Second-class citizen

A second-class citizen is a person who is systematically discriminated against within a state or other political jurisdiction, despite their nominal status as a citizen or legal resident there. While not necessarily slaves, outlaws or criminals, second-class citizens have limited legal rights, civil rights and socioeconomic opportunities, and are often subject to mistreatment or neglect at the hands of their putative superiors. However, they are different from "less-than-whole citizens",[1] as second-class citizens are often disregarded by the law or have it used to harass them (see police misconduct and racial profiling). Systems with de facto second-class citizenry are generally regarded as violating human rights.[2][3]

Typical conditions facing second-class citizens include but are not limited to:

The category is normally unofficial and mostly academic, and the term itself is generally used as a pejorative and governments will typically deny the existence of a second class within the polity. As an informal category, second-class citizenship is not objectively measured; however, cases such as the American South under segregation, aborigines in Australia prior to 1967, apartheid in South Africa, women in Saudi Arabia under Saudi law, Dalits in India and Nepal, and Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland during the parliamentary era are all examples of groups that have been historically described as having second-class citizenry. Historically, before the mid-20th century, this policy was applied by some European Colonial Empires on colonial residents of overseas holdings.

A resident alien or foreign national, and children in general, fit most definitions of second-class citizen. This does not mean that they do not have any legal protections, nor do they lack acceptance by the local population.[4] A naturalized citizen carries essentially the same rights and responsibilities as any other citizen (a possible exception being ineligibility for certain public offices), and is also legally protected.

Relationship with citizenry class

Citizenry class Freedoms Limitations Legal status
Full and equal citizenship Freedom to reside and work, freedom to enter and leave the country, freedom to vote, freedom to stand for public office, No limitations

Internationally recognized

Less-than-whole citizenship All the freedoms above with limitations on: civil or military service opportunities, limitations on freedom of movement and association and marriage. Partially limited

Internationally recognized

Second-class citizenry Restrictions on freedom of language, religion, education, and property ownership, and other material or social needs. Largely limited

Internationally recognized

Non-citizens Rights are neither given nor withdrawn from the individual. Non-Assessable

Internationally recognized

Outlaws, criminals No rights to outlaws, or criminals in normal citizenry classes, however, certain countries have constitutional sets and legal standards for criminals and outlaws Completely limited

Widely unrecognized


  • Proposals for a U.S. guest worker programwhich would provide legal status to and admit foreign workers to the U.S., but provide no path to citizenship for themhas been criticized on the ground that such a policy would create second-class non-citizens.[5][6][7]
  • Latvian non-citizens constitute a group similar to second-class citizens.[8] Although they are not considered foreigners (they hold no other citizenship, have Latvian IDs), they have reduced rights compared to full citizens. For example, non-citizens are not eligible to vote or hold public office. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance has described their status as making "people concerned feel like “second-class citizens”.[9] Estonian non-citizens are in a similar position.
  • New Zealanders receive automatically a "Special Category Visa" upon entering Australia, which presents no pathway to Australian citizenship. New Zealanders are denied access to Centrelink, to name just one of the services. This means that if, for example, a New Zealand person came to Australia to live with his or her Australian spouse, and that spouse committed domestic violence upon them, the New Zealander could not then turn to Centrelink to provide them with funds to leave the abusive spouse.
  • Mainland Chinese citizens who are settling in Hong Kong or Macau by means of a one-way permit do not have citizenship rights (such as obtaining a passport) in both the mainland or the SAR after settling but before obtaining the permanent resident status, effectively rendering them second-class citizens.
  • Burakumin (部落民) is a designation of Japanese Second-class status meaning the people who are from a place called a "buraku." “Buraku” basically means a village or small district. For a long time, people have discriminated against people from a "buraku" even though they belong to the same race, and there are no differences between ordinary Japanese people and people who are called burakumin. It is not clear when and why this started, but it is said that it was most common in the Edo period.[10] They are often called "eta" (穢多) or "hinin" (非人) meaning polluted or not a human. Even though in Meiji 4 (1871), this discrimination was officially ended by kaihourei (解放令), many people resisted it and continued treating them as burakumin. Today, fewer people are discriminate towards burakumin, however, the term burakumin is still recognized as a discriminating word while there are certain amount of recent young generations who do not even know the term and idea of burakumin. Also, in some cases, people still happen to be discriminated against, especially when they get a job or get married.[11] These cases often reported as problems.
  • Natives of many colonized lands in the past could be considered second-class citizens compared to the colonists, however as generations pass on they become "Less-than-whole citizens" unless dramatic citizenship rights are ensured.[1]

See also


  1. Engel, Stephen (2016). Fragmented Citizens: The Changing Landscape of Gay and Lesbian Lives. NYU Press. ISBN 1479809128.
  2. "the definition of second-class citizen". Retrieved 2017-05-11.
  3. "Definition of SECOND-CLASS CITIZEN". Retrieved 2017-05-11.
  4. "the definition of second-class citizen". Retrieved 2017-05-12.
  5. "That's Hospitality | New Republic". The New Republic. April 17, 2006.
  6. Conor Friedersdorf, Reform Immigration, but Don't Create Second-Class Non-Citizens, The Atlantic (January 17, 2013).
  7. Anna Stilz, Guestworkers and second-class citizenship, Policy and Society, Vol. 29, Issue 4 (November 2010), pp. 295–307.
  8. "'Walk like a Latvian'". New Europe. 2013-06-01. Retrieved 2013-10-03.
  9. Third report on Latvia. CRI(2008)2 Archived 2009-05-09 at the Wayback Machine Executive summary
  10. Roth, Louis Frédéric ; translated by Käthe (2005). Japan encyclopedia. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap. pp. 93–94. ISBN 9780674017535.
  11. Saito (齋藤)), Naoko(直子). "部落出身者と結婚差別". External link in |website= (help); Missing or empty |url= (help)
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