Scale balancing business profits and human rights
Article/journal, Migration & borders, Human rights & justice, Harney Program

Unequal access: wealth as barrier and accelerator to citizenship

Combining insights from the history of citizenship with contemporary legal analysis, this article both highlights and problematizes what we may call sorting strategies – restrictive closure and selective openness – which rely on ‘varieties of affluence’ (income, wealth, equity, credit, and the like) in shaping possibilities for entry, settlement, and naturalization. By emphasizing the growing significance of income barriers and thresholds on the one hand, and fast-tracked investment-based entryways on the other, this article investigates the role of wealth as both accelerator and barrier to citizenship, contributing to the varied toolbox used by governments to advance goals that may at times appear contradictory; these tools both tighten and relax the requirements of access to membership at the same time. These new developments represent different facets of the same trend. Without explicitly stating as much, programs that turn wealth into a core criterion for admission conceptually reignite an older, exclusive, and exclusionary vision according to which individuals must hold property (in land, resources, or in relation to one’s ‘dependents,’ including women, slaves, and children) in order to qualify as a citizen. While such a trajectory is no stranT8ger to ancient models, it raises profound challenges to modernist accounts of political membership that place equality at their core.