Sunday, May 31, 2009

Citizenship, Dual Citizenship and Indian-Americans

Foreign Citizenship and Naturalization is a complicated issue, even at best of times and stirs heated debate, especially when there is a crisis. An example is that of Roxana Saberi, a naturalized Iranian American who shot to fame after she was arrested by Iranian government on charges of espionage. (NYT Blog) Roxana’s story has many dimensions, including questions on allegiance of those who hold dual-citizenship. For example, Federale blogs "It is clear from her behavior however, that her loyalties remain with Iran, and her American passport is just for convenience and protection. She, like many other immigrants, use their American citizenship and passport as protection, while their true loyalties lie in their nation of origin and not with the U.S."

Last week I caught up with an old friend and classmate of mine, Ajay, who is now settled in Phoenix, Arizona. The topics wandered to residency and Ajay mentioned that he naturalized as an American citizen last year. By naturalizing, Ajay joined the new wave of Indian Americans: Indian Techies, programmers and hi-tech workers who moved to the US on H1 visas during the late nineties and early part of this century, waited in line to get their Green Card and five years after that were eligible to apply to become US Citizen, moving them the permanent ranks of Indian Americans, at least at a level to the likes of Indra Nooyi, , Vinod Khosla , Noureen Dewulf , Fareed Zakaria , Norah Jones , Kal Penn , Kalpana Chawla , M. Night Shyamalan.

During our conversation, it was evident that my friend found himself becoming an “American” purely for administrative convenience: he still had his strong Indian accent; and though he spoke fluent English, he was more comfortable switching to Tamil or Hindi when convenient. And like many middle-class Indians, he continued to be fiscally prudent. Ajay wasn’t hit hard by the current downturn since he could roll up his sleeves and do what he was skilled at: write software programs. He hadn’t invested a lot on stocks and most interestingly, hadn’t bought a house during the recent boom. He still rented an apartment in a nice neighborhood.

While many of people of Indian origin were earlier hesitant to acquire citizenship of their adopted homelands, Indian government’s move a few years ago introducing the concept of Person of Indian Origin (PIO) and Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards eased that transition.

The vast majority of people who migrate to foreign lands manage to find they around the maze of laws, bylaws and regulations to ensure they have the right paperwork.

Even acquiring a foreign citizenship is not really the end of the road for most newer immigrants. Case in point is the reverse brain drain, or Return to India wave that the media is talking about, a topic that warrants a blog entry in itself. In the meantime, check out Shobha Narayanan’s fascinating essay on the topic.
If this blog entry has a confusing message, it is perhaps intentional: the new generation of dual citizen and immigrants is equally confused about their allegiance shifting loyalties; made more nebulous by the meltdown in the globalized economy.