This paper presents an analysis of interviews conducted with citizenship officers in London, working within the field of British naturalisation. We draw from a rhetorical psychology perspective to study the dilemmatic tensions that exist in the participants' discourse about naturalisation applicants who are constructed as ‘good’ and ‘bad’, as both ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ of British citizenship. In line with a rhetorical approach, we argue that these different constructions of the migrant are strategic and are associated with different constructions of Britain as humanitarian and tolerant, on the one hand, and as being under threat by the influx of immigration, on the other hand. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of this ambivalence for processes of inclusion and exclusion. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.