Is remote citizenship remote?

By Rakhmad Sobirov

Law360 Canada (January 25, 2021, 8:26 AM EST) --
Rakhmad Sobirov
Rakhmad Sobirov
During the pandemic, states provided financial support, offered repatriation services and vaccinations and helped their citizens in many other ways. The states, including Canada, gave all the benefits of citizenship to their citizens everywhere, without questioning those citizens’ previous contributions to the “common pot.”

Today, there are millions of citizens living outside of their countries of citizenship and having minimum or no participation in the financial resilience and preparedness of their “passport countries” against the next pandemic. The passport country is called upon for help only in times of need.

In Canada, many people demanded to hold remote citizenship services to become Canadian citizens. In the U.S., former President Donald Trump’s very low tax filings were described as unpatriotic, un-American.

A brief theory

In legal theory, the definitions of “state,” “citizen” and “citizenship” are interconnected.

With its connection to Roman notions about “the condition of public matters” (status rei publicae) and reaching its egocentric pinnacle in the utterance of Louis XIV, “L’état, c’est moi,” the modern definition of state will surely expand in the post-COVID-19 era. In part, such changes will be warranted by the budget deficits after the pandemic. This will bring changes to our understanding of citizenship and citizens as well.

Are we ready to revise our social contract regarding citizenship with other countries in the post-COVID-19 era?

The new definition of state could be a hybrid one, combining in one practical and up-to-date definition several thoughts and realities of our new-normal world:

  • It will have “the preservation of property” (including one’s life) as the state’s main goal (proposed by John Locke);
  • It will have “the provision of public goods” as the state’s main function (suggested by Adam Smith);
  • It will not pay much attention to the concentration of citizens (i.e., population) in one defined territory (spearheaded by Russian President Vladimir Putin in Crimea);
  • It will give a central role to the sovereignty of the state to tax its citizens (so-called “passport citizens”) regardless of their country of ordinary residence. The right to tax is the core element of state sovereignty (to be allegedly proposed by the tax authorities and refuted by Amazon et al.);
  • It will emphasize more on the constant relationship between the state and its citizens in the form of regular tax contributions to enable the state to pursue its goal and fulfil its main function noted above; and
  • It will discriminate as to who is considered a citizen to benefit from the state’s pursuit of its goal to preserve one’s property and life (e.g., offering free vaccination or repatriation/evacuation services) and the main function to provide public goods (e.g., provide financial support in times of crisis).

So, let me now attempt to offer a new two-in-one definition of state and citizenship for the future. “A state is an entity of international law made of contributing members called citizens (corporate or individual) residing in or outside of a defined territory who are regarded as such on the basis of their regular contributions to the state’s fund, which is used for the benefit of such citizens in times of peace, armed conflicts, natural disasters or pandemics.”

A new understanding of citizenship will include, among other things, the idea of remote citizenship attested by not just holding a citizen’s passport in a dusty drawer, but rather by the proof of regular contributions to the “common pot,” which is called upon for help during a crisis.

The new definition of citizenship will demand participation regardless of the place of residence of the concerned. It will equally focus on the privileges as well as the duties agreed to in the new social contract.

Remote citizenship, which will be an upgrade to our existing social contract, is not remote in part due to COVID-19. But I hope that the definition of citizen (or citizenship in general) will not shrink to the one suggested by Aristotle in describing the citizens of the polis who are expected to pursue their telos (full potential of a person or thing).

Rakhmad Sobirov is the managing lawyer of Sobirovs Law Firm, where his team helps foreign companies from around the world to choose Canada as their hub and strategically place their teams in Canada to serve the U.S. and the LatAm markets.

Photo credit / Stephane Noiret ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

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