The words “Citizenship” and “Nationality” are often used synonymously with each other. However, little do we know, that they have stark differences amongst each other. Furthermore, the idea of Citizenship and Nationality varies from one country to another depending on its laws. But to begin with a basic idea, we will describe the two concepts whose definitions would be the same across all countries.
A National is a person who has decided to serve allegiance to a particular nation and in return enjoys diplomatic protection from that country. He has the right to buy a passport to travel to that country and work there. A citizen is someone who is born in the native country and has been registered there as someone residing in that region. A citizen enjoys all the political rights that are given under the Constitution of that country. A National does not have the right to vote and begin a political career there.
This is the basic difference between a citizen and a national. However, the definitions vary from one country to another and in some, there are different kinds of Citizenships and Nationality which makes these two terms quite confusing and problematic. In the US, you are a citizen if you are born in any part of that country or attain a Legal Permanent Resident status by acquiring a green card. On the other hand, if you are born in US Samoa and Swain Islands, which are US territories, you are a US National.
Now let’s talk about Britain. In Britain, there are three kinds of citizenship. To name them, they are–British Citizenship, British Overseas Territories Citizenship and British Overseas Citizenship.
When it comes to British Citizenship, until the Nationality Act of 1983, anyone born in the UK was termed as a British Citizen. After 1983, the concept broadened a little bit. Anyone born elsewhere but had atleast one relative who is a British Citizen became a British Citizen. The Citizenship status encompassed all those living in the European Economic Area and Swiss Islands.
The ones living in the British Overseas Territories (priorly known as British Dependent Territories) came to be known as British Overseas Territories Citizens post the 1983 Nationality Act. Such citizens are subject to immigration control and have no right to abode to the UK. In the US if you acquire a green card and become its resident, you are a US citizen, but in UK if you are a citizen under this category, you have no right to live there. Thus, the context of the term “Citizen” changes when we talk about different countries.
British Overseas Citizens are the ones who were categorised under this term for not being registered as citizens before the 1983 Nationality Act. This encompassed people living within the UK and the ones living in its occupied territories.
When we talk about Mexico, one is a registered citizen only after they turn 18 years old. So inspite of being born there, one is not an eligible citizen unless they cross that age threshold.
Thus, breaking these words and weighing them against each other with the context of different countries clarifies our notion about what they are. Instead of taking these words for granted and using them based on our whim, we can finally use them keeping in mind their historical, spatial contexts.