From Ancient World Citizenship to Citizenship by Investment. The Brief History

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Citizenship can be defined as a relationship between a person and a state. The person bears certain responsibilities towards the state - the state, in its turn, protects the individual. Citizens enjoy specific rights and freedoms under the jurisdictions of their respective countries.

In fact, the modern concept of citizenship dates back to ancient times. Ancient Greeks used the term Polis for a body of citizens. Citizenship itself was a privilege rather than a universal right. The concept of citizenship was often used to draw the line between free people and slaves.

In the Middle Ages, citizenship mainly applied to urban areas and the middle class. The term bourgeoisie is associated with a particular locality and union membership. In fact, well-off people having a robust social status were what we now call citizens. During the Muslim rule over the Iberian Peninsula, non-Muslim invidviduals were also provided with a legal status as long as they paid their taxes. 

In the modern era, the concept of citizenship became legally documented. The Naturalisation Act of 1790 in the US was, in fact, the first law ever to set forward the rules of citizenship and naturalisation. People of non-European descent were banned from obtaining citizenship. At that, free white people would be required a two years’ period for naturalisation. People of Chinese origin, for one, were not allowed to naturalise according to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

In was only by the middle of the 20th century that the US ceased racial discrimination in terms of citizenship and naturalisation following the Immigration and Citizenship Act of 1952 and 1965. 

The French Revolution aimed to remove the privileges enjoyed by the upper classes and propagated the concept of egalitarianism, or egalitarian citizenship. Centuries after, the foundation laid by the French Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité resulted in what we today call the Citizenship of the European Union.

Citizens of an EU member state are, by default, citizens of the European Union and enjoy settlement rights across the EU based on the TFEU (Article 20) and Charter of Fundamental Rights (Chapter V). It’s one of the key reasons why EU citizenship is so valuable for many non-European individuals. EU passports have greater power, i.e. they unlock free access to a long list of countries across the globe.

Some EU member states have successfully implemented their Citizenship-by-Investment (CBI) programmes enabling affluent individuals to gain EU nationality in return for considerable investment. Cyprus made the first shot, closely followed by Malta. Other EU states took the lead with residency programmes as well: Bulgaria, Greece, Latvia, Portugal, Spain and more.

EU countries have also established their own models to attract foreign capital and grant ‘corporate citizenship’. Countries like the Netherlands or Luxembourg offer auspicious tax regimes and host a significant number of multinational businesses. In this same vein as personal citizenship procures you a passport, corporate citizenship gives enterprises an incorporation certificate.

During financial disturbances, many EU countries are looking to improve their positions with CBI programmes. Greece, for one, intends to launch the programme aiming to mitigate the country’s glaring debts. Since 2013, Greece has issued over 4,000 residence permits to foreign investors. Now, it may be the right time to step up and offer citizenship to wealthy migrants.  

If the plan works out, Greece would become the third country in the European Union to offer a formal CBI programme, proving that this path is not exclusively for smaller island states such as Cyprus and Malta.

Astons is a leading global immigration advisory firm with offices in London, Moscow, Dubai, Cyprus and China and offers residency & citizenship investment solutions in the UK,  EU & the Caribbean. Astons is a committed and regulated Member of the Investment Migration Council (IMC), for EU & Caribbean investment immigration.  

For further information or to discuss your personal circumstances in a private consultation, please contact Astons at info@astons.com or call +44 207 292 2977.