“Where do you come from?” is one of the most common questions I am asked and answer on an almost daily basis while living in Dubai as an expat.
Sometimes the answer is not always straightforward. Many times it could go something like this: My mother is Iranian-Jordanian, my father is British but lives in Cyprus, was born in the UK, went to university in the US, grew up in Egypt and now lives in the UAE.
Therefore, issues such as citizenship, residency and foreigners are always a massive can of worms and usually lead to pretty heated comments on arabianbusiness.com and in homes and cafes across the region.
This week, a leading rightwing thinktank in London has proposed radical plans to stop rich overseas residents who live outside the EU buying British houses, London’s The Guardian reported.
The concern, they say, is middle and lower earners are being forced to pay high rents in the capital city because they can't afford to buy due to the prices rising as a result of these rich foreigners outbidding each other to get on the London property ladder.
While the UK is looking to get tough, Malta is going the other way and looking to attract rich overseas investors who are willing to pay just over $1 million into the island state in return for a European passport. Dozens of wealthy Gulf residents, including royalty, have expressed their interest in signing up for the scheme, which has proved controversial.
"You cannot put a price tag on EU citizenship," a spokesperson said on behalf of EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding.
At the same time, you read in the British papers about foreigners coming to UK shores and taking jobs away from residents who are then left unemployed and a drain on the British social welfare system.
However, a report late last month found that a high proportion of foreign expats living in the UK are actually students who pay high fees and help to fund the British university system.
A new research report published by Finaccord calculated that there were about 1.19 million expatriates from other countries living in the UK in 2013 as opposed to around 1.16 million UK expatriates in other countries, a net difference of approximately 30,000.
However, looking in detail at who these expatriates are shows that there are some significant variations between these 'exported' and 'imported' expatriates. It found 58.3 percent of UK expatriates residing abroad are classified as individual workers, 23.5 percent as retired expatriates, 4.6 percent as students and 4 percent as corporate transferees, with the balance of other expatriates (defined as non-employed spouses and children) making up the residual 9.5 percent.
In contrast, foreign expatriates living in the UK break down between individual workers at 46.4 percent, students at 38.4 percent, corporate transferees at 5.1 percent, retired expatriates at three percent and others (defined as before) at 7.1 percent.
"By 2017, Finaccord forecasts that foreign expatriates living in the UK will have reached around 1.30 million while UK expatriates abroad will number approximately 1.21 million, meaning that the net difference will have widened to almost 90,000," concluded Finaccord's Tobias Schneider.
"Nevertheless, much of the growth in expatriates resident in the UK will be due to overseas students. Indeed, this strong inflow of foreign students means that higher education in the UK receives more funding from overseas than that of any country in the world apart from the US, which must surely be beneficial to the UK economy," he added.
Funnily, you don’t hear so much in the UK press about the 1.21 million British expats living abroad taking jobs away from those locals.
“Citizenship is not something which is to be treated lightly,” a Maltese opposition politician told me last week. When it comes to debates about citizenship and race, it is always anything but light and getting the balance right is one which politicians around the world are always going to struggle with.