This article pulls together recent global trends in nationality and citizenship law, but many of the examples used are either not “virtual,” are not about citizenship, or are not, unfortunately, that new. There have been a seemingly increasing number of articles and projects seeking to “take citizenship” to the next level by making it “global” or “virtual” or “putting it on the blockchain” and “de-connecting it from the territorial state.” Sadly, all of these articles and projects ignore the basic facts that 1) citizenship is controlled by nation-states, 2) people need a physical place to live with physical food to eat and physical clothes to wear, and 3) nation-states hate humans almost as much as they love territory. Put these three things together and you can see why a “virtual citizenship” will never work.
In fact, if you pick apart the Atlantic article, you will see that none of the examples are really about “virtual” citizenship. Why? Because there can be no such thing.
Cyprus: This example is about states selling their citizenship to wealthy people. This happens a lot. Many countries, including the United States, offer residency or citizenship to wealthy investors. In the case of the US, investors can get a Green Card with a path to citizenship. These citizenships are not “virtual,” they provide full residency just like any other naturalization.
Bidoon: Kuwait and the UAE have come up with a crazy plan to deport all their stateless people to Comoros by purchasing Comoros citizenship en masse. I assure you, there is nothing “virtual” about the physical mass deportation Kuwait and UAE have in mind.
Jordon Compact: This is an interesting “solution” to the “problem” of Syrian refugees leaving the Middle East for the EU because they can’t work in their countries of first asylum. The plan is to bribe Jordan with preferential EU trade deals into allowing Syrian refugees to work. This plan doesn’t really have anything to do with citizenship. It is novel, though. It will be funny if Jordan ends up in the EU common market while the UK does not.
Estonia: This program is for “virtual residency” and provides no right to enter, reside, vote, or access services. It’s basically a tax thing.
Bitnation: Great idea, but where will I live? Is there a pool? I don’t see a pool. This country sucks.
The truth is that while the rest of human life becomes increasingly globalized, citizenship remains stuck in the early 20th century, with states jealously guarding their right to keep non-citizens out, unless they are fabulously wealthy. In fact, citizenship has been getting less globalized, not more globalized. While information, goods, money, jobs, multi-national companies, weapons, political scandals and internet trolls whiz around the world at dizzying speeds, people remain stuck behind borders. Unless you have a US passport. Then, you’re in luck!