Possible Citizens: Migration Enforcement as the Performance of Citizenship in the United Arab Emirates

While most boundary-making studies examine native-born citizens’ opposition to immigration, this article explains why immigrants develop anti-immigrant attitudes. Under what conditions do previous generations of immigrants develop solidarity with newcomers? When might immigrants, instead, police national boundaries and oppose further immigration or naturalization? I argue that under uncertain citizenship status, long-term immigrants are unlikely to develop solidarity with newcomers, despite common experience with exclusionary citizenship policies. Drawing on interviews with naturalization applicants in the United Arab Emirates, this article analyses how policies that unevenly distribute rights and protections to non-citizens structure relationships between immigrant groups. Moving beyond citizen/non-citizen binaries, it calls attention to hierarchies among non-citizens, examining how long-term immigrants with partial and conditional rights police national boundaries to navigate exclusionary policies. When states restrict citizenship, making it a scarce good, immigrants may respond to uncertainty by competing and, thus, limiting access to that good for newcomers. When naturalization is arduous, applicants face pressures to continually perform citizenship to prove that they deserve inclusion. Naturalization applicants lacked citizenship, but they immigrated to the UAE before the establishment of its guest-worker program and claimed Emirati identity by differentiating themselves from “migrant workers.” I show how migration enforcement and boundary-policing factored into their perceptions and performances of what it meant to be a “good” Emirati citizen. Ethnic hierarchies and the timing of migration created distinctions between immigrants eligible for naturalization and those who were not. The mere possibility of inclusion in the citizenry may generate hierarchies between immigrants, precluding solidarity, and encouraging boundary-policing.

Noora Lori, Possible Citizens: Migration Enforcement as the Performance of Citizenship in the United Arab Emirates, International Migration Review, 2021.