citizenship law is that we've gleaned over the years from personal stories and news reports.  To add to the confusion, citizenship law changes - what might have been true a few years ago, may be not true today - and the interpretation of the law may or may not be the same from one year to the next.  Just ask the average American, Japanese, or French native about what his country's citizenship laws are and how they actually work right now in 2015, and I doubt they could give you an accurate answer.

It's pretty chaotic out there and a few days ago a friend on Facebook sent me a link to this case which I think is a very good (and horrible) example of the kind of life-altering trouble those matters can cause an individual and his or her family.

A bi-national couple where the wife is Norwegian and the husband is Australian, they have three girls:  one born in Australia and the other two in Norway.   So a reasonable (but dangerous) assumption might be that three girls could be dual citizens by either jus sanguinas (blood) or by jus soli (soil).  But to be safe, the couple asked when the eldest was born in Australia and it was confirmed by the Norwegian authorities that she could indeed be a dual Norwegian/Australian citizen. (Norway is a country that limits dual citizenship.)

So when the couple had twins, this time in Norway, they thought no more about it and they applied for and obtained Australian citizenship (by descent) for the younger girls.  To their utter shock this resulted in Norway stripping the two younger girls (the ones born in Norway to a Norwegian mother) of their Norwegian citizenship.  How did that happen?

The rule in Norway is that applying for and obtaining another citizenship means losing Norwegian citizenship (there are some exceptions to this but that is the general rule).  Their elder child didn't need to apply for Australian citizenship - she was born there to an Australian father.  But when that Australian father signed the papers to request citizenship by descent for the twins, the Norwegian authorities decided that this application for another citizenship by a parent on behalf of minors meant they could no longer be Norwegian.

The irony is that the child born in Australia could legally be a dual, no problem.  But her sisters born in Norway, couldn't because of the way the Norwegian authorities interpreted citizenship laws.

You can read more about the case here.    This citizenship case really rocked one of my assumptions;  under US law a parent cannot renounce or relinquish US citizenship on behalf of a minor child.  It appears that Norway will allow that and that really surprised me.  Depriving a child of a nationality because of the actions of a parent seems the antithesis of the "best interests of that child."

I also note that the consequences of that decision fell hardest on one of their own - the Norwegian citizen spouse.  It changed the balance of power in the bi-cultural marriage since it basically gave the non-Norwegian spouse effective veto power over whether or not the children can be Norwegians or not.  How interesting that under that ruling it was the non-Norwegian spouse who could make that decision unilaterally by simply applying for citizenship by descent in his or her home country.  A move that could be useful in the case of marital problems or custody battles.

In addition, the Norwegian wife could not return to Norway easily with all her children - she could move back with the eldest (provided her spouse agreed because that child's residence is in Australia) leaving the other two behind for a year, and then apply for family reunification to bring the other two to Norway.

And one had to ask: was the Norwegian citizenry OK with that?  Is losing citizens on a technicality the will of the people, or would the average Norwegian be just as shocked as I was?

I'm happy to report that they were shocked and the family received a lot of support.  In 2014 the Norwegian authorities changed their minds and reinstated the girls' Norwegian citizenship.

A happy ending but the lesson for me is crystal clear:   Never assume anything when it comes to citizenship law.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Defining Terms: Migrants, Expatriates and Travelers

Contempt before investigation is a most perilous mindset and I was skirting the edges of it as I reluctantly picked up  Self-Initiated Expatriation: Individual, Organizational, and National Perspectives  by Maike Andresen, Akram Al Ariss , Matthias Walther (Editors).

Self-initiated expatriation?   The meaning was (I thought) clear but why invent a term when others already exist?  I feared that it was just another bit of academic nitpicking designed to glorify the "adventurers" of the First World to the detriment of other migrants.

To my surprise, the book is quite good and I'm glad I gave it a chance to surpass my low expectations.  I will discuss the difference between Self-Initiated and Assigned Expatriates in another post (in the book there is a good, if limited, study of both in Japan).

Today I'd like to talk about the very first chapter where the three editors  take a stab at defining terms.  What is the difference between migrants and expatriates?   And what distinguishes both from long or short-term travelers?

These are not easy questions to answer.  Sometimes migrant and expatriate are used in the same way citizenship and nationality are used:  as interchangeable and having more or less the same meaning.  Often they are used (especially when people label themselves) to make a distinction between someone from the developed world versus a "real" migrant or immigrant from the developing world.  This distancing reveals not just global hierarchies, but also says a great deal about the self-perceptions of  Europeans or North Americans.  (See this Flophouse post on Immigrants vs. Expatriates.)

 Even academics and researchers use these terms in different ways.  The editors looked at English-language journal articles and found 74 definitions for expatriate and 84 for migrant.  They concluded, "there is no consistency in the literature regarding how each of the three individual terms [migrant, expatriate, and self-initiated expatriate] is defined."  They then took it upon themselves to clear up the chaos.

Their model is a good one, I think, and worth using.  It is perfect but it is, I contend, more objective and deftly avoids the trap of trying to define migrants/expatriates by their countries of origin, socioeconomic class, and intentions.  They are defined instead by what they do when they hit that distant shore.

The first step in cleaning up these categories divides the "people who move around" into two groups based on the answer to this question:  Is there a geographic relocation across national borders and a change in the dominant place of residence?  If the answer is No then the person is not a migrant, but a traveler.  If the answer is Yes then the person is put in a big bucket called Migrant.

Under the category Migrant are subcategories and of them is Expatriate (others might be Entrepreneurs, Retirees, Education, Marriage or Family Reunification Migrants.)  But what is the one thing, say Andresen et al, that always puts someone in the Expat group?  An employment contract.

"Individuals," they argue, "who move to a foreign country without taking up employment cannot be categorized as expatriates."  This can be a contract with a home country organization or company, or one with a host country organization or company.

And that is the difference between the Assigned Expatriates (AEs) and the Self-Initiated Expatriates (SIEs):  the former is sent by a company in the home country (or country of residence) and the latter deals directly with an organization or company in the target country, signs a contract with them and relocates on his own dime.

I like it.  Under this model an engineer, professor, aid worker, programmer, teacher, hairdresser or agricultural worker with a work contract who hails from North or South America, Europe, Africa or Asia are all Expatriates.

"But, but, but..." (I can hear some of you sputtering.)

OK, I agree that this model is not perfect, so let's discuss.   Tell me what your objections are and, if you like, propose your own model.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Making and Unmaking of a Citizen in Japan

A few weeks ago a blogging confrère left a link to his site Becoming Legally Japanese.

I have had a look since and I recommend the site to you if you have an interest in citizenship law.  The site is in English and has good information on how to become a Japanese citizen, and testimonials about why people have taken this step - the latter, of course, being the more interesting question.  You can also read this Flophouse post by an American emigrant and long-term resident here in Japan who is also On the Path to Citizenship in Japan.

Citizenship in a democratic nation-state is an odd beast.  It retains some characteristics of an older status - that of subject - in that it is a personal status between an individual and a state (or a monarch).  But unlike subjecthood, it is (in theory) a status that a person chooses and can be renounced unilaterally.  A citizen (in theory) does not need the permission of his state to sever ties with one country and attach himself to another.

The reality is more complex than that.  Often, there are conditions to be satisfied before a person can change allegiance.  Some sending states require that another citizenship be obtained prior to renouncing.  This is meant to prevent people from becoming stateless persons;  the ideal being that every individual must be attached to some state, somewhere in the world.

On the other side, the receiving country has more power.  There is no absolute right to naturalized citizenship in any nation-state I know of.  Governments and their citizenry can and do place conditions that must be met before they allow an individual to become a full citizen.  In short, nation-states can be very selective about whom they accept for full membership.  In those conditions we find a blueprint of sorts for what that nation-state thinks is the "ideal citizen" and what they believe their citizenship means.

One of the conditions of Japanese citizenship is that the new citizen renounce all other citizenships.  The Land of the Rising Sun is well known for its rejection of dual or multiple citizenships.   To be Japanese is to have allegiance to one state, Japan, and no other.  Since the trend in citizenship law in the world is toward acceptance of multiple citizenship (even Germany has blinked), there is speculation that Japan, too, will change its ways.

Perhaps.  And I say this because I am discovering that the current system is far more flexible than people think.  There is the law and then there are the "facts on the ground."  There are Japanese citizens in France who have become French citizens.  The Japanese embassy in Paris is aware of this.

According to my source, they don't seek them out, but they will investigate if it comes to their attention - a Japanese citizen, for example, who has lived a very long time in France and cannot produce a French residency card when he visits the consulate for some reason or another.  Since France and Japan do not exchange citizenship databases there is no easy way for the Japanese government to know that a Japanese national has become a citizen of the French Republic, or of any other country for that matter.

Where single citizenship can be enforced is when a person applies to become a naturalized Japanese citizen.  The authorities can ask for documentation and proof of renunciation of all other citizenships, but even that isn't a sure thing.   The Japanese authorities do make allowances for subjects of countries that do not allow for unilateral renunciation.  Also, in some cases they have looked the other way unless the dual citizen is "outed" in some way so that it simply cannot be ignored.

So Japanese citizenship law is clear on the matter of dual citizenship, but the application of the principle is, well, a grey zone.

And that makes this post American had to forfeit naturalized citizenship due to hiding his lack of relinquishment up on Becoming Legally Japanese very interesting.  Nation-states make citizens and they can unmake them, too.  (For an excellent read about this I recommend Patrick Weil's  outstanding  The Sovereign Citizen: Denaturalization and the Origins of the American Republic.)

What is fascinating about denaturalization (taking away a person's citizenship) is that nothing shows more clearly the difference between birthright and naturalized citizens.  In democratic nation-states it is generally very difficult to take away the citizenship of someone who was born with that citizenship.  Usually it requires proof of some sort of extreme wrongdoing incompatible with citizenship and even then it's not a simple process. At least, not in our time.

Naturalized citizens, on the other hand, can be unmade more easily and the most common method is to prove that there was some sort of fraud involved.  Even Hirsi Ali who was an elected member of the Dutch Parliament was not immune to charges that she obtained her Dutch citizenship fraudulently.

And that was the charge against this American emigrant to Japan who applied for Japanese citizenship, received it and then had it revoked.  To make matters worse, the authorities did not reinstate his previous status, that of Permanent Resident;  he was downgraded to Long-Term Resident. (See this site for a summary of the difference between the two.)

I will stop here and let you read the story for yourself.  I would appreciate comments or corrections from those who know more than I do about Japanese citizenship law.  It is an interesting case on so many levels, and I have the feeling that there is more to the story.  In particular I was curious about his rationale for not taking the steps to relinquish his US citizenship.  Note that both FATCA and the US Exit tax are mentioned in the article.