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Nationality is the legal relationship between a person and a state.[1] Nationality normally confers some protection of the person by the state, and some obligations on the person towards the state. What these rights and duties are vary from country to country.[2] It differs technically and legally from citizenship, although in most modern countries all nationals are citizens of the state and all citizens are nationals of the state.[1]

Nationality affords the state jurisdiction over the person and affords the person the protection of the state. The most common distinguishing feature of citizenship is that citizens have the right to participate in the political life of the state, such as by voting or standing for election.

The noun national can include both citizens and non-citizens. By custom and international conventions, it is the right of each state to determine who its nationals are.[3] Such determinations are part of nationality law. In some cases, determinations of nationality are also governed by public international law—for example, by treaties on statelessness and the European Convention on Nationality.

In English, the same word is used in the sense of an ethnic group (a group of people who share a common ethnic identity, language, culture, descent, history, and so forth). This meaning of nationality is not defined by political borders or passport ownership and includes nations that lack an independent state (such as the Scots, Welsh, English, Basques, Kurds, Tamils, Hmong, Inuit and Māori).

Individuals may also be considered nationals of groups with autonomous status which have ceded some power to a larger government, such as the federally recognized tribes of Native Americans in the United States. Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "Everyone has the right to a nationality," and "No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality."

Nationality versus ethnicity[edit]

Nationality is sometimes used simply as an alternate word for ethnicity, just as some people assume that citizenship and nationality are identical.[4] In some countries, the cognate word for nationality in local language may be understood as a synonym of ethnicity. To determine citizenship, the nations in these areas of the world follow the principle of jus sanguinis rather than jus soli. These countries determine the person's nationality by his ethnicity, rather than his citizenship.

In several areas of the world, the term nationality can be defined based on ethnicity, as well as cultural and family-based self-determination rather than on relations with a state or current government. For example, there are people who would say that they are Kurds, i.e., of Kurdish nationality, even though no such Kurdish sovereign state exists at least at this time in history. In the context of former Soviet Union and former Yugoslavia, nationality is often used as translation of the Russian nacional'nost' and Serbo-Croatian narodnost terms used for ethnic groups and local affiliations within those (former) states.

Even today the Russian Federation, as an example, consists of various people whose nationality is other than Russian, but who are considered to be Russian subjects and comply with the laws of the federation. Similarly, the term "nationalities of China" refers to cultural groups in China. Spain is one nation, made out by nationalities, which are not politically recognized as nations (state), but can be considered smaller nations within the Spanish nation. Spanish law recognises the autonomous communities of Andalusia, Aragon, Balearic Islands, Canary Islands, Catalonia, Valencia, Galicia and the Basque Country as "nationalities" (nacionalidades).[5]

Nationality versus citizenship[edit]

In a number of countries, nationality is legally a distinct concept from citizenship, or nationality is a necessary but not sufficient condition to exercise full political rights within a state or other polity.[1] Conceptually, citizenship is focused on the internal political life of the state, and nationality is a matter of international dealings.[6]

United States nationality law defines some persons born in U.S. outlying possessions as U.S. nationals but not citizens. British nationality law defines six classes of British national, among which "British citizen" is one class (and the only one having the right of abode in the United Kingdom). Similarly, in the Republic of China, commonly known as Taiwan, the status of national without household registration applies to people who have Republic of China nationality, but do not have an automatic entitlement to enter or reside in the Taiwan Area, and do not qualify for civic rights and duties there. Under the nationality laws of Mexico, Colombia, and some other Latin American countries, nationals do not become citizens until they turn 18.

Nationality versus national identity[edit]

National identity is a person's subjective sense of belonging to one state or to one nation. A person may be a national of a state, in the sense of having a formal legal relationship with it, without subjectively or emotionally feeling a part of that state. Conversely, a person may feel that he belongs to one state without having any legal relationship to it. For example, children who were brought to the U.S. illegally when quite young and grow up there in ignorance of their immigration status often have a national identity of feeling American, despite legally being nationals of a different country.

Dual nationality[edit]

Dual nationality is when a single person has a formal relationship with two separate, sovereign states.[6] This might occur, for example, if a person's parents are nationals of separate countries, and the mother's country claims all offspring of the mother's as their own nationals, but the father's country claims all offspring of the father's.

Nationality, with its historical origins in allegiance to a sovereign monarch, was seen originally as a permanent, inherent, unchangeable condition, and later, when a change of allegiance was permitted, as a strictly exclusive relationship, so that becoming a national of one state required rejecting the previous state.[6]

Dual nationality was considered a problem that caused conflict between states and sometimes imposed mutually exclusive requirements on affected people, such as simultaneously serving in two countries' military forces. Through the middle of the 20th century, many international agreements were focused on reducing the possibility of dual nationality. Since then, many accords recognizing and regulating dual nationality have been formed.[6]


Statelessness is an international problem in which an individual has no formal or protective relationship with any state. This might occur, for example, if a person's parents are nationals of separate countries, and the mother's country rejects all offspring of mothers married to foreign fathers, but the father's country rejects all offspring born to foreign mothers. Although this person may have an emotional national identity, he or she may not legally be the national of any state.

International law[edit]

Nottebohm (Liechtenstein v. Guatemala) is a 1955 case that is cited for its definitions of nationality.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Vonk, Olivier (March 19, 2012). Dual Nationality in the European Union: A Study on Changing Norms in Public and Private International Law and in the Municipal Laws of Four EU Member States. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. pp. 19–20. ISBN 90-04-22720-2. 
  2. ^ Weis, Paul. Nationality and Statelessness in International Law. BRILL; 1979 [cited 19 August 2012]. ISBN 9789028603295. p. 29–61.
  3. ^ Convention on Certain Questions Relating to the Conflict of Nationality Laws. The Hague, 12 April 1930. Full text. Article 1, "It is for each State to determine under its own law who are its nationals...".
  4. ^ Oommen, T. K. (1997). Citizenship, nationality, and ethnicity: reconciling competing identities. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press. p. 6. ISBN 0-7456-1620-8. 
  5. ^ Mughal, Muhammad Aurang Zeb. 2012. Spain. Steven L. Denver (ed.), Native Peoples of the World: An Encyclopedia of Groups, Cultures, and Contemporary Issues, Vol. 3. Armonk, NY: M .E. Sharpe, pp. 674-675.
  6. ^ a b c d Turner, Bryan S; Isin, Engin F. Handbook of Citizenship Studies. SAGE; 2003-01-29. ISBN 9780761968580. p. 278–279.
  7. ^ Boll, Alfred Michael. Multiple Nationality And International Law. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers; 2007 [cited 20 August 2012]. ISBN 9789004148383. p. 13.
  • White, Philip L. (2006). "Globalization and the Mythology of the Nation State," In A.G.Hopkins, ed. Global History: Interactions Between the Universal and the Local Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 257–284. [1]

Further reading[edit]

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