Saeima approves dual citizenship

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Ilmārs Čaklais of the Unity (Vienotība) party confers with other MPs during the May 9 debates on amendments to the Citizenship Law. Čaklais led the Citizenship Law Amendments Subcommittee of the Legal Affairs Committee. (Photo by Reinis Inkēns, Saeima Chancellery)

After several hours of debate, the Latvian parliament on May 9 approved legislation that will allow dual citizenship for many individuals, including World War II-era exiles and their descendants.

The amendments to the Citizenship Law, which passed on a vote of 54-27, take effect Oct. 1.

The amendments also clarify the citizenship process for children born to non-citizens or to those born abroad to Latvian citizens. In addition, they spell out changes in the naturalization process.

Reworking the Citizenship Law became increasingly urgent in recent years as tens of thousands of Latvia’s citizens have emigrated since the country became a member of the European Union in 2004. Diaspora organizations have pressured Latvian politicians to deal with the question of dual citizenship.

The parliament faced 93 proposals to review as part of the final reading of the amendments. Debate arose around a number of proposals that dealt with dual citizenship and the granting of citizenship to children.

Almost immediately coalition and opposition MPs began sparring over a new section of the Citizenship Law that outlines the goals of the legislation, including the guarantee that ethnic Latvians and Livs may register as citizens.

Valērijs Agešins of the opposition party Harmony Centre (Saskaņas centrs) said the language moved Latvia closer to becoming an ethnic state that would ignore the interests of minorities. Harmony Centre’s base of support is largely within the Russian-speaking minority.

Ilma Čepāne of the Unity party (Vienotība) and head of the Legal Affairs Committee responded that Latvians and Livs are the core of the nation.

In a series of proposals that were turned down, Harmony Centre (Saskaņas centrs) also sought to broaden the countries with which Latvia would recognize dual citizenship.

Under the approved amendments, dual citizenship will be allowed for those Latvian citizens who have become citizens of member states of the European Union, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the NATO defense alliance. In addition, thanks to lobbying by the World Federation of Free Latvians (Pasaules brīvo latviešu apvienība) and other diaspora organizations, dual citizenship also will be allowed with Australia, Brazil and New Zealand.

This did not sit well with Harmony Centre MPs, including Agešins.

“Only those Latvians who live in the right countries will be able to have dual citizenship,” Agešins said during floor debate.

Harmony Centre tried unsuccessfully to replace EFTA with either the Council of Europe or the World Trade Organization. Both organizations include Russia as a member state.

Boriss Cilēvics of Harmony Centre pushed MPs from the ruling coalition to name with which countries Latvia would not allow dual citizenship, while Nikolajs Kabanovs said that the desire to shut out Russia was a political effort aimed against his party.

The only point on which MPs seemed to agree was allowing exiles and their descendants to register as Latvian citizens. That proposal passed unanimously.

The section on exiles applies to persons who were citizens of Latvia on June 7, 1940, as well as their descendants who will have been born by Oct. 1, 2014. Exiles are those who left Latvia during the first Soviet occupation, during the Nazi occupation from 1941-1944, or during the second Soviet occupation up to May 4, 1990, the day the Latvian Supreme Council declared independence from the USSR. Exiles or the descendants who register as Latvian citizens also are allowed to have dual citizenship.

During floor debate, proponents of the legislation pointed out that the language on exiles applies to Latvians regardless of where they live.

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

50 thoughts on “Saeima approves dual citizenship

  1. Jeffrey Berry: According to the amendments approved by the Saeima, ethnic Latvians and Livs will be able to register as citizens if they meet three requirements, including language competency. Language competency can be shown in several ways, but there are also exceptions that may free a person from this requirement. Exiles and their descendants, who are covered in a special section of the amended Citizenship Law, do not face the language competency requirement.

  2. Thank you. It has been a long time because I am a first generation Latvian-American and I would love to have citizenship of my parent’s homeland and to be able to participate in the way the government runs the country.

  3. Andris Straumanis: “Exiles and their descendants, who are covered in a special section of the amended Citizenship Law, do not face the language competency requirement.” Thank you for that – as my younger brother doesn’t speak Latvian but does understand it! He has been waiting a long time to become a Latvian citizen. I already have dual citizenship from the first round!

  4. Hooray! This is very exciting! However there are still open questions concerning Latvian citizenship and the Latvian language: will ethnic Latvians/Livs have to take a Latvian language exam in order to receive citizenship? If so, what level (e.g. A2, fluency, etc.)? Are WW2 exiles and their descendants a distinct category without a language test requirement? If anyone knows the answers to these questions, please let me know!

  5. I would like to thank those in Saeima for passing the citizenship legislation. This was the best news I’ve heard today. It has been a long process but worth the wait. My roots sit deeply in Latvia my home country. My Latvian father who past away many years ago would have greatly approved the legislation passed. I like many others I look forward to regaining their Latvian citizenship. This along with the citizenship of my adopted country. God bless Latvia.

  6. Oh God how long I have been waiting for this. My parents are now deceased, but I was born in Latvia in 1937, returned twice after 1991 and now I can get my citizenship back of my Dzimtene Latvija. Thank you all who worked for this to happen.

  7. I too am a first generation Latvian American. My father and his family walked across Lithuania and Poland and spent six years in a DP camp in Germany (but was run by U.S.). I can’t wait.

  8. Yes this is fantastic news. We need to all think how we can promote this news so that those people that have Latvian heritage as a vague story in the back of their minds can be motivated to reconnect and become proud Latvian citizens.

    1. Doesn’t the rule of dual-citizenship for Latvian residents in NATO/EU area countries and the few commonwealth ones (Canada, NZ) and Brazil only apply to the Latvians who have left Latvia and acquired other country’s citizenship, back then when dual citizenship was not compatible with the said countries?

      Correct me if I am wrong..

  9. This is great news for all Latvians who had to flee the homeland during World War Two. My grandparents sadly would never see their homeland again or to see this bill finally pass the Latvian Parliament would no doubt be happy that exiles can at last reconnect to the homeland officially. My Mum who has been In Australia since 1949 is over joyed by this announcement and so am I :)

  10. Blessed be the Latvian folk abroad, who have now finally vanquished the wicked who drove or carried them away.

  11. Absolutely brilliant news. Is there any information yet on what kind of documentation / proof one must have in order to apply for cititzenship?

  12. Coming down from the euphoria “..During floor debate, proponents of the legislation pointed out that the language on exiles applies to Latvians regardless of where they live.” Does this mean the language test still applies?

  13. I will feel more comfortable once President Andris Bērziņš signs the Citizenship admendment into law. I read this blurb on a news site….
    “Harmony Centre” (“SC”) will appeal to the President with a request to parliament for reconsideration amendments to the Citizenship Law, which are arranged in dual citizenship.”

  14. Does anyone know if the language citizenship test apples to the new citizenship bill? As there seems to confusion if this maybe the case. I hope not as this will disadvantage many people who are sons and daughters of Latvians parents who by no choice had to leave their country during and after World War 2.

  15. What I am more curious about is what you all will do with the Latvian citizenship when you get it? Will you vote? pay taxes (remember that Latvian citizens have to declare assets that are outside of Latvia – so be prepared to do so)? Live/work in Latvia?

  16. Rob this quote may be of help: “any former Latvian citizen or his descendant, who fled from the Soviet Union or the German occupation regime, or were deported to have lost citizenship and has not been able to restore it, will be able to do based and 8th prim. Moreover, in this case, language skills will not be tested and no matter which other nationality of the applicant”

  17. I hope our President is wise enough to return this law for revision and significant improvement. All Latvians, no matter what country they are from, should be able to obtain dual citizenship.

  18. Thank you Egits for your reply. Janis it’s a matter of restoring heritage which is every ex-pats entitlement. Many ex-pats missed out in the early ninety’s when they had the chance to restore their right to citizenship,this was due to lack of commutation plus the world wide web was just was in it’s infancy. Most western country’s recognize duel citizenship and I don’t think Latvia is going to get a flood of expats wanting to take over. You should worry about your neighbors to the east not the people who love Latvia.

  19. One may ask why I would want Latvian Citizenship when living in an adopted country. I guess every one will have there own personal reasons. I was born a Latvian citizen while my parents lived in a German DP camp. I lost my Latvian citizenship in the late sixties. Dual citizenship was not allowed back then. My parents and grandparents grew up and worked in Latvia prior to Russian occupation. Both may father and grandfather fought for the good of Latvia in two wars. It is only right to be able to be given back the right to have Latvian citizenship again. I ask for nothing more. My Latvian roots go deep.

  20. Rob – ‘restoring heritage’? I don’t think anyone’s heritage can be taken away. My point was that with Latvian citizenship comes a significant amount of responsibility – such as voting and paying taxes (or, at the very least, declaring assets, as I noted). Are you prepared to declare your Australian assets to the Latvian government?

  21. Egits Linga… I can almost agree with you word for word. It’s long overdue time to be one again; even while we live all over the planet.

  22. Do the amenents only apply to first generation descendants? My grandparents fled to Australia from Latvia in the 1940s and my Australian born father has never had Latvian citizenship. The whole family still considers ourselves very much Latvian and it would be amazing if that heritage could now be officially recognized for all of us.

  23. I find this all very confusing, all 4 of my grandparents, both my parents and I were born in Latvia. We emigrated to South Africa in 1971, my parents speak some Latvian whereas I do not. Are we entitled to dual citizenship ?

  24. Egits … what is the link to the bill? Not to say that I will be able to read it .. others might though and give answers.

  25. What wonderful news! My father, Bernts Janis Rube, has waited for years of this news. Sadly, my grandparents didn’t get to see this day, but I’m grateful that we can. To all the people who fought for the rights of DP’s and their families- PALDIES!

  26. I’m half-latvian and an American, so, sure I have a bias, but I’m still baffed with Latvia is supposed to bend over to Russians when they already have one of the largest countries on earth. GO HOME!

  27. So if I was born in Soviet Latvia and then moved to USA in 1993, my understanding is that I am not entitled to it?

  28. I think my deceased parents would be happy with the news. I am first generation Australian/Latvian. But if I obtain dual citizenship do I have to vote etc.

  29. What a wonderful victory for all Latvians & descendants!!! I would like to be able to spend more time in Latvia giving back some of the privilege I have as an Australian citizen with Latvian heritage. This news fills my heart with joy. Thank you to all who worked hard to get this bill passed!! My eternal gratitude.

  30. Thank you members of Saeima for this LONG awaited opportunity. My grandparents held on to their Latvian citizenship, history and language. They were adamant about teaching their children and grandchildren as much history and heritage as they could, from the safer shores of the US after the war. I look forward to making official my belonging to Latvia. Paldies!

  31. This law is self defeating. The Latvian attitude towards their Russian neighbours is beyond belief. Walk throught the streets of Riga and the only voices you will hear are Russian as all Latvians have left for greener pastures and the ethnic russians are left to carry the burden of getting this corrupt country back on its feet. The Russians will onlt take so much and if they get a better offer elsewhere they will leave with thier money and Latvia would collapse. Recognise the people who are keeping this country afloat and dtop living in the past.

  32. The dual citizenship will be granted to the descendants of Latvians who left Latvia around 1922 (economic migrants) and living in Brazil?

  33. Mark I do agree with you. As a Latvia’s Latvian who was born and lived in Latvia for most of my life but do work and live in the U.S. for the past two years, I am too amazed at the attitude most trimda Latvians (American-Latvians, Australian-Latvians, etc) have towards Russians and most of them were not even born in Latvia, they only go there once in a while but sure they know how to run their mouths on how Latvia should be governed. All those talks that Russians should move back to Russia, and for Russia to pay reparations for “occupation” honestly already got old and rancid for the past 22 years, it is same old sernum. It is time to get out from the ethnographic musem and take some responsibility what is going on in Latvia instead of blaming outside boogey man “beast from the east” for what has happened in the past. Let’s assume that all the Russians will leave Latvia, then what?? Somehow I doubt that trimda Latvians will return to Latvia and try to build a better “Latviesu Latvija” that they long envisioned. Or you think that when blacks and muslims will move in instead of Russians, Latvia will become a heaven to live in?

  34. Hi guys, I have a vague understanding. But some clarification would be nice. Myself and my mother where born in Australia, But my mothers Father (my grandfather) is/was born lived and died in Latvia. Am I eligible for descent citizenship?

  35. My father was born in Riga Latvia but had to flee due to Nazi influence in Latvia in the late 1930s. He was naturalized British in 1940 in South Africa and I was born in 1946. After a recent trip to Riga I would like to have dual citizenship ie South African/Latvian. Although at the time of my birth my father was no longer Latvian, for had he remained in Riga he would not have survived the holocaust and I would not have been born. Please direct me where I may apply for descent citizenship. Thank you

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