Migration, Citizenship, and Global Justice: Toward a Just Allocation of Memberships

Project: Research project

Project Details


The proposed project will investigate how the ethics of migration and citizenship intersect with larger questions of global distributive justice. In today’s world, a person’s residency can have a profound impact on her wellbeing, freedom and even survival. There is clearly a global hierarchy of citizenship worth. Many in the Global South are desperately seeking to migrate to escape poverty or oppression. To do so, they would have to cross heavily guarded and militarised borders. Philosophical debates on the ethics of migration have largely focused on whether individuals have a general right to immigrate. In reality, however, immigration restrictions are quite selective. Borders are often open to migrants who are considered ‘desirable’ by the receiving state. This project will seek to identify the morally legitimate criteria (if any) for states to select potential immigrants, such as their economic contributions, cultural background, family ties, or civic virtues. Moreover, all immigrants are also by definition emigrants from their country of origin. Although it is a human right to leave one’s own country, there is still a question regarding what duties these emigrants may owe as a matter of justice to the fellow members of their former country.

Nonetheless, the membership boundaries are not only territorial but also political, as states have the power to classify only some individuals as worthy of their citizenship. For instance, immigrants do not automatically gain citizenship in their new country but have to apply for naturalisation. The project will ask whether there should be rigorous citizenship tests, and which form these tests may take.

Finally, governments have contributed to the destabilising of membership boundaries. There is a recent tendency for states to revoke citizenship of their members as a punishment for certain behaviour. The project will discuss whether such power is ever justified, and, if so, under what conditions it may be legitimately exercised by democratic as well as non-democratic regimes.

To sum up, this project will aim to determine the respective rights and duties of potential migrants, long-term residents and non-resident citizens. It will address the following questions from a normative perspective: (1) When is it morally permissible for states to exclude prospective migrants? (2) What do recent emigrants owe to their original state? (3) Who is entitled to citizenship in a particular state? (4) Under what conditions may a state justifiably revoke citizenship? (5) What does justice require with respect to the allocation of citizenships?
Effective start/end date1/01/2031/12/22


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