In fact, if we look back at the past 12 months the issues of immigration, visas, travel restrictions, residency and dual nationality have dominated the news all across the world.
With the refugee crisis in Europe, Brexit negotiations centred around immigration, Trump’s infamous travel bans earlier this year, the airline restrictions on electronic devices on flights from the Middle East, recent political tension in the GCC and the origins of the terrorists responsible for the attacks across Europe this summer, there hasn’t been another time in the 21st century when your nationality and where you come from have played such an important role in determining the level of freedom you enjoy.
Nations impose restrictions on other countries for many reasons. It can be a way to put pressure on hostile governments, block funding of terrorism and access to weapons, or prevent the uncontrollable influx of refugees.
While opening up borders had been a trend for many decades, in more recent days countries across the world are leaning more towards tighter visa controls. It is not an unusual move – after all, the responsibility of every government is to protect the rights, safety and security of its own citizens. In the face of increased attacks, governments are trying to control every threat they can – and unfortunately, the Middle East is seen as a source of several threats.
Caught in the middle
Sadly, many ordinary people from nations such as Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Somalia find themselves frequently on the list of sanctioned and restricted countries – often for long periods of time – due to no real fault of their own.
Businessmen have their carefully-prepared plans delayed overnight because they lose the ability to travel easily or have their money transfers blocked by international banks. Parents are unable to visit their children studying abroad or individuals are stopped from coming to the aid of elderly relatives.
The dream of a world with no borders is still a dream, and one that is less likely to come true any time soon.
Most of the countries on the “worst passport to have” list are in the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa.
For citizens of these countries with sufficient means, investing in economic citizenship programmes can help.
The idea that these programmes are often used for illegal reasons is not based on facts – applicants undergo stringent due diligence checks and a criminal past is immediate grounds for a refusal. As can be expected with everything, there are people who play the system, but the vast majority of individuals opting for these programmes are just people who want a life of less hassle, one where they are not considered guilty until proven innocent – purely on account of the nationality they were born with.
For expats from MENA nations currently living in GCC countries that do not offer an option to acquire a permanent residency, where do they go in the case of a crisis or if they lose their work permit?
The need to have a secure and stable country they can call a permanent home and enjoy full citizenship rights also motivates many to consider investing in a second citizenship.
Freedom of movement – to enter and leave a country at will when in possession of a valid passport – is a right many people take for granted.
But as we have seen in recent days, it is a right that is not granted to everyone freely.
It is the hard reality that when it comes to freedom of movement, passports are not created equal. For many individuals hailing from the Middle East, a second citizenship from outside the region is therefore becoming more of an insurance policy to avoid the reality of what seems to be an increasingly restricted future.