Dual citizenship, other amendments move closer to approval by Saeima

Changes to Latvian law allowing dual citizenship for people living abroad—including exiles and their descendants as well as recent emigrants—are a step closer to approval by the Saeima.

The Latvian parliament’s Citizenship Law Amendments Subcommittee (Pilsonības likuma grozījumu apakškomisija) has agreed to language that would enable a broad range of persons to become dual citizens, which under the current law is not allowed.

The subcommittee approved the amendments during a July 31 meeting, the Saeima Press Service announced in a news release. The legislation (Nr. 52/Lp11) now heads to the Legal Affairs Committee (Juridisko lietu komisija), where it must be reviewed before a second reading can take place in the full Saeima. The parliament resumes its work when the autumn session begins Sept. 4.

“Working with experts and interested parties, the subcommittee has managed to agree on changes to the law that reflect today’s situation and resolve the most fundamental challenges,” said MP Ingmārs Čaklais, chair of the subcommittee, according to the press service. Čaklais did not respond to an email seeking further comment.

The amendments would allow dual citizenship for persons who have become citizens of countries that are part of the European Union, the European Free Trade Association or the NATO defense alliance. That covers most of Europe as well as Canada and the United States. The amendments also would allow for dual citizenship for people in countries with which Latvia has treaties recognizing it.

Latvian exiles and their descendants also would be allowed to become dual citizens. The current Citizenship Law included a provision that allowed them to reclaim Latvian citizenship until July 1995. Since then, however, the law generally forbids new dual citizens.

Persons who through marriage or adoption have become citizens of another country also would be allowed to retain their Latvian citizenship.

In other individual cases, dual citizenship would be allowed by the action of the Cabinet of Ministers, according to the proposed amendments.

The amendments also call for a child to become a Latvian citizen no matter where they are born, as long as one of the parents is a citizen.

The changes to the Citizenship Law are part of legislation first proposed last year by MPs from the Unity (Vienotība) party during the 10th Saeima and reintroduced in November by the 11th Saeima’s Legal Affairs Committee. Technical corrections to the amendments were proposed by the Ministry of Justice and in December received backing from the Cabinet of Ministers.

The debate over dual citizenship, as well as overall reform of the Citizenship Law, has continued for several years and has been heightened by continued emigration from Latvia as well as renewed interest from the exile community. Former Justice Minister Gaidis Bērziņš gave strong support to the renewal of dual citizenship when he spoke to a March conference devoted to the issue of Latvian citizenship in the 21st century. Culture Minister Žaneta Jaunzeme-Grende, visiting the recent Latvian Song Festival in Milwaukee, Wis., heard from Latvian-Americans that they eagerly await the amendments, according to spokesperson Ieva Līne.

The subcommittee also agreed on somewhat controversial language regarding children born to noncitizens, of whom an estimated 312,000 live in Latvia. Under current law, children born to noncitizens can become Latvian citizens only upon application by their parents. The proposed amendments would allow parents to designate their child as a Latvian citizen at the same time as the birth is registered, but they will have to promise to help the child learn the Latvian language and acquire respect and allegiance to Latvia, according to the Saeima Press Service.

Still to be debated, according to the press service, are several points, such as language requirements for ethnic Latvians and Livs who live abroad and wish to become Latvian citizens, as well as rules regarding revocation or renunciation of citizenship. Those issues would be addressed before the third and final reading of the legislation.

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

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