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I have been under the strong impression that, globally, laws that disadvantage people on the basis of their citizenship — barring immigration/visa laws — are extremely rare. In fact, I can't recall coming across any such law before I saw this question (which states that Norway has passed a law banning Russian citizens from flying drones).

So, how are such laws common (except for immigration/visa laws)? Are there many examples?

I am primarily interested in jurisdictions where citizenship (national origin) is a protected group for the purposes of illegal discrimination (admittedly, this doesn't preclude enacting laws that make such discrimination legal under certain circumstances, like exampled by the Norwegian law).

Update based on comments and answers:

This question primarily concerns laws that target holders of specific citizenships — as opposed to foreigners in general. Countries that advantage its own citizens and thus disadvantage everyone who is not (e.g. for land ownership) are pretty common and not interesting. Conversely, countries that target specific citizenships seem to be rare, and that's what the question is focused on.

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  • I think this applies indirectly to almost all laws. Most laws only apply to residents or workers or some group like that of the country making the law. The law itself does not care about citizenship but whether you can become part of the group strongly depends on citizenship.
    – quarague
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 11:05
  • @quarague Well, I guess the question is about laws that are direct about citizenship.
    – Greendrake
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 11:07
  • @Jen Just a few other examples like the Norwegian one would be sufficient to admit that it is common. Note that the examples must 1) not be re immigration/visa laws; and 2) from jurisdictions which otherwise prohibit discrimination on the basis of citizenship/national origin.
    – Greendrake
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 12:15
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    I think a more interesting question would be to ask how common are laws that affect citizens of only a specific country (or countries), rather than "foreigners" in general.
    – Alan
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 18:51
  • 1
    Military conscription is usually a disadvantage based upon citizenship.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 23:29

3 Answers 3

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Many countries have such restrictions on land ownership.

  • Vietnam does not allow foreigners to own land, likewise Laos, Cambodia (part of their constitution), and Myanmar. Thailand has numerous restrictions on foreigners owning land.

  • Tanzania allows limited land ownership by foreigners (investment purposes only), though technically only the President owns land. Kenya does not allow foreign land ownership, just long-term leasing.

  • Mexico has a no-foreigners zone of 100 km at its borders and the sea, and there is a similar restriction in Honduras.

  • Australia requires government permission for foreigners to buy land.

  • Greece imposes bureaucratic barriers on EU-relative citizenship for land owning.

  • Sri Lanka imposes a 100% title-transfer tax on foreigners.

There are enough examples that it might be the usual situation, though less common in Western countries.

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Although this isn't a specific example, anti-discrimination law itself is not all encompassing and does permit discrimination of protected groups in certain circumstances. As such it is not necessary to find a law which specifically disadvantages people on the basis of citizenship because that is already possible.

Under the Equality Act 2010 for example, you must first find a provision which prohibits discrimination for your particular scenario (e.g. provision of services, employment, access to education). If there is no provision that it is unlawful to discriminate for a given scenario, then it is lawful.

Even if a discrimination is generally unlawful for a particular scenario, the Act provides a multitude of exceptions. You can find many general exceptions in Part 14 and Schedule 23 as well as exceptions relating to specific scenarios e.g. Schedule 3 (provision of services), and Schedule 9 (employment), Schedule 11 (education).

Preventing Russian citizens from operating drones (where doing so falls within a scenario where discrimination would otherwise be prohibited) can for example be potentially justified under Section 192:

A person does not contravene this Act only by doing, for the purpose of safeguarding national security, anything it is proportionate to do for that purpose.

Many jurisdictions also permit positive discrimination which, if applied to citizenship, can be viewed as disadvantaging citizens who are not subject to the positive discrimination.

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  • Another example is that if the job has to deal with access to a nation's intelligence service or classified systems, the nation will almost always require citizenship of that nation. Additionally, some nations, like the U.S. might have laws that limit eligibility for public office by citizenship (The U.S. for example requires by law that the President be a birthright citizen and 14 years of residency within the U.S. prior to holding the office. Most states will also have residency requirements for state offices and seats in congress).
    – hszmv
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 13:44
  • Parliament can pass a discriminatory law - such a law would automatically be beyond the reach of a previous law.
    – Dale M
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 21:15
  • @DaleM Agreed, I wasn't trying to imply that the Equality Act applies to Parliament. However, if a discriminatory Act relates to an ECHR right then there could be recourse under Article 14.
    – JBentley
    Commented Nov 19, 2022 at 13:22
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No sovereign country is obliged to give rights to foreigners, absent treaty commitments to the contrary.

Every sovereign country has the right to confer advantages to its own citizens, absent treaty commitments to the contrary.

That is the crux of sovereignty. And the crux of citizenship.

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