Since October 1 of this year, the Republic of Latvia has once again been allowing Latvians abroad to obtain Latvian citizenship without giving up their original citizenship. This was possible in the early 1990s, but not afterward. Now it is possible once again.
The process is open to people who were citizens of Latvia prior to June 17, 1940 (the start of the Soviet occupation) and to their children and grandchildren, provided that the original citizens departed from Latvia after the occupation began and could not return to Latvia because of it (the process is different for those who have ancestors who left Latvia during the interwar period or even earlier, but I will assume that most readers of Latvians Online do not fall into that category).
In order to obtain citizenship, you can visit the Citizenship and Migration Board in person in Rīga should you happen to be visiting, or you will have to contact the Latvian Embassy in your country of residence. You will have to submit an application for citizenship. The relevant application form can be found on the homepage of the Citizenship and Migration Board.
The homepage offers an English version, so if you don’t speak Latvian, you can still take a look. Latvian language skills are not necessary for émigré Latvians and their successors to obtain citizenship, as is the case for those who seek naturalisation in Latvia, so that is no worry for you. You will, however, need to provide personal identification, as well as evidence that you have ancestors who were citizens of independent Latvia prior to World War II. If you have your father or mother’s birth certificate, that will be sufficient. If not, you may seek information from Latvia’s state archives, which have census records and other documents that may be of use. Please note that in some cases, the relevant documents will have to be notarised (the homepage goes into detail about this). If you have children, once you have obtained citizenship, they will only need to fill out the application form and present personal identification to do the same.
If you live far away from the Latvian Embassy in your country, contact it anyway, because the Citizenship and Migration Board says that embassies are organising field trips to locations where Latvians live in order to help with the citizenship issue. Perhaps the embassy in your country is planning to do so in the foreseeable future. Of course, you may also submit documents to the embassy by mail, though perhaps you will not wish to send your passport in the mail, lest it be lost on the way.
Another source of information about this may be your country’s central Latvian organisation such as the American Latvian Association in the United States, because they will surely have collected all of the information that is needed.
What are the benefits of Latvian citizenship for you? Of course, there is the symbolic element of wishing to be linked to your fatherland and to have a document which testifies to this. In practical terms, a Latvian passport will allow you to travel freely in the countries which are part of the European Union’s Schengen system without having to show your passport on the relevant borders (though, of course, you will have to present it when entering the zone). Also, you will be able to vote in Latvian elections, though only in national, not local ones, because local elections, of course, depend on your place of residence. I would like to say that if you do not regularly follow political and social events in Latvia, you might refrain from voting in parliamentary elections, because you will not be aware of the issues that are of importance or the things which political parties that are seeking election are saying about them, but the possibility is there nonetheless.
Above all, there are comparatively few Latvians in the world, and Latvia is happy to welcome one and all. The Latvian passport will allow you and your children to travel freely to Latvia, and that is something that is to be recommended for every single person of Latvian origin, much as a trip to Mecca is strongly recommended for every Muslim in the world. Perhaps your children will someday wish to study at a Latvian university (though in that case, of course, they will require excellent Latvian language skills), and citizenship will make that easier (and in many cases less expensive), as well. One way or another, please check out the opportunity. I do believe that you will be glad that you did.
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