It is virtually universally accepted that discrimination by a variety of characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation etc. is not acceptable. At the same time, discrimination by citizenship is virtually universally considered ok. Are there any justifications why discrimination by citizenship is not the same as by other characteristics better than a simple "this is how things were/are used to be, so that's a norm"?

Some examples of what I mean by citizenship discrimination:

  1. Visa discrimination (some "passports" can freely enter, some require a visa, some will be denied visa)
  2. Consumer discrimination (citizens of some countries may be denied some services either because of a law or because of a private organization’s rules)

Note 1: why citizenship is in the same category as the other characteristics

Normally it is considered that all men are born equal in rights. So it would seem reasonable if person 1 born with country A's citizenship and person 2 born with country B's citizenship would automatically have the same right to enter country C, wouldn't it?

Note 2: this question is not only about different rights for citizens in their own country vs immigrants

Making an argument why citizens can have privileges in their country won't automatically answer the question, because it would still needed to be justified why granting entrance to foreigners based on citizenship is ok and based on race is not ok.

Note 3: on being able to change citizenship

Some might consider this as an argument, but

  1. while this is technically true, practically, unless you're rich or a high-skilled worker, this might be extremely hard or even impossible. Especially for citizens of partially recognized or sanctioned countries

  2. religion, gender and sexual orientation can be changed too

  • I don't suppose my own experience of, acquiring Canadian nationality, is extremely unusual. Canada naturalizes about 150k people per year. Also in the Q, 1. "Visa/immigration" is clear enough and I am sure someone can answer the question. but 2. "consumer discrimination" is unclear. What current examples can you give of someone being ruled out, based on a nationality criteria? In a country where solid anti-discrimination laws are a thing, of course. Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 18:39
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    Voting not to close - this is a good question to explain the political and legal roots of discrimination and why the same yardsticks does not apply to the criteria of citizenship.
    – sfxedit
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 2:20
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    This question seems to simply ask why there are multiple nation states and not just a single state on Earth? Or am I getting something wrong? Also, it's not virtually universally accepted to not discriminate by sexual orientation. For a recent example see (but there are many more): Uganda passes a law making it a crime to identify as LGBTQ. Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 6:55
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    Good question. Case in point: The South African apartheid regime tried to masquerade racial discrimination as citizenship discrimination to make it look acceptable. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bantustan Western countries didn't buy that – but they still think their own citizenship discrimination is fine. Quite baffling, when you think about it. Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 6:11
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    Regarding the last line: "religion, gender and sexual orientation can be changed too" . Changing religion is something that some particularly religious states do not accept (convert away from e.g. Islam and you'll have problems - this is also discrimination of course). The acceptance of changing gender is a current political issue. Sexual orientation is not really feasible to change at all currently, despite claims of conversion therapy. All three statements are quite problematic.
    – Chieron
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 14:55

11 Answers 11


If I'm reading this question right, it's assuming that discrimination between a country's own citizens and foreigners is "normal", and is only asking why are not all foreigners [to be] treated the same.

A very basic reason is that in extremis, a country can be at war with others, war in which it may have clear/declared allies and likewise enemies. It would be absurd to have all these foreigners [in particular, members of the militaries thereof] treated the same, especially under those circumstances. This kind of discrimination between some foreigners being friends and some being foes goes back centuries.

In more peaceful [and modern] times, citizenship is [also] used as a proxy for income and so as presumed likelihood of immigrating illegally, at least to the richer countries, and at least until until more is known about that particular foreigner. So, forcing the citizens of poorer countries to apply for visas, and in the process make them show e.g. that they have good reason to return back home, enough money for the trip etc., is part and parcel of this process.

This is perhaps most visible when countries are part of [reciprocal] agreements to facilitate [relatively free] movement of their citizens, but others are clearly/explicitly excluded e.g.

The prohibition on nationality discrimination in EU law applies in the context of free movement of persons and is only accorded to citizens of EU Member States. In addition, the non-discrimination directives contain various exclusions of application for third-country nationals (TCNs). A TCN is an individual who is a citizen of a State that is not a member of the EU.

As for how far this discrimination can go beyond/after admission, there are limits inferred from EDHR etc.

Example: in the case of Gaygusuz v. Austria, a Turkish national who had been working in Austria was refused unemployment benefit because he did not hold Austrian citizenship. The ECtHR found that he was in a comparable situation to Austrian nationals since he was a permanent resident and had contributed to the social security system through taxation. It found that the absence of a reciprocal social security agreement between Austria and Turkey could not justify the differential treatment, since the applicant’s situation was factually too close to that of Austrian nationals.

This quote is relevant also because it shows that the court totally entertained that [some] discrimination is permissible on the basis of reciprocal treaties. In fact, such treaties are common with respect to taxable income, even involving the US. Also over there

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate with respect to hiring, firing, or recruitment or referral for a fee, based upon an individual's citizenship or immigration status.

I think the 2nd point you ask about in re "consumer discrimination" by non-state entities is more iffy, because it's not always clear how it can be distinguish from other forms of discrimination, since you don't normally show a passport when buying something, although there are probably exceptions. I suspect it's not explicitly forbidden in many countries. It might be worth asking about separately.

Probably not a lot has been written about this latter issue since it's not a common concern, outside of wars and embargoes, like prohibiting your own citizens from certain classes of transactions with "the enemy", or more broadly with sanctioned countries and citizens thereof (e.g. what the US does with Cuba.) In the realm of economic relations, a lot of the WTO stuff is at the level of non-discrimination between firms [by national origin], but those treaties also have [plenty of] exceptions for security measures in times of war-like situations, and even more mundane ones like for regional trade agreements, or even the opposite of what you see for visas, in the form "special and differential treatment (S&D) for the developing countries" when it comes to goods imports, etc.

  • Within the EU there is stark contrast. Citizens of Romania can enter the Netherlands visa-free while much richer Qatari citizens can't.
    – whoisit
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 5:35
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    Black South Africans have far lower incomes than white South Africans. If I understand your argument correctly, it would be acceptable for white South Africans to discriminate against black South Africans. Just "part and parcel of this process..." Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 6:17
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    One extreme example: If there were a country, who would just sell it's citizenship to anyone asking for e.g. $100. This citizenship would provide no guarantees whatsoever about the individual holding it. While e.g. most EU-States follow several common rules, which (should in theory) reduce the likelihood of a wanted criminal traveling freely while holding citizenship of a EU country. - So citizenship can be viewed like a written guarantee by the issuing country for this person.
    – Falco
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 9:01

Citizenship is - definitionally - preferential (or to use your term, discriminatory).

The concept of "citizen" only exists in a context where there are "non-citizens". If everyone is equal in all respect then there would be no need for citizenship. It's a circular train of thought.

It is worth checking out this lecture by Dr Timothy Snyder, which investigates why nations exist in the first place. The invention of nationhood and citizenship is deeply tied to the slave trade. To summarize, citizenship protects you from enslavement within your own country, it guarantees you at least one geographical space on Earth where you would be safe.

To answer your points:

Are there any justifications why discrimination by citizenship is not the same as by other characteristics

I would say there is little difference. Discrimination is discrimination.

However, it is worth investigating why "discrimination by citizenship" is commonly excluded from constitutional protections globally.

Without deliniation between citizens and non-citizens, you quickly run into several practical issues:

  • Who gets to vote in your country? If there is no citizen, does this mean everyone who travels to your country on election day is entitled to vote?

  • Do you recognize the citizenship of other countries? If a German citizen in same-sex marriage travels to Iran, can the Iranian government arrest the German citizen because same-sex marriage is illegal in Iran? If you do not recognize discrimination by citizenship, then you necessarily must also disregard protections granted to a non-citizen by their own home country. After all, your law applies equally to everyone.

  • Do other countries have to recognize your laws and citizenship? It is unlikely for country A to recognize country B's laws and customs if there is no reciprocation. The basis of international diplomacy is that countries recognize each other's sovereignty, if you dissolve the concept of citizenship, then the concept of sovereignty is rendered mute. For example, it would be very unlikely for Ukraine or Taiwan to accept that they have to relinquish the power to reject entry of citizens by Russia or China.

Normally it is considered that all men are born equal in rights.

The document you are referring to is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Contrary to popular belief, the UDHR does not take an absolutist stance on the rights it provides. Article 29 explicitly states that all rights must be balanced with each other and can be limited for the purpose of ensuring the survival of democracy. Its vagueness and generality gives each country significant wiggle-room to make laws that discriminate based on citizenship.

In summary, citizenship exists in a different category from other protected status because it serves a functional purpose.

The modern internationl order relies on nation states respecting each other's existence and sovereignty. And the cornerstone of nationhood is citizenship.

A nation can make its legal regime very non-discriminatory against non-citizens (e.g. See how EU abolished most internal travel restrictions with Schengen Area), but only on the basis that its citizens agreed to do so, and they of course reserve the right to reverse that decision any time.

If you really wish to eliminate discrimination based on citizenship, the only solution is probably to give UN significant power and issue "Earth citizenship" to everyone. Though this necessarily discriminates extraterristrial intelligent lifeforms, but that would be another story.

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    Re: citizenship, I think you read the question wrong. It's not about discrimination between citizens and non-citizens, but rather how e.g. a citizen of country A may be able to enter country C without visa while a citizen of country B may require visa to enter country C. Another example is a company in C disallowing their services to be used in B (possibly e.g. because of laws of C, like economic sanctions). Why is it normal and ok for C to discriminate against citizens of B like this? That seems to be the question.
    – JoL
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 4:18
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    @JoL I think the answer to your scenario is still the same: national sovereignty. Each country gets to set their own policy because that is the post WW2 consensus. Countries can choose to discrimminate or not to discrimminate non-citizens, the point is they have the power to do so. My answer's goal is to explain why national sovereignty exists. Once you connect the dots, everything falls into place. Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 4:23
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    I think this is not what the OP is actually asking. They don't seem to doubt it's "natural" for a country to discriminate between its citizens and non-citizens. Their Q is about discrimination by citizenship between various foreigners. Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 4:34
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    @Fizz. the OP is actually asking a "loaded question". Which is understandable, considering the OP's affiliation and political agenda (which, in turn, can be known by reading their prior posts). In my understanding, QuantumWalnut did a tremendous job to patiently address the objective part of a loaded question with a very neutral and unbiased answer, and skipping every hidden rant about sanctions imposed on the OP's country and travel restrictions on its citizens. Note that "your sanctions are racist" is a known part of the OP's country's official propaganda since as early as Jackson-Vanik. Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 5:54
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    @BeBraveBeLikeUkraine I do. The question specifically asks why discrimination by race in terms of immigration policy is different from discrimination by citizenship. JoL suggested comparing the situation to a hypothetical household's restrictions on who can enter and who can't as a way of highlighting things, and they brought up that example as a reply, not necessarily to suggest that particular sanctions are racist, but to show that shifting to that analogy didn't actually change the situation and discrimination by race was still a distinct scenario.
    – Idran
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 20:26

It is virtually universally accepted that discrimination by a variety of characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation etc. is not acceptable.

Is it? I mean, that idea is very recent Western phenomena. And even in the most progressive circles it may be a problem whether one is against discrimination or is actually enthusiastic supporter of discrimination as long as it is so called "positive" discrimination.

We actually accept that ex. insurance company prices differently clients based on their characteristics. (or in case of the EU sex discrimination is not OK, while ageism is fine)

So concerning your question - in case of foreigners we even don't bother to pretend that we treat people equally. And stopping at border potential trouble makers and drain on public resources looks highly rational.

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    Stopping "potential trouble makers" and "drain on public resources" looked "highly rational" to white South Africans during apartheid. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bantustan Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 6:20
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    This only shifts the question to "Why are foreigners generally considered as potential trouble makers?" Commented Apr 5, 2023 at 19:29
  • @GeorgPatscheider Someone looked up differences in crime rate between ethnic groups? Though it is more likely that it's easy to apply selection and just let in those who look like net gain for the country.
    – Shadow1024
    Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 9:11
  • @jcsahnwaldtReinstateMonica Even subsequent Black governments in SA actually seem to partially agree on seeing some Black populations as liability as they desperately try to chase away illegal migrants from Zimbabwe. As this time there is no international condemnation, I'd say that you kind of build my point, that we're fine with treating out-group members this way, while case that you cherry picked just proves that it becomes a grave accusation only when politically convenient.
    – Shadow1024
    Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 10:42
  • @Shadow1024 My point is that from an ethical standpoint discrimination based on skin color and discrimination based on passport/citizenship are very similar. It is logically consistent to find both morally wrong, or to find both morally acceptable. It is inconsistent to consider one of them acceptable, but the other unacceptable. Unfortunately, this inconsistency is so common (e.g. in the current South African government) that many people don't even notice it. Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 11:41

Simply because the state is the entity that discriminates, and citizenship is a quality intrinsic to the state. This is not the case for race, gender, religion or other protected characteristics.

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    Citizenship is a quality intrinsic to persons, not to states. Furthermore, "national or ethnic origin" is on the list of protected characteristics.
    – Greendrake
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 4:15
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    No. it is not intrinsic to persons. It is defined externally by the state upon people. It is therefore different from "national or ethnic origin".
    – James K
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 4:24
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    Yes it is defined externally, but it gets vested with the persons acquiring it, doesn't it? Then, being a national of a certain country and holding it's citizenship is the same for virtually all practical purposes.
    – Greendrake
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 4:28
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    No, it doesn't. Look at Begum, she thought citizenship was vested and she was wrong. Even in other cases, people lose and gain citizenships all the time. It is something that a state defines on you, not an intrinsic quality that you have or don't have.
    – James K
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 4:33
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    @Greendrake, I'm right now in a position where I have 100% the right to acquire a certain citizenship (unless I start killing people, then I would lose that right), and if I took advantage of this, my old country would take my citizenship away. So citizenship is not vested. It's quite stable, but not 100%.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 14:47

Other answers covered nicely the pragmatic viewpoint, that is why due to wars, economic incentives and other contingencies citizenship discrimination is tolerated. Here I want to elaborate more on the ethical and long term perspective.

In a nutshell, it is considered normal since we are a primitive tribal civilisation. Once the global standard of life will be sufficiently high, for instance due advanced automation and technologies, the suffering caused by citizenship discrimination will be considered not tolerable anymore, at least among clusters of nations that are not in conflict, similarly to discriminations based on race, religion and sex. So it is a temporary state of affairs, albeit with a very long tradition and likely still with a very long lifetime.

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    "So it is a temporary state of affairs" Potentially? Hopefully? Looking back over the march of progress lends an illusion of inevitability. We may never achieve that level of technological progress or global unity. Commented Apr 5, 2023 at 12:20
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    I guess I am an optimist. :) More seriously, I'm working at the bleeding edge of AI and robotics and the progress I see daily give me this confidence.
    – Rexcirus
    Commented Apr 5, 2023 at 13:00

I will be a Devil's advocate here to justify such discrimination.

A citizen of a country is bound by laws of that country and has obligations before it that it can't avoid.

Such as, but not the only one, your country's special services may approach you and tell you to obey some specific instructions, or face life breaking consequences. If you admit a citizen of another country you also admitting such instructions-bearers.

Naturally, other countries' actors may also catch you and try to scare into submission, but you may always return to your own country of citizenship and contact counter-intelligence. You can't do that in some other country, because it is likely that you will get deported as a result, and then face the wrath upon return.

Most of the pop culture operates upon presumption that such circumstances exist, so you cannot in good faith rule that out.

Naturally, until you get other country's citizenship you are likely to follow some behavior guidelines of your country, because realistically at any moment you may be forced by your country of stay to return to your citizenship country.

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    While there might be valid reasons why discrimination by citizenship be useful, people generally consider the value of non-discrimination above that. I.e. if persons of some religion statistically perform more terriost attacks, people will still be against discrimination based on religion
    – kandi
    Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 22:42
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    This is not a question of statistics. This effect is deterministic. Citizens do indeed have obligations before their country above all else, and countries enforce that.
    – alamar
    Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 22:45
  • I think this is not what the OP is actually asking. They don't seem to doubt it's "natural" for a country to discriminate between its citizens and non-citizens. Their Q is about discrimination by citizenship between various foreigners. Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 4:33
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    Because states are in varying levels of cooperation and conflict with each other. So is their danger of admitting an agent of the other state.
    – alamar
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 7:38
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    I would argue this answer misses the point, because I'm pretty convinced the main criterion for a visa is money, not probability-to-be-a-spy. Now, once you have a visa, if you're looking for work in a sensitive area, such as aeronautic, then the main reject criterion will be probability-to-be-a-spy. But for the visa alone, it's just money.
    – Stef
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 11:33

It is virtually universally accepted that discrimination by a variety of characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation etc. is not acceptable

Well, kind of. It actually comes from the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

... which explicitly says at Article 1.2:

This Convention shall not apply to distinctions, exclusions, restrictions or preferences made by a State Party to this Convention between citizens and non-citizens

That said, there is actually nothing to prevent sovereign states from discriminating non-citizens.

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    The quoted principle of course doesn't "come" from that. It is a principle that existed before and one that is currently widely held irrespective of this agreement. This is just an international agreement putting it into law (one of many laws on this subject). Note also that the OP talks about "acceptable" not lawful. The question reads much less like one asking about (international) law on the subject and much more like one asking about the reasoning behind allowing discrimination based on nationality.
    – Kvothe
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 12:58
  • @Kvothe The point is that the principle being an international agreement is exactly what allows us to label it "universally accepted". If it wasn't an agreement, it would have been just a political/philosophical point of view, more or less popular. Re "asking about the reasoning behind allowing" — well, for many it is just the apparent absence of any reason to prohibit.
    – Greendrake
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 13:25

Citizenship is a legal construct. It is commonly considered acceptable to discriminate based on citizenship because the state has a monopoly on legally acceptable discrimination.

Throughout history, we've found that it is bad when we allow all state apparatus to use their discretion for discriminating people, everyone has their own biases and it makes it very difficult to treat people equally under the law.

However, discrimination is actually also important for a state to perform its function. Not everyone has the same situation, there are many situations where discrimination is perfectly sensible, using reasonable criteria. When a state discriminates a visa recipient based on the amount of money they have, this is based on the reasonable expectation and concern that someone has the ability to fund their own trip including their return trip, and not illegally overstay their visa. There's also the reasonable suspicion that people who don't have enough money to fund their trip are much more likely to be people who intend to work illegally in the country. When the state discriminates people based on their religious affiliation, it may be based on fundamental conflicts with the moral norms of the country. But allowing every state apparatus to make these distinctions are fraught with perils, not everyone will have the time and ability to understand the subtle nuances of the various complex topic needed to perform these discriminations fairly.

The state needs to be able to discriminate people under circumstances where it's useful to do so, but not allow arbitrary discrimination based on the whims of individuals.

Therefore, to balance the need for discrimination and the need to treat people equally, most countries concentrate the legal authority and responsibility to discriminate people to as few apparatus as possible. Most state apparatus are only allowed to perform perfunctory duties in the manner explicitly specified by the law, while only a small number of higher ranking apparatus who deeply understood the law, the scope and purpose of their own mandates, and the complex topics needed to perform their duties, are given the authority and responsibility to apply their own discretion, and even that discretion often also has their limitations. Keeping the size of discretion as small as possible is a way for the state (i.e. the law) to monopolise the power of discrimination.

When the authorised state apparatus have applied their discretion, the people then can be put into different classes based on that determination. Once the classification of the person is determined, no other apparatus of the state are allowed to treat anyone belonging to the same class differently. This restricts the ability of most state apparatus from being able to discriminate people, while still allowing the state to discriminate people when it's useful, fair, and/or desirable. Citizenship is one such construct.

The state's monopoly on discrimination is also a way for the state to enforce separation of powers. The person who had the authority discriminate people are not the same person as the person who wrote the law that specifies the criteria for discrimination and the boundaries of that discretion, the separation also limits the particulars of a specific case when writing the law. Additionally, the person who had the authority to discriminate is also not same as the apparatus who does the everyday task of enforcing the law. This helps in maintaining a veil of ignorance, further reducing arbitrariness of the law.

Monopoly on discrimination allows the state to project legal power in a scalable manner, while maintaining equality under law as much as possible; arbitrary discrimination is prohibited, but legally acceptable discrimination are enforceable.

The criteria for discrimination is ultimately arbitrary and isn't necessarily always designed to be fair, but they serve functional purposes for the state and their people. The state may base their decision on risk benefit calculations based on historical data, whether the original citizenship of the person are from friends or foe, whether the other state the reciprocates the legal protections to their own citizens, and the moral principles that underlies the mandate of the state (e.g. many countries that are signatory to universal human rights statutes have accepted that there are some rights that should be guaranteed to every person no matter their status). Why and how a particular country may classify people from different countries differently are very complex topic, but there are often legitimate reasons for suspicions such as people who had ties to certain nations often historically have a higher risk of causing problems in the country, or it may be used as a bargaining chip to ensure that their own citizens gets treated fairly when they visit the other country. However, oftentimes it may also just be international politics, or the shared biases of the country, or, in autocratic states, on the whims of the rulers.


I am going to take this question at its face value and address the question of a country X discriminating against the citizens of country Y, but not of those of country Z.

So, out of scope:

  • privileges only granted to citizens of X within X, with no differences in treatment for citizens of friendly country Z or unfriendly country Y.
  • (mostly) immigration and border controls to refuse Y citizens access to country X.

First, despite the big chumminess implicit in the question, reality in international relations is that no all countries get along equally well. Therefore states (X in my example) will legally decide to apply restrictions on citizens of other states (Y) under some conditions. This is not the same as a random person in country X suddenly deciding to discriminate against Y citizens on their own.

So, for example, immigration and border control wise, a number of EU countries have decided to keep out Russian tourists (note that Russia is mentioned in the Q). That is their right, a state certainly has the right to decide whom to allow on its territory. Schengen is a partial, revokable, lessening of that prerogative, with enforcement instead "subcontracted" to friendly states. Russia is not perceived as a friendly state by the EU countries in question, so they are limiting access.

Second, we need to discern exactly what kind of discrimination the OP is asking about. I asked about it but it was left in very vague terms

European banks are very unwilling to open bank accounts for Iranians/Russians

No examples were given.

It may come as a surprise that US citizens sometimes struggle to have bank services in the EU (due to IRS reporting requirements). Is that because European banks are racist against Americans? Or they are forbidden to do so? No, they just don't want to deal with the hassles. In this case, the problem is squarely on unreasonable demands by the US.

(in response to comment)

Why not force the bank to do it anyway? Just like employers are required to hire women of child bearing age? Because there is a legal public interest in hiring women of a child bearing age. This isn't a demonstrated public need here. And, in the case of "unfriendly country Y" concerns, forcing expediency would contravene national security goals.

Second, do European banks have reasons to be leery of Russian nationals, at least under certain conditions?

Swiss prosecutors have charged four banking executives for allegedly overseeing accounts that helped move millions of dollars of what is believed to be Russian president Vladimir Putin’s secret wealth, according to reporting by Swiss publication Tages-Anzeiger.

Which brings us back the American IRS issue above: a private entity may not want the hassle and may have good reasons to avoid it if worried about extra paperwork or getting itself in legal trouble.

Without seeing Putin funds at every occasion, in the context of generalized sanctions on Russian banks, a Russian expat who wants to wire some money to his retired mother in Russia will likely present some challenges that some banks would rather not deal with.

Similarly, sanctions against the export of dual-use goods may mean that a Russian-owned import/export firm is too risky for a bank.

Likewise, the UK has long been criticized for being a neat laundromat to Russian dirty money and is finally taking steps to clean things up.

In the EU, Iranian nationals have occasionally been caught trying to assassinate Iranian dissidents. Or in the US. Or in Turkey. So a bit of caution seems warranted.

It is quite possible that some resident (of country X) Russian, and Iranian, nationals are getting caught up in overzealous enforcement. Again, it would be up to the OP to give some concrete examples. To be honest, rather than hearing that about Russians and Iranians, there are more often grumbles about Chinese people being discriminated against.

This question would have more weight if it could show that the discrimination and unfair treatment is designed to outlive bad relations with country X.

It also conveniently skips that there are safeguards built into Western legal systems to avoid egregious abuse. For example, Trump's Muslim visa ban was rejected a number of times before it was considered sufficiently non-discriminatory.

A word of caution: Western countries do need to balance out looking out for their national interests against unfriendly countries with being careful not to repeat the racism that they engaged into in the past. For example, the rather notorious Japanese-American internments during WW2 (which Canada also did).

Finally, I sense some biggish rocks being thrown out of a fragile glass house when it comes to Russia, of all places, criticizing how foreign citizens of particular countries get treated.

Some U.S. officials expressed concern that Russia may have been using Griner as leverage in response to the Western sanctions imposed against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. The former Pentagon official Evelyn Farkas expressed concern that Griner could be used as a "high-profile hostage" by Russia.[123][124] In May 2022, the U.S. State Department stated that they had determined Griner was being "wrongfully detained".[125] On May 15, it was reported that the United States and Russia would consider a prisoner swap, with Russia exchanging Griner for arms dealer Viktor Bout, who had served 10 years of a 25-year federal prison sentence in the United States.[126]

  • "Finally, I sense some biggish rocks being thrown out of a fragile glass house" - this question is not a debate about sanctions on Russia. "Note that Russia is mentioned in the Q" - wrong, I carefully avoided any specific examples in the question itself, and especially Russia, knowing perfectly well that such mention would turn answers to a question about ethical principles in politics into a justification of certain political cases (guess I should have been more careful in the comments section too).
    – kandi
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 21:54
  • The problem with justifications is that even if they are perfectly legit, it still won't explain why they are put above non-discrimination principle. Let's take your example regarding EU banks be unwilling to deal with Americans because they "don't want to deal with the hassles". This question is just as much about why this is ok while not hiring women at child-bearing age (similarly avoiding the hassles) is not ok as about certain sanctions
    – kandi
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 21:54
  • Because there is a public interest in hiring women of a child bearing age. While there is also a public interest in making sure that sanctions don't get contravened. Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 22:07
  • the UK has long been criticized for being a neat laundromat to Russian dirty money which falls in under the euphemism "finacial services".
    – hlovdal
    Commented Apr 9, 2023 at 16:57

The purpose of a country

I think the appropriate perspective for this question needs to start with a discussion on what is a country and what is its purpose for existence, its goal.

One possible definition (different countries can and do define themselves differently) is that the country is a collection of citizens, and its sole purpose (not even primary, but the only one) is to act as collective social construct for their benefit, establishing a social contract and governance norms because the citizens have decided that having such norms is useful for them. In this case, a country is a collective of people that has established self-governance for their society, which includes all of them (the citizens) but not for every other person in the world.

There are various benefits and reasonable reasons for having a 'social contract' that in your society everyone is born equal in rights, so many societies have chosen to adopt this position - but that refers to everyone in your society, which in this case is implicitly defined as the citizens, not all homo sapiens on the planet.

And there are various benefits and reasonable reasons for having a social contract that at least in certain aspects people outside of your society deserve to be treated the same as people from your society - e.g. that they get the same protections in criminal law - and the society (i.e. citizens) can choose to grant equal treatment in those aspects iff they believe that this benefits their society (i.e. citizens). And vice versa, there are also various benefits and reasonable reasons for having a social contract that at least in certain aspects people outside of your society do not deserve to be treated the same as people from your society - e.g. the right to vote for how your society should work, or the right to join your society - and the society (i.e. the citizens) can choose to grant unequal treatment in those aspects, because the role and purpose of the country is to make decisions for organizing governance so that it benefits the society (i.e. the citizens).


It is virtually universally accepted that discrimination by a variety of characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation etc. is not acceptable. At the same time, discrimination by citizenship is virtually universally considered ok.

I think the premise is dubious. For example

  • Several countries in Europe permit foreigners to obtain citizenship if they have a parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent who was a citizen. I am not talking about a situation where, because you have a parent who is a citizen, you are also a citizen automatically at birth; I am talking about situations where some foreigners have special abilities to obtain citizenship, not based on their own current citizenship, but because of who their ancestors were. Consider particularly the case of an American citizen, all 4 of whose grandparents were born in the US, being able to get citizenship in a European country because of a great-grandparent; at that point, basically their tie to the country is one of ethnicity, and perhaps not even that; they might not even have known about it until having done an ancestry search in their adulthood. But a person who didn't have such ties would have to go through a much more difficult process of acquiring permanent resident status in the country in question, and living in the country for several years, before being able to become a citizen. So isn't this a form of discrimination in favour of foreigners of a particular ethnicity?
  • It's widely believed that the Singaporean immigration system discriminates based on ethnicity, with most of the quota of permanent residence permits being reserved for individuals of Chinese ethnicity. The local population mostly supports this discrimination.
  • In the US immigration system, holders of certain passports get visa-free access when visiting (discrimination based on citizenship). But when it comes to settling in the US permanently, potential immigrants are separated into pools based on which country they were born in, not which citizenship they presently hold. This results in very long waiting times for individuals born in certain countries, depending on which category of immigrant visa they are applying for. So the US immigration system discriminates based on country of birth, which is not quite citizenship and not quite ethnicity, but is actually more immutable than either of them. There have been several bills introduced to repeal this practice, but they haven't succeeded.
  • The Israeli immigration system discriminates based on religion—I don't think I need to elaborate on this one much.

So, in conclusion, when it comes to the rules that various countries around the world use to regulate which foreigners may enter their countries, and the conditions on their stay, it is far from being "universally accepted that discrimination based on" some of the characteristics you listed is not acceptable. That being the case, one should not be surprised that giving preference to some foreigners over others depending on their citizenship is a common practice.

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