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A militaristic, autocratic nation masquerading as a democracy resembling a mixture of Communist Romania & Post-Soviet Belarus exists in the future. This country has two pathways for migrants to gain citizenship.

The first is a skilled migration program similar to Australia’s, which only allows educated or highly skilled migrants to live there. The second is Roman-style military service for unskilled migrants to become auxiliary soldiers for at least ten years to gain citizenship and the right to vote, along with benefits such as tax cuts, free healthcare and scholarships for any of their children.

Why would a government make migrants do a decade of military service for citizenship?

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    $\begingroup$ As a rule the motivations of characters and organizations are entirely subject to the whims of the worldbuilder and asking about them is too opinion based to make a good question for this site. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jun 28 at 3:05
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    $\begingroup$ (1) I am a Romanian. "Militaristic" is not a word I would have ever used in relation to the Socialist Republic of Romania, or with Romania in any historical period. (All the countries in Europe had compulsory military service in those days; such were the times.) (2) You already have the example of the Roman empire. Although AFAIK it was twenty years military service, and it had to be in a regular legion -- service in the auxiliaries didn't count. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jun 28 at 7:37
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    $\begingroup$ Incorrect focus, nations that do this aren't interested in migrants as migrants, their interested in soldiers because they want soldiers, citizenship is just a lure they use to attract foreign nationals into service. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Jun 28 at 10:11
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    $\begingroup$ You might be interested to read about the French Foreign Legion. $\endgroup$ Jun 28 at 14:23
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    $\begingroup$ Because they need soldiers ..... I don't understand the question. $\endgroup$
    – frеdsbend
    Jun 28 at 18:44

13 Answers 13

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Because They Need Loyal Soldiers:

Many governments need soldiers. It is an extremely central function of government, and even the USA has paths to citizenship involving military service. You want soldiers! This is a militaristic state, so the need is even greater.

If it is a small or wealthy state, your citizens could be soft or decadent, unwilling to fight. Finding strong, vigorous, aggressive men willing to give loyalty for citizenship gives you what you need.

But your justifications can go even further. Basic training and military service involve intense indoctrination. The idea is to tear down the man and rebuild the soldier. So if you are concerned about their loyalty, what better way than to force them into a years-long indoctrination program?

You may not trust your citizens, and/or your citizens may not trust you. If you are of a ruthless bent, then foreign-born soldiers kept apart from society since arriving will feel less connection and empathy towards the civilian population. They will not have local loyalties to challenge their service. So when called upon to fire on protestors or drive a tank over civilians, they will follow orders without as many complications.

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    $\begingroup$ Upvoted - and expect the soldiers to be pretty obedient since anyone discharged from the service will automatically be deported from the country. Lots of incentive for the soldiers to make sure they don't get kicked out. $\endgroup$ Jun 28 at 3:23
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    $\begingroup$ Everything in this answer is good except for loyal. This opens up the military to a lot of unloyalty soldiers and spies. $\endgroup$
    – TurtleTail
    Jun 28 at 11:18
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    $\begingroup$ @TurtleTail Well, you won't actually get soldiers loyal to your regime, but you will get soldiers that are not loyal to your civilian population. Perhaps this is all you need. Also, I would be more worried about spies in the educated part of population. Ordinary soldier doesn't have any important information, unlike someone developing the next ultimate weapon. $\endgroup$ Jun 28 at 12:55
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    $\begingroup$ There's a lot of evidence that this happens in our world's militaries today. $\endgroup$ Jun 28 at 16:47
  • $\begingroup$ Similar to Roman auxiliaries: 25 years of service, and the soldier's children also became citizens. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auxilia?wprov=sfti1 $\endgroup$
    – Stefan
    Jun 29 at 7:00
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This almost exists today, although in a somewhat milder form - the citizenship is the reward for the military service (and usually is not the primary motive to join the military, since there are better options even without the citizenship).

Namely, joining the Légion étrangère of the French Republic entitles you to get the French citizenship after 3 years of service, though the service lasts at least 5 years - which is not that far from your 10 years of service.

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    $\begingroup$ And from that real example we can infer what you'd need such a legion for: dirty, high-risk or high-casualty jobs and/or missions where french citizens dying would cause media backlash at home $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Jun 29 at 10:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Hobbamok curiously, French citizens can (officially) enlist, but they are (officially!) asked to lie about their citizenship... $\endgroup$ Jun 29 at 12:59
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    $\begingroup$ While the Légion étrangère is the best known example, the US also has a program that can earn citizenship via military service. uscis.gov/military/naturalization-through-military-service $\endgroup$ Jun 29 at 15:15
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You said it in the question: they are unskilled workforce.

Where I have grown up there were basically two paths in life for those who didn't want to get a higher education and had no other relevant skills: one was to try to enlist in the army/navy/police forces, the other was to enroll into crime organization.

As an unskilled migrant, it's not easy to start over in a new country, therefore serving in the army for a decade can be a good way to get an income, a roof above your head and some training.

As an army planner, having the possibility to rely on the service of an abundant work force can be an asset.

As a politician, sparing the life of your citizens by using migrants and in parallel forming them to become "good citizens" is hitting the jackpot.

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    $\begingroup$ It also means that the would-be immigrant is showing a commitment to his/her new country. $\endgroup$ Jun 28 at 15:40
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A few possible reasons. Being a citizen may have such great benefits that they cannot afford to let just anybody in, especially the rabble that would just live on the government teat forever. The military service may be the price to ensure no layabouts try it, you have to actually risk your life to immigrate and do ten years of hard training and labor to get in. And they only take the relatively young and healthy, they aren't going to be a retirement community for elderly immigrants that want to live off the excellent government retirement system, use the free hospitals, etc.

Another reason is their social welfare systems are very attractive, their land provides enormous wealth, but they need a large army to protect it from predators, and their own pampered citizens are not much interested in volunteering for it. So join the military, if you live through it, you are set for life. Ten years now is not a bad bargain for 50 years of leisure, especially if the rest of the world is also dangerous.

My father took that route in the USA, in the early 50's, he joined the military at 17, retired at 38 with a good pension for life, free healthcare and access to very low cost non-profit base facilities, including the grocery store, pharmacy, movie and numerous other entertainment facilities, even free legal services.

And perhaps the nation is even altruistically expansionist; their ultimate goal is to convert the world, take over the brutal dictatorships by force, when they believe those other countries are enslaving and brutalizing their citizens. Perhaps enticing those citizens to immigrate to them, and then overthrow their previous government, is a strategy. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense.

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Because everyone must serve, whether native born or foreign born. This is not my idea, but Heinlein's. I will not debate the merits of that idea, but clearly your country has taken it to heart. You can read about the idea elsewhere, including this entry from the blog "Rapid Transmission" by Joseph Hurtgen. The basic argument is:

...if individuals are personally involved in the life of their society through mandatory armed service, their interest and investment in the life of their society is raised, resulting in citizens that get involved and take responsibility for local, regional, and federal levels of government.

Questions your country must answer: How are non-citizens treated? What rights are common to both citizens and non-citizens? What privileges are granted only to citizens? What constitutes service (i.e. military only?).

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  • $\begingroup$ Federal service in Starship Troopers was my thought too. In the novel (please ignore the movie) Federal service did not solely mean military duty -- it meant something that required a volunteer spirit and would be a challenge. $\endgroup$ Jun 28 at 21:10
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    $\begingroup$ @CodeswithHammer Hi, someone else who codes like I do. Cool. You raise a good point, so I added "what constitutes service?" to the list of questions the country must answer. And I made the mistake of watching the movie once. I remember little of it other than my decision to never watch it again. $\endgroup$ Jun 28 at 21:32
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Because they are a decadent society

In a decadent society similar to the situation in the final period of the Western Roman Empire a small group of families accumulating wealth and power over the centuries caused an enormous wealth gap.

Common people are not very keen to fight to defend other people wealth and few join the army, therefore foreigner fill the ranks. They have two purposes, to defend from external enemies and to keep in check a riotous population.

To avoid ending up as the Romans your state will be very careful not to put together too many foreigners from the same area. A Mix up of different nationalities to prevent the formation of small groups would help to keep all the units under control.

Why the service should be so long? The foreign legion service in France is 5 years if I can remember correctly. But the longer the soldier stay in service the longer they are forced to listen to the government propaganda. Furthermore those who already spent more than 5 years in service have a lot to lose if they give up, veterans are the most reliable soldiers.

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Bodies, Skills, and Counterbalancing

Leaning heavily on an International Security Journal article from last summer...

Countries employ foreigners when the "costs" associated with using citizens are too high. A fair number of factors can raise the cost of using citizens, including:

  1. Industrial Demands - a citizen fighter isn't in a factory making bullets.
  2. Skills - Foreigners might come with specialized skills that take time/money to train (The Brits have used Nepalese Gurkhas for mountain warfare for hundreds of years, the Australians recruit US pilots and submariners, etc.)
  3. Attrition within Favored Groups - Many autocratic regimes have favored groups (pre-9/11 Iraq, pre-Civil War Syria, etc). Often, the army draws from these groups because they are loyal - but if they experience losses, they are only a small subset of the total population. It is often safer to recruit outsiders than to recruit oppressed minorities.
  4. Co-Ethnics abroad - similarly to 3, an ethnic group might span multiple countries (think the Kurds in Syria, Iraq, and Turkey) If this ethnic group obtained power, it might view "foreigners" who share their ethnicity as more loyal than citizens from other ethnic groups.
  5. Desperation - When defeat seemed close at hand, countries have historically conscripted foreigners within their borders. Any port in a storm, if you will.

What about the Fighters

Honestly, foreign legion programs are pretty common. There's about a dozen active programs right now, including both sides of the ongoing Russia/Ukraine conflict. Citizenship is a fairly common reward for service.

It might be more important to consider why foreigners want to join your autocratic regime. It's often easier for a government to hide how terrible it is from its own citizens, so legionnaire recruits might have more information about exactly what kind of regime they are supporting, which may require explanation.

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Your nation has no truly trusted allies. Any incoming immigrants will be citizens of a hostile (or at least unfriendly) nation. The risk of spies and sleeper agents is real. One way to flush out such threats is to make them help you fight against their former homeland. Someone who is truly on your side will behave much differently at this task than a spy who is still loyal to their country of origin. If they can make it for 10 years fighting against their old allegiances and performing as well as your native soldiers, then they've demonstrated their loyalty and destroyed any hopes of being welcomed back home.

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The Empress Really Likes Big Parades

This is an intentionally silly answer but I wanted to play off of sphenning's comment: in world building, the motivations can be literally anything. They don't even have to be rational. It just has to make sense within the context of the story.

Perhaps the autocratic leader just really likes seeing people in uniform, and really likes big parades. Like really big. She demands no less than 1 million uniformed military people march in her parades. It's pretty much their only job, actually. The military has an entire parade division just for this. The only way to meet her numbers was to bring in a lot of immigrants to fill positions. To save on training, it made sense to keep them all for longer terms rather than have a higher turnover rate. They don't even join the parade for the first two years of service, to ensure that they are properly trained and certified. The last time someone messed up in a parade, a general was beheaded, so training is more vigorous these days.

Point being, if this was the Politics stack, there are a lot of very serious answers for why real countries do this. For Worldbuilding though, there's no need to limit yourself.

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A very short answer (based on @AlexP's comment):

Your country is in a imperialistic expansion phase.

Just as ancient Rome it could provide citizenship plus lands to foreigners who served in the military. Note that I avoid "immigrants", here's why:

Given the right condition people from abroad would migrate to this country specifically to serve in the army, gain fame, glory, riches (looting in some form) and finally lands.

I would in this case be thinking on something like the world of Carnival Row, were some "normal" human countries invade the land of Fae or any other setting in which your country would be in a similar position of power as Rome was in its heyday.

Otherwise, in a common setting with a continent full of other nations of similar status people would just avoid migrating to the country to begin with.

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Why would a government make migrants do a decade of military service for citizenship?

Because they are a militaristic, autocratic nation masquerading as a democracy resembling a mixture of Communist Romania & Post-Soviet Belarus exists in the future.


Aside from you answering your own question:

  • Migrant cannon fodder is historically more palatable than using your citizens
  • If a person spends 10 years fighting for the ideals of that government then there is a good chance that they become loyal to that government; especially if that government makes good on their promises
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Due to external/internal pressure, your autocratic government feels a need to allow immigration into it from a foreign culture with societal norms that are different then your countries.

It could be viewing:

  • Any women not completely covered in cloth as loose women who deserves to be raped
  • People of a different ethnicity are inferior
  • People of a different religious belief are heretics who should be killed

Or, it could be the opposite problem, that the immigrants hold beliefs that are more enlightened than your countries and you don't want the common people infected with more enlightened views.

But it comes down to cultural differences between these immigrants and your countries population that makes a major stumbling block for their integration into your society and might end up 3 generations onward still a separate and distinctive minority inside of your country. Which might format unrest, or cause societal problems that your autocratic government doesn't want to deal with

The military is more effective at imprinting its culture on its servicemen/women, than any other tool at the disposal of the government. (as you can have people who failed to become indoctrinated with the desired culture executed in a mock military tribunal for...I don't know desertion or something).

Military service allows your country a lot more leeway in how they treat the new immigrants then if they were civilians. As those pesky democracies aren't as likely to complain of human rights violations if your country shoots a bunch of immigrant soldiers for breaking military laws... Than if you shoot those same immigrants but they are civilians instead.

And its not reeducation camps for people to complain about either (which would be the other possible method to indoctrinate people from foreign countries into your culture).

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Some sort of Current Disaster

Maybe your country is in some sort of war against a powerful force. Or, what if at the same time, there is some sort of disaster that is happening, like a civil war or zombie outbreak (or just a really bad epidemic and panic). Due to situations like these, they will need to recruit more soldiers and peacekeepers, but not many current citizens are interested, or they may even be dead. Due to this, they may change their policies, so they can try and deal with many problems at once.

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