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Where to Belong and Why? Sri Lankan immigrants’ perceptions of Australian, New Zealand and Sri Lankan citizenship

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Migration from developing to developed countries has led to the naturalisation of millions of immigrants in their new destinations. Meanwhile, the trend of relaxing dual citizenship policies by many states has offered immigrants the option of retaining their home country citizenship as well as obtaining citizenship in their new country. Thus, legally, immigrants whose home and adoptive country both allow dual citizenship, can continue to be citizens in both countries at the same time, although such multiple attachments challenge the traditional meaning of belonging of a citizen: that one citizen can belong to one country only. In this thesis, I analyse the meaning immigrants ascribe to citizenship when they are legal members of two states. In particular, I am interested in understanding the factors that lead emigrants/immigrants to see their home and host country citizenship in terms of the material benefits they provide, and those that lead them to see citizenship as an expression of loyalty and belonging. I do this by exploring the similarities and differences in the way Sri Lankan immigrants give meaning to their adoptive (Australian or New Zealand) citizenship as opposed to their home (Sri Lankan) citizenship.

To explore Sri Lankan immigrants’ views, this study employs a qualitative methodology. I collected data through forty-nine semi-structured interviews with first-generation Sri Lankan immigrants in Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland and Wellington, and used thematic analysis to interpret my data. I found that my participants give different meanings to their Sri Lankan, Australian, and New Zealand citizenship. In terms of the adoptive country citizenship, participants’ instrumental and patriotic views were intertwined. My findings show that Sri Lankan immigrants’ loyalty and sense of belonging to Australian or New Zealand society has developed on top of their positive thoughts about achieving socio-economic or political migratory expectations. In contrast, participants viewed the patriotic spirit and the instrumentalist value of home country citizenship separately, and the strength of their feeling about loyalty and belonging was not affected by the material aspects of citizenship. Based on these findings, I highlight the need to understand immigrants’ perceptions of citizenship differently than those of native citizens. I argue that assumptions, such as only good immigrants can belong and be loyal to the host society in isolation to their materialistic interests of citizenship, are highly misleading and result in ineffective policy decisions.

The findings also show that home country factors that affect the way my participants see citizenship vary across ethnic lines. While the way Sinhalese participants perceive their Sri Lankan and Australian or New Zealand citizenship are more affected by socio-economic factors, Tamil participants’ views are mostly influenced by political factors, due to the ethnic suppression they faced in Sri Lanka. Thus, I conclude that migration scholarship should acknowledge heterogeneity within immigrant communities and migrants’ unique, individual, experiences, and subjective realities.


Advisor 1

McMillan, Kate

Advisor 2

Arkilic, Ayca

Copyright Date


Date of Award



Victoria University of Wellington - Te Herenga Waka

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Political Science

Degree Grantor

Victoria University of Wellington - Te Herenga Waka

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations