Comparative Citizenship

If anyone is interested in the question of where the US fits in comparatively on the question of birthright citizenship the answer is:  we are in the distinction minority.  In terms of comparison to other highly developed states only the US and Canada have birthright citizenship.  On a geographical dimension, the practice is common in the western hemisphere in general, but not in the eastern.  This latter fact is not surprising at least vis-a-vis Latin America given the heavy influence of US constitutionalism on those countries.

There are two sources to investigate.  First is a study done at CIS:  Birthright Citizenship in the United States: A Global Comparison.  The second is NumbersUSA, which has a slightly different set of countries.

I am insufficiently expert on this matter that I could not, at a glance, say for sure which dataset is the most accurate, but the NumbersUSA set is newer.  I did use the CIS study in A Different Democracy and recall being convinced at the time that it was adequate.

One thing is for certain:  this is one of those areas in which the US can claim to be somewhat exceptional.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, Borders and Immigration, Democracy, US Politics, , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Slugger says:

    Many European nations have “volk” definition of nationality; I am deliberately using a German word. I was born in Germany to Jewish concentration camp survivors in a refugee camp in 1945. I was not given German nationality, nor can I get German nationality if I apply. Interestingly, my wife whose ancestors left Prussia in 1880 was eligible to apply for German nationality.
    I am an American by naturalization. I am proud, glad, and grateful to be an American. Thank you who made this possible. The openness of the USA to various forms of citizenship including birth place is one of the things that makes America special and great. The opponents of birthright citizenship seek to dimish our country and drive it into the camp as the heritage citizenship countries.
    If you love America as an idea, you will oppose this drive against changing the birth citizenship principle. The people doing this are willing to sell America’s virtues for the votes of a know-nothing rabble.

  2. Andre Kenji says:

    Latin America is also “America” on the sense that many immigrants from all over the world found their home here. Peru is the only country to have a grandson of Japanese as President, there are more people speaking the Pomeranian Language in Brazil than in Europe. It´s a broader sense of “America” thats most Americans have. 😉

    “Jus Soli”, birthright Citizenship is what makes the American Continent what it is. Ending Birthright Citizenship is unamerican. That´s a shame.

  3. @Andre Kenji: Agreed on all counts.

  4. MarkedMan says:

    @Slugger: I couldn’t agree with you more. The tradition in most countries is one of racial identification. If I remember correctly, Stephen Jay Gould in his “Mis-measure of Man” found comparisons of well over 200 “races” in the 17th and 18th centuries. For instance, Northern and Southern Italians were considered separate races in these rankings.

    Slugger is right: the fact that we don’t have a race based definition of “American” (at least now) is one of the things that this country should be most proud of.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    France has a form of birthright citizenship, too.

  6. just me says:

    I thought France ended birthright citizenship? Although strong emphasis on thought since I am not at all confident.

  7. just me says:

    Just looked it up-apparently you have to be born to legal residents (tourist, student or other short term visas don’t count) and you have yo apply when you become an adult so it’s a quasi birthright citizenship but one that to some degree makes sense.

    I’m not opposed to birthright citizenship but I am also not comfortable with pregnancy tours either.

  8. MarkedMan says:

    The only people I know that regularly use the Anchor Baby thing is wealthy Chinese. But it’s not for eventually moving parents to the U.S. 31 years later. Since the child can be declared as a US Citizen it doesn’t count towards the one child policy. Of course, they can’t claim the benefits of citizenship for that child but this just basically means they will put their kids in private schools. Longer term, employment in China may be a problem, but that’s something that can be fixed by money, if necessary. But even that may not be a problem as many wealthy families consider it a real asset to have relations working out of the country “just in case”.

  9. Andre Kenji says:

    Unless you are living in the United States having American Citizenship is a crappy idea, because you have to pay lots of taxes, specially if you are wealthy.

  10. @Dave Schuler: As I understand it, this is not the case–as noted above there is a process that includes step beyond simply birth, and therefore isn’t birthright citizenship.

  11. Lounsbury says:

    @just me:
    This is incorrect.
    French law (with the exception of a brief period in the 1990s) does NOT require your parents to be legal residents (this summary is asserted by sources I suppose who don’t know French very well.
    What it does require is that for persons born on French territory to non-citizens who are not legal residents is that (a) they be resident in France from approx age 11 forward with five years residency, (b) at age of majority they make an affirmative act of claiming citizenship.
    (Fr. wikipedia has an accurate summary, the English wiki and other do not: The specific text is
    “à partir de l’âge de treize ou seize ans, si, au moment de sa déclaration, ils ont en France leur résidence et s’ils ont eu leur résidence habituelle en France pendant une période continue ou discontinue d’au moins cinq ans, depuis l’âge de onze ans (huit ans si la déclaration est faite entre treize et seize ans) (articles 21-11 du Code civil).”

    Said affirmative declaration is considered done if the person demands certain documents like a passport, national ID card for citizens, etc.

    The American anti-immigrant groups pretending that X countries such as France do not extend birthright citizenship are rather badly mischaracterizing the laws, since of course the French rules, while restricting mildly “tourism citizenship” would not have different results than your current law for the vast majority of “illegals.”

    There is of course the added clause as per overarching European law that citizenship must be extended to anyone not having a documented claim to another citizenship.

  12. Lounsbury says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Contra the message above yours, France does provide citizenship to persons born in France to non-legal residents. The English wiki and US immigration sites have incorrect summaries.

    It does require an affirmative declaration at age of majority, although that declaration is taken to be made when a person requests any number of citizen related documents (which of course in a unitary centralized state are requirements of daily life…).

    Functionally the result does not differ greatly from the US practice. US anti-immigration sites rather badly mis-characterize the state of laws in EU.

  13. @Lounsbury:

    Keeping in mind that a) I understand your criticism of the anti-immigration sites and their lists, and b) I do not share the view of those groups, I still am not sure that I accept the characterization that this process is functionally equivalent to the US (but I will allow that more understanding on my part is no doubt needed).

    It seems to me that true birthright citizenship mean automatic conferral at birth and that any system that does not so function is not properly understand as full birthright citizenship.

    In the case of the French system you describe: I suppose proper classification would very much hinge on the issue of what the burden of proof is on the individual who seeks to declare their citizenship at the of majority (that, in and of itself, is already a bureaucratic hurdle not needed in the US).

    In the US all one needs to prove citizenship is a birth certificate indicating birth in the US. That is enough. That is pure birthright citizenship.

  14. In other words, Frenchness would appear to be a combination of birth+residency+paperwork. IF one is from a long-standing French family, no problem. However, if one is the child of an immigrant, it is less straight-forward (especially if there is any back-and-back from one’s paren’ts country of origin and France during one’s childhood–something that a child cannot control). If one is not adequately resident, one loses one’s shot at French citizenship (i.e., one is not legally fully French until certain conditions are met).

    In the US, upon birth one is an American regardless of anything else.

    This is an important distinction. (Even if I think that distinction is important for reasons different than CIS).

  15. lounsbury says:

    Fair enough regarding pure birthright.

    However, operationally – within the centralized French system – the children of even non-regularized immigrants are captured and operationally it is more or less straight forward (that is no real burden beyond the ordinary daily French bureaucracy). The state in practice has to challenge residency.

    The distinction I am highlighting is that even in this “non birthright” system as presented by American sites, the actual system grants broad citizenship to the same class of children the anti-immigrant factions imagine are denied ‘birthright citizenship’

    Of course this is all in the context of a highly centralized system with highly interventionist state apparratus. Radically different than the USA.