Immigrants’ Citizenship Perceptions

Sri Lankans in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand

by Pavithra Jayawardena (Author)
©2023 Monographs XIV, 194 Pages
Series: Studies in Transnationalism, Volume 6


Adopting a transnational lens, Immigrants’ Citizenship Perceptions: Sri Lankans in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand investigates Sri Lankan immigrants’ complex views towards their home (Sri Lankan) and host (Australian or Aotearoa New Zealand) citizenship and the factors that affect them. The book argues that the existing citizenship policies and popular discourses towards immigrants have a strong nation-statist bias in which native citizens believe that they know how exactly immigrants should behave or feel as host citizens. The book problematises this assumption by highlighting the fact that it represents more how immigrants’ citizenship perceptions should be while ignoring how they actually are. Unlike native citizens, immigrants must balance two different positions in how they view citizenship, that is, as native citizens of their home countries and as immigrants in their host countries. These two positionalities lead immigrants to a very different perspective of citizenship. Deliberating on the complexities displayed in Sri Lankan immigrants’ views on their home and host citizenship, the book presents a critical analysis of citizenship views from immigrants’ standpoint. This book will hence be useful for policy makers, students, and researchers in the fields of migration and citizenship as it looks at immigrants’ contextual realities in depth and suggests an alternative approach to understanding their perceptions of citizenship.
“The study is an in-depth exploration into what makes ‘citizenship’ meaningful to Sinhalese and Tamil Sri Lankans living in Australia and New Zealand. Dr. Pavithra Jayawardena presents a rich body of ethnographic material to argue that immigrant citizenship is a specific human condition which cannot be stereotyped as it often happens to immigrant communities from the global South to the global North. Her analysis is built on a study of the phenomenology of immigrant experience in relationship in a transnational space. It draws the reader’s attention to the need for a nuanced and empathic understanding of the issue of immigrants’ longing for citizenship in a host country. This is a work that certainly helps formulate better government policy towards immigrant populations in host countries.
Immigrants’ Citizenship Perceptions: Sri Lankans in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand is a pioneering contribution to the South Asian scholarship in the field of South Asian studies.”
—Jayadeva Uyangoda, Emeritus Professor of Political Science, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka
"This is an innovative and—given our contemporary world—timely contribution to scholarship on citizenship. Exploring ideas of citizenship from the perspective of immigrants, Dr Jayawardena presents a sensitive and nuanced discussion of the range of material and affective factors that impact on how people navigate living in and belonging to different national communities. Dr Jayawardena’s approach is well explained and justified. She highlights the importance of exploring citizenship beyond binaries of ‘host’ and ‘home’ countries and ‘instrumental’ versus ‘patriotic’. By foregrounding the voices of immigrants themselves she effectively demonstrates the complex and interconnected nature of these relationships. Well-grounded in existing debates and literature, contextually detailed and rich, this book is an excellent resource for those working in migration, citizenship and diaspora studies."
—Kiran Grewal, Reader in Human Rights, Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction − Search for Immigrants’ Citizenship Perceptions
  • 1 Sri Lankan Migration: An Overview
  • 2 Citizenship: Traditional and Transnational Perspectives
  • 3 Conceptual Framework: Perceiving Citizenship as a Legal Tool or a Sense of Belonging
  • 4 Research Methods: Exploring and Analysing the Citizenship Perceptions
  • 5 Citizenship for a Passport: Sinhalese Immigrants’ Host Citizenship Views
  • 6 Citizenship for Security: Tamils’ Host Citizenship Views
  • 7 From Instrumental Satisfaction to Patriotic Gratitude: Sri Lankan Immigrants’ Thin Patriotism Towards Host Citizenship
  • 8 From Thin to Thick Patriotism: Sri Lankan Immigrants’ Sense of Belonging as Host Citizens
  • 9 Becoming (Or Not) a Sri Lankan Dual Citizen
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix A: List of Participants
  • List of References

←viii | ix→


Ten years ago, I would not have imagined myself to be capable of becoming an author. Down the line, I have been very fortunate to receive generous support and encouragement by numerous people and institutions who enabled me to fight against my inner fears and struggles. Consequently, the journey of writing this book was not only a solo journey but also a reflection of the assistance I have received by many, and it is my absolute pleasure to offer my heartfelt thanks to them.

I gratefully acknowledge the editor of the book series − ‘Studies in Transnationalism’ – Dr. Jatinder Mann who was also an examiner of my doctoral thesis. Publishing this book would have been unforeseeable if he did not generously invite me to convert the thesis into a book in his book series. Thanks, Jatinder, for being a very supportive editor. I must also thank Peter Lang, the publisher for agreeing to publish my book, and the anonymous peer reviewers for their constructive comments to improve the manuscript.

As stated, this book is based on my Ph.D. research which would not have been possible to complete without the support and guidance of my supervisors. I thank Associate Professor Kate McMillan, my primary supervisor at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW), Aotearoa New Zealand, for guiding me to improve my intellectual capabilities as well as helping me to be on the right track despite all ←ix | x→the personal challenges I faced. I also thank Dr. Ayca Arkilic, not only for being a very attentive secondary supervisor, but also for being a sincere friend. I also wish to express my gratitude to Associate Professor Louise Humpage from University of Auckland and Dr. Julija Sardelić from VUW who were the examiners of my PhD thesis apart from Jatinder. Thank you so much for all the comments you gave me to improve the piece. I also offer thanks for my friends at VUW for their constant support: Chiara − thanks for the true friendship; Samuele − thanks for your advice; Meera − thanks for the emotional support throughout; Kaitlin − thanks for your care; Chris − thanks for believing in me, reminding me of my priorities, and helping me to find my true potential; and Luna (Ge Lei) − thanks for making you and me a team. I cannot forget my support team in Aotearoa New Zealand, outside the university. Manori akka, Steve, Sachi, Lahiru, Kasun, Bimali, Shamini, Anoja Aunty, and Chanaka Uncle − you all have helped me to complete my research in numerous ways you couldn’t possibly know. Thanks for being my Wellington family and making me feel comfortable and grounded.

My sincere gratitude also goes to Senior Professor Nayani Melegoda from University of Colombo (UOC), Sri Lanka, who is my long-term mentor. Thank you for always being my rock, through thick and thin. From writing several academic recommendation letters for me, to listening to my reflections about life, I appreciate each and everything you have done for me. I also thank Dr. Maneesha Wanasignhe-Pasqual for all the academic, administrative, and personal support offered to me. I am also very grateful for all my colleagues at the Department of International Relations, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka: Dr. Chaminda, Dr. Hasith, Krishanthi, Kulani, Dr. Ajith, and Dr. Menik for stimulating my intellectual curiosity constantly. Waradas, Krishan, and Samal deserve special mentions. Your critical insights and constructive feedback have enriched this book in multiple ways, and thank you so much for that.

Some sections of this book were presented at conferences and talks at the Faculty of Arts and Faculty of Graduate Studies at UOC, New Zealand Political Studies Association (NZPSA), VUW, Aotearoa Migration Research Network, University of Bari – Italy, Colombo Think Tank, International Studies Association (ISA) – USA, and Osmania University – Hyderabad, India. I thank the audiences in all these conferences and talks for their comments and questions. I would also like to sincerely acknowledge the NCAS (National Centre for Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences, Sri Lanka) scholarship that made this research possible and to the University of Colombo for granting me paid leave throughout my Ph.D. period.

←x |

A special thanks is deserved by all my fieldwork participants in Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland, and Wellington who let me explore their migrant lives with open arms. Thank you for sharing your life stories, your thoughts, and experiences with me. I appreciate the trust you all placed in me. Thank you Pavithra, Isuri, Wasana, Chamani, Maduhari, Danushka, Srihan, and Maheesa for being lifetime friends. You might not know that you were a part of this book, but you were. Thank you for encouraging me to get over my lows. I also thank Pathum Fernando for helping me to be stable during the course of my research.

Last but not least, my family deserves huge appreciation. My husband provided me with much practical support, enabling me to focus on my research. Supun, I am forever grateful to you for your never-ending support, tolerance, flexibility, and openness. I thank my darling daughter Sukhi, who was two years old when I started my research and had to adapt to a variety of changes because of my studies. I hope you will read this book one day and ask millions of questions from me. I thank Thercie Hettiarachchi, my mother-in-law, as well as all the other family members of my husband’s family, for rendering support whenever we needed them. Without this practical help, writing this book would be far away.

My intellectual curiosity to study Sri Lankan immigrants emanated from my father, Sarath Jayawardena (Thaththa). Being a Sri Lankan immigrant himself for nearly 30 years (living in Italy), he constantly stimulates my inquisitiveness about the way Sri Lankan immigrants negotiate their sense of belonging as citizens between host and home countries. Thaththa, you never failed to impress and surprise me about immigrants’ lives. Thank you for being the silent motivator for this entire project. I also thank my only brother Ishanka Jayawardena (Malli), for everything he did and said to keep me stable throughout the last six years. A very special thanks are to my wonder woman, the strongest and the kindest woman I have ever known, my mother, Ramani Wickramasinghe (Amma). If I am to name only one individual who has given me energy during the course of this project, undoubtedly it is you. Thank you for always standing with me, Amma. The most fortunate thing that has ever happened to me is being born as your daughter.

Much love to you all.

←xii | 1→

Introduction − Search for Immigrants’ Citizenship Perceptions

On 3 September 2021, a violent extremist stabbed and wounded seven individuals in a supermarket in New Lynn, Auckland and was shot dead by Police in Aotearoa New Zealand (Satherley, 2021). The person was identified as a Sri Lankan national who arrived in Aotearoa New Zealand as a student in 2011 and was granted refugee status in 2013 (Longley, Clark, & Ensor, 2021). In her statement, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern highlighted the incident was a terrorist attack motivated by ISIS ideology. This generated fear among the Sri Lankan immigrants in Aotearoa New Zealand regarding the potential negative consequences for them in the aftermath of the event. A common experience for immigrant communities across the world is that if a particular violent incident takes place in the host country with an immigrant involved in it, the blame becomes generalised to the entire immigrant community. Brannavan Gnanalingam, an award-winning Sri Lankan Kiwi novelist in Aotearoa New Zealand wrote that he felt numb to hear of the attack (Gnanalingam, 2021). Capturing Sri Lankan immigrants’ common sentiments, Gnanalingam says no immigrant community expect unwanted attention to them that comes from someone in the same community doing this type of despicable act. From his point of view, the attack by a Sri Lankan man, radicalised by ISIS ideology in Auckland, was “a worst-case ←1 | 2→scenario” since it was conducted by not only an immigrant but also a person of Sri Lankan origin.

However, the Prime Minister of Aotearoa New Zealand noted that the responsibility of the incident should only be carried by the individual attacker and not by any faith, culture, or ethnicity (Hurley & Savage, 2021). This statement led the people to be specifically worried about the existence of extremism in Aotearoa New Zealand rather than worrying about the immigrants’ nationality in this particular incident. It was also reported that there was no sign that the attacker was radicalised by the time he arrived in Aotearoa New Zealand, but likely to have become so during his stay in Aotearoa New Zealand. Even though Aotearoa New Zealand could identify this event as an act of one individual without letting it to reflect on the whole Sri Lankan immigrant group in the country, this is not the case in every host country and in the aftermath of a similar tragedy. Many other Western democratic host countries tend to have stronger anti-immigrant sentiments than Aotearoa New Zealand where such individual incidents easily trigger broader anti-immigrant sentiments from natives.

An example is the Cronulla beach incident which took place in 2005 in Australia. On 11 December 2005, nearly five thousand white Australians gathered, calling for a reclamation of their right to manage Cronulla beach, an iconic beach suburb in Southern Sydney (Collins, 2007; Economou, 2007). This riot was triggered by an incident that took place a week earlier between a group of youths of Middle-Eastern appearance and Anglo-Australian lifeguards. This group of Lebanese youth, usually called Lebos by their opponents, had attacked two lifeguards, “the quintessential masculinised figure of white Australian culture,” when they asked the Lebanese youth group to stop playing football, an unpopular sport in Australia with “wogs” – a racist term to describe migrants from Southern Europe (Farid, 2009, p.61).


XIV, 194
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (December)
Immigrants Sri Lankan migrants Citizenship Perceptions Australia Aotearoa New Zealand Patriotism Instrumentalism Immigrants’ Citizenship Perceptions Sri Lankans in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand Pavithra Jayawardena
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2023. XIV, 194 pp.

Biographical notes

Pavithra Jayawardena (Author)

Pavithra Jayawardena is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of International Relations at the University of Colombo in Sri Lanka. She completed her Ph.D. in Political Science from Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand in 2020.


Title: Immigrants’ Citizenship Perceptions
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