February 01, 2011
President Valdis Zatlers has joined the push for changes in Latvia’s citizenship law, telling the Saeima that it should remove the prohibition against dual citizenship to help people maintain ties to the homeland.
In a nine-page letter to Saeima Chairwoman Solvita Āboltiņa, Zatlers on Feb. 1 outlined the arguments for why Latvia’s citizenship law should be amended.
Zatlers also said Latvia should ease the path to citizenship for children born to stateless persons and non-citizens living in the country.
The president’s letter focuses on the principle of state continuity and on the need to consider Latvia’s place in the world.
“Now, when more than 15 years have gone by since passage of the Citizenship Law, when a new generation has grown up that was born in the independent Republic of Latvia, when Latvia has become a member of the world’s most influential unions and organizations of states, I think the time has come to improve the Citizenship Law in accordance with the state’s long-term interests,” Zatlers writes.
Specifically, the president asks the parliament to allow dual citizenship for exiles and their descendants. The change would affect those who left Latvia between June 17, 1940 (the start of the first Soviet occupation), and May 4, 1990, when Latvia declared independence from the Soviet Union. Under the citizenship law’s transitional rules, up to July 1995 it was possible for exiles and their descendants to register as Latvian citizens without having to give up citizenship in another country. Nearly 31,000 persons became dual citizens before the deadline, according to the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (Pilsonības un migrācijas lietu pārvalde) in Rīga. Since then, persons wanting to become Latvian citizens have had to renounce their citizenship in other countries.
Zatlers said it is unfair to the exiles and their descendants to prohibit dual citizenship.
“Every time I meet with exiles in Latvia or abroad, they talk to me about this unfair restriction,” the president writes in his letter. In recent years, frequent comments have been heard from Latvians abroad that they either did not know about the 1995 deadline or could not complete the process in time. The World Federation of Free Latvians (Pasaules brīvo latviešu apvienība) has made the dual citizenship question among its top issues in talks with Latvian politicians and government officials.
Zatlers also asks amendments to the law to allow dual citizenship for those Latvian residents who now are citizens of countries that are members of the European Union, the NATO defense alliance (including the U.S. and Canada) and the European Free Trade Association. This could affect tens of thousands of Latvian citizens who in recent years have migrated to Ireland, the United Kingdom and other European countries.
Finally, the president’s letter argues that changes need to be made to make it easier for children of stateless persons and non-citizens to become Latvian citizens. The change would largely affect the Russian-speaking minority in Latvia. While Latvian law since 1998 allows the children to become citizens, it has been up to the parents to take responsibility for submitting documentation to complete the process. Under Zatlers’ suggested amendment, the children would automatically become citizens. If they so choose, the parents—or the child upon reaching age 15—could then apply to renounce the child’s Latvian citizenship.
Zatlers’ letter comes on the heels of two other recent efforts to change the citizenship law.
In October, during the last weeks of the 9th Saeima, members of the Unity (Vienotība) bloc introduced legislation to allow dual citizenship. However, the bill failed to find support.
On Jan. 24, the National Association (Nacionālā apvienība “Visu Latvijai!” - “Tēvzemei un Brīvībai/LNNK”) introduced its take on changes to the citizenship law, several of which are similar to the president’s proposal. While Zatlers in his letter applauds the effort, he notes what he sees as shortcomings in the bill, including questions related to dual citizenship for children and for persons who become citizens of another country through marriage.
The National Association’s bill to amend the citizenship law has been referred to the Saeima’s Law Commission.
The government of Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis also has promised that it would propose changes to the citizenship law.
Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000-2012 he was editor of the website.