Citizenship: Token of Appreciation?

The world was left in awe this week when footage emerged of a Malian migrant who climbed four stories to save a child hanging from a balcony. Videos show Mamoudou Gassama pulling himself up a building in the north of Paris to save the 4-year-old boy, who had been left on his own in the flat and decided to do some exploring on Sunday night.

A petition circulated soon after the rescue, demanding that the Malian be granted legal status for his act of bravery. The petition gathered approximately 6,000 signatures by Monday morning. Nicknamed “Spiderman” on social media, Gassama arrived in Paris a few months ago with the hopes of securing French residency.

French President Emmanuel Macron was swift to react. He summoned Monsieur Gassama to the Elysée Palace, and gave him a medal, a certificate in honor of his bravery, and the promise of citizenship. He also offered him a job with the French fire brigade. President Macron emphasized that the offer of citizenship was an exception. Only five naturalizations for “exceptional talent” or “service to the community” were awarded in 2017, according to the French interior ministry.

“His heroic gesture was an example for all citizens and the City of Paris will obviously be keen to support him in his efforts to settle in France,” said Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

That same day, in another part of the world, another individual was granted a citizenship, but under entirely different circumstances.

Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea Football Club and one of the richest men in Russia, had issues renewing his UK visa. The British authorities refused to comment on the delay, but sources say that it was “processing issues” and a visa would be forthcoming. However, billionaires do not like to wait. He had already been unable to attend his football team’s winning performance the weekend before in the FA Cup at Wembley Stadium.

The Chelsea FC owner, who is Jewish, exercised his right under Israel’s Law of Return, which states that Jews from anywhere in the world can become citizens of Israel. And as soon as Mr. Abramovich’s private jet touched down at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport on Monday, he was immediately granted Israeli citizenship.

The oligarch, worth an estimated US$11.5 billion, instantly became Israel’s wealthiest person after receiving his new citizenship. The 51-year-old had been travelling in and out of the UK for years on a Tier-1 investor visa, designed for foreigners who invest at least £2 million ($2.8m) in Britain. Luckily, Israeli passport holders can travel to Britain without a visa and stay for up to six months at a time.

The notion of being granted a citizenship as a token of appreciation is an age-old deed that has been part of our culture for centuries. Citizenship as a token gesture of goodwill continues to be serviced to notable individuals who become a vital part in shaping a community and adding immeasurable value to a nation.

As divergent as these two cases may be, the defining boundaries for granting citizenship by honor are the same. These two stories illustrate what I have been saying for years: rich or poor, there is nothing more valuable than a second citizenship for those who want to become global citizens and have the world’s opportunities unleash before them.