The Issue of Citizenship (Part II)


By Mohamedu F. Jones


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
February 15, 2006


As Liberia contemplate the situation of Liberians who became citizens of other countries in the last 15-20 years, many because of the meltdown of the country in the 1990s, we must think about this issue not as “us v. them,” but rather within the context of what is mutually beneficial. What is best for Liberia and for its expatriate community? Well, how about a “Liberian Permanent Resident” immigration category for expatriate Liberians?

In the State of Rhode Island, candidates for Congress (U.S. Senate or House) routinely schedule campaign appearances before Liberian groups. Liberian émigrés in that state are a very important constituency. They have a level of influence with the Rhode Island delegation in the United States Congress.

There are many, many professional Liberian households earning six-figure incomes in the U.S. The significant rise in house values throughout the United States, investments in 401K retirement plans and in the stock market, combined with becoming vested in the Social Security and pension plans in the United States, mean that many Liberians here have accumulated solid American middle class wealth. Many have had to also become U. S. citizens to reach this status. Liberia should consider how it can benefit from the good fortune of its expatriate population, and act to make this possible.

In the last 15+ years, children born in Liberia, whose families moved to the United States in the 1990s, have completed college and /or professional schools, started their own families (some marrying non-Liberians); many have become naturalized Americans and are pursuing their own “American dream.” Liberia stands to lose them forever. Liberian baby-boomers (the Crowd 50 types and older) are now on the cusp of retirement and are thinking about where they would live after they retire. How can both those of us who have had to live here in the United States and those of us who had to live in Liberia during the horror years, benefit from what expatriate Liberians have achieved? There are innovative and creative ways to deal with this issue and a Liberian Permanent Resident status is one reasonable and thoughtful way to think about the issue.

Citizenship of a country, even a broken one like Liberia, is important to any country and its people. It ought not to be taken lightly, or brushed aside. There are rights and responsibilities associated with being the citizens of a country, and it is understandable why Liberians living in Liberia care about the citizenship status of those who have lived abroad for years. It is also understandable why those who live abroad are very concerned about how they would be treated should they return to Liberia.

To take into account these all-around legitimate concerns, and yet not lose the opportunity to benefit from the “wealth” of its expatriate population, Liberia should consider legislation creating a “Liberian Permanent Resident” status. Eligibility for this proposed immigration status would be simple: (1) the person must once have been a citizen of Liberia or (2) must be the child of a person who was once a citizen of Liberia or (3) be the child of a citizen of Liberia. The third category would offer “Liberian Permanent Resident” status to children of Liberians who acquired the citizenship of the countries of their birth at the time of birth.

A Liberian Permanent Resident would be able to live and work in Liberia, hold government positions for which citizenship is not a constitutional criterion, own and inherit land, do business, and serve on a jury. This status would be without expiration and the person may acquire Liberian citizenship simply by filing a petition before a circuit court and surrender their citizenship documents from the other country. A Liberian Permanent Resident would not be able to vote or hold constitutional offices such as president, vice president, become a member of the legislature or serve in the judiciary branch.

It has been estimated that after the maritime income, the largest source of foreign earnings in Liberia in recent years was Western Union remittances. One can only imagine the economic dynamics that would come into force in Liberia from regular payments of Social Security, 401K, and pension payments to the thousands of Liberian Permanent Residents who would go back to Liberia. The income from these sources would be larger than Western Union payments in multifold. The payment would be regular and reliable and have a major impact on the banking industry and the national economy.

Given the choice as would be offered under this status, I would think that most Liberian expatriates would prefer to retire to beaches of Liberia rather than the beaches of Florida. Establishing a Liberian Permanent Resident immigration status would be like saying “Welcome Home.” And if Liberia refuses to roll out a welcome mat, Ghana and Gambia already have their “welcome” signs out; Liberia would then lose again.