Saturday, January 18, 2020
[Great Hall. View from the second floor west corridor. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.]
Based on a comprehensive survey of citizenship and nationality laws of the countries of the world, a Library of Congress report (Nov. 2018) presents information on the laws of those countries that allow acquisition of citizenship based on the fact of one’s birth in the territory of the country (jus soli, or birthright citizenship). In theory, the jus soli rule of citizenship stands in sharp contrast to the jus sanguinis rule, which grants citizenship only if one or both parents hold citizenship. In reality, the line between these approaches frequently blurs.
The research identified ninety-four countries that currently have, or previously had but recently terminated, laws granting citizenship by birth, with or without added conditions. A centuries-old principle of British common law that grew out of feudalism, the unconditional right to citizenship by birth was limited in many common law jurisdictions during the second part of the twentieth century. After exclusion of this right from British law by the 1981 Nationality Act, the application of the right changed in the British overseas territories as well. While jus soli was also a centuries-old tradition in Continental Europe, many of the civil law countries of Continental Europe opted for the jus sanguinis rule to determine citizenship in the nineteenth century, following the example of the Napoleonic Code. Today, however, a country’s jurisprudential tradition seems less determinative of its approach to birthright citizenship than geographic location: The report reveals that the vast majority of surveyed countries that currently grant unconditional birthright citizenship (all but six of thirty-three countries) are located in the Americas and the Caribbean.
Hat tip to Nolan Rappaport.