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
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.