Cabinet backs citizenship law changes; justice minister calls for swift passage

The Latvian government has given its backing to a list of recommendations for proposed amendments to the country’s citizenship law, including allowing dual citizenship for World War II-era exiles and their descendants.

The Council of Ministers accepted the recommendations made by Justice Minister Gaidis Bērziņš during a Dec. 13 meeting in Rīga. The recommendations, many of which offer technical corrections, will now go to the parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee (Juridiskā komisija), which is considering a bill to amend the citizenship law.

“We are hoping for the Saeima to proceed actively to accept the amendments to the law as quickly as possible, because a large part of society is waiting for them, both in Latvia and around the world,” Bērziņš said in a government press release.

Before it was dissolved by July’s national referendum, the 10th Saeima was considering legislation sponsored by members of the Unity (Vienotība) party to change the citizenship law. The 11th Saeima’s Legal Affairs Committee reintroduced the bill (Nr. 52/Lp11) on Nov. 3. The committee now is waiting on recommendations for the legislation, which are due Jan. 1. The just-approved Justice Ministry recommendations are essentially the same as those made by the Interior Ministry in September.

Among the amendments would be one to lift the restriction on dual citizenship for exiles and their descendants. Under the current law, exiles and their descendants had until July 1995 to register as Latvian citizens without giving up the citizenship of their home country. The amendment defines exiles as those Latvian citizens who left their homeland between June 17, 1940, and May 4, 1990.

Dual citizenship also would be allowed for other groups, such as Latvian citizens who have become citizens of European Union or NATO defense alliance member states.

It is unacceptable, the justice minister said, that Latvians have been denied citizenship because of a formality: the restriction against dual citizenship.

“The Latvian state has a responsibility to keep in mind and to not lose its link to Latvians throughout the world,”  Bērziņš said in the press release.

Among other recommendations to the Legal Affairs committee is support for granting dual citizenship to children born outside of Latvia, even if just one of the parents is a Latvian citizen. This amendment to the Citizenship Law, according to Bērziņš, is one of great interest to the tens of thousands of recent emigrants to Ireland and Great Britain.

Meanwhile, the Zatlers Reform Party (Zatlera Reformu partija) announced Dec. 13 that it will push for an amendment to the Citizenship Law that will automatically grant Latvian citizenship to children born of non-citizens. Under the current law, non-citizen parents can apply for citizenship for their newborn children. While he was still Latvia’s president, party leader Valdis Zatlers in February proposed to the 10th Saeima that the granting of citizenship be automatic, and instead that non-citizen parents could apply to renounce their child’s Latvian citizenship.

“At this time, when individual politicians because of their unrealized political ambitions are ready to split Latvian society, we need more than ever to try to reach mutual trust and understanding,” party spokeswoman Daiga Holma said in a press release. “The situation that more than 20 years after regaining independence we still have non-citizens giving birth to new non-citizens has fostered society’s mutual distrust and resentment.”

About 319,000 residents of Latvia are non-citizens, according to the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (Pilsonības un migrācijas lietu pārvalde, or PMLP).

Support for the diaspora

In another matter, the Cabinet of Ministers in a letter to the Saeima’s Citizenship Law Implementation Committee (Pilsonības likuma izpildes komisija) reiterated the government’s support for the Latvian diaspora, noting that it is one of the goals of the Principles of National Identity, Civil Society and Integration, 2012-2018 (Nacionālās identitātes, pilsoniskās sabiedrības un integrācijas pamatnostādnes 2012.-2018. gadam). The document, drafted by the Ministry of Culture, was approved by the cabinet in October.

Among goals for 2012-2013, according to the letter from Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, is resolving the dual citizenship question, creation of register of citizens, education programs about Latvian culture for children and youths, support for weekend schools, eliminating discrimination in the Latvian labor market against those who do not speak Russian, and organizing summer camps in Latvia.

The national identity document also foresees creation of a board of advisors that would be charged with overseeing progress toward the goals.

The letter from the prime minister also suggests that the diaspora could help foster export markets for Latvian businesses.

In addition, the letter notes, a new Law on Repatriation is being prepared. The current law dates from 1995. According to data from the PMLP, since the law was enacted a total of 5,936 persons have reptriated to Latvia. Under the new law, according to the letter, opportunities for repatriation would be broadened, both for persons who have emigrated, as well as those who were born abroad.

The Foreign Ministry is charged with developing concrete plans for cooperation with the diaspora. Those plans, the letter concludes, are to be submitted to the government by June.

(Updated 13 DEC 2011 with information about Zatlers Reform Party’s proposal.)

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

6 thoughts on “Cabinet backs citizenship law changes; justice minister calls for swift passage

  1. I am supportive of this move. I was forced to leave Latvia 27/5/1944 with my mother and 2 siblings. I have married an Australian woman and have 3 sons 1 grand daughter. All are keen to have dual citizenship with Latvia

  2. Hi, its a good move, I think Latvia need huge changes and reforms in their migration & citizenship laws. Latvia has the most worst record of immigration laws, very bad attitude towards other nations. I request latvian president and prime minister to take proper actions and make normal amendments like other EU countires. eg, norway, sweden and uk.

  3. Vai nu nav mazliet par velu? Tukstosiem cilveku ir emigrejusi uz citam valstim. Zel, ka manai nu jau bijusai valstij nav vajadzigi pilsoni. Ar pasreizejo politiku Latvijas valdiba pati savam iznicina latvijas naciju ka tadu… Pec 20 gadiem daudz par velu…

  4. Labdein. I am doctor from Latvia now I am in residing in USA I was living more then 11 years in Latvia and complete my study over there but And I do have permission to work as a doctor in Latvia, but they should gave me immigration that I should freely can live work or move in Latvia and outer world since 1994 I know there been thousands of forgiens students came to Latvia for studies and they were genius they can be very helpfully for Latvian nation but badly ignored by government policies now they are serving dry nicely in others countries, I do believe that Latvian goverenment should revise their citizenship policies far ago if they still thinking to change that I am astonish. They should give full duel citizenship who live in Latvia more then 10 years without having any criminal record regardless he been married with local citizen or not. That’s my suggestion to Latvian government. Thanks. Es milu Latvija.

  5. As a child of a Latvian-born refugee whose family emigrated to Australia after WWII, I deeply wish I had known to apply for dual citizenship in 1991 once Latvia regained its independence. Family issues meant that I was not connected with my Latvian roots when I was young, but as I became more aware of what Latvians have been through to gain and regain their independence, I have realised how much I want to reconnect with the half of my family history that was cut off by distance and politics for the first 20 years of my life. I hope that one day I will be able to travel to Latvia as a citizen.

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