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Opinion: Globalization and Modern Day Allegiance

by Eric Major IMCM, CEO, Henley & Partners

Mobility, coupled with innovation, has driven a phenomenon that we loosely refer to as globalization. Think about it. In the 70’s, we had the globalization of trade; in the 80’s and 90’s the globalization of capital.  Today, we are witness to the globalization of people. As the residence and citizenship planning industry takes a stronghold and enters the mainstream, we see the emergence of the Global Citizen.

In today’s world, it is not uncommon for someone to have roots, family, businesses, connections, residences or even citizenship in more than one country. In fact, it’s becoming the norm. Did you know that the average person moves on average 12 times during their lifetime? Increasingly, these moves are occurring outside of one’s place of birth and it’s not uncommon to hold a deep-rooted bond with more than one country over one’s lifespan.

To demonstrate my point, I was recently in London meeting with one of our clients who clearly falls under this Global Citizen label. He was sharing with me how he was finding it difficult to answer a question which he is regularly asked: “Where are you from?”. Simple enough question, but increasingly harder for many of our clients to answer. “What do you mean?” he goes on to ask. “Do you mean where I was born? Where I grew up, or where were my formative years? Maybe you mean where I lived the longest or where I live now?”

Indeed, he was born in South Africa, raised in the UK, university educated in the US, married to a Canadian with children born in the US, and running a worldwide business with offices in 20 countries. To which country would such a person hold allegiance? “All of them. I am the fabric of all of them,” he goes on to say.

Through the work of our firm, individuals are given the benefit of choice, and that choice can help define a new identity as well as open doors to new opportunities. You no longer have to be subject to the country where you happened to be born.

I had a delegate at one of our conferences drive this point home to me when he explained that the city he was born in, which appears in his passport as if it had some official hold on him, he had not visited, let alone lived in, since he was three years old. Yet, why is one’s birth location such a critical determinant to future opportunities? It should not be this way, and no longer needs to be.  

I also liked the analogy given by one of our regular conference speakers, Professor Peter Spiro, who was explaining how more and more of us view countries as ‘non-state entities’ and that many such internationally-minded individuals feel they hold a right of association to a country we desire, like we would to a political party or when choosing a favourite sporting team, or even in the same vein as when choosing between BlackBerry or iPhone.

At no other time in our history has mankind been as mobile as we are today, and this trend is not likely to slow down any time soon. This is creating a new set of challenges, and opportunities, for governments. Indeed, the concepts of citizenship and even statehood are changing as governments grapple to adjust to this new world reality, but that is the topic for another opinion piece.