The historical development of the nature of ‘desirability’ in naturalisation regimes in East and Southeast Asia

This paper compares the naturalisation regimes for migrants in East Asia (China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan) and Southeast Asia (Malaysia and Singapore), examining how these states have reconfigured their boundaries of citizenship based on ‘desirability’ since the early 20th century. There are some attributes of desirability for which naturalisation regimes privilege some groups of migrants over others. The hierarchy of desirability in the East and Southeast Asian naturalisation regimes since the late 20th century has been constructed based on class differences. At the top of the hierarchy of desirability, skilled professionals constitute a selective group of desired migrants, whereas marriage migrants and low-skilled migrants are at the bottom of the hierarchy. Naturalisation regimes give less weight to the social contribution of migrant spouses and the economic contribution of unskilled migrant workers than to that of skilled workers. The lower weighting is the reason for their exclusion, regardless of their territorial presence in the state. Coming into the 21st century, East and Southeast Asian naturalisation regimes show a similar pattern of convergence based on economic desirability when these states engage in what Shachar has called ‘talent-for-citizenship exchange’.

Choo Chin Low, The historical development of the nature of ‘desirability’ in naturalisation regimes in East and Southeast Asia, Citizenship Studies, 2021.