Officials in Rīga are asking Latvian organizations abroad to weigh in on whether granting dual citizenship is the way to encourage closer ties to the homeland and even return migration.
The Secretariat of the Special Assignments Minister for Social Integration on July 24 electronically distributed a five-question Latvian-language survey that asks for input on a proposal to reinstate aspects of dual citizenship. Responses to the survey are due July 30 and the secretariat expects to have the results ready by Aug. 1.
Results from the survey will be considered as the government discusses what its next steps will be on the dual citizenship question, Zane Lielķikute, public relations director for the integration secretariat, told Latvians Online in an e-mail.
Under Latvian law, dual citizenship is not allowed. Up until July 1, 1995, exile Latvians and their descendants were able to reclaim citizenship without having to give up citizenship in their host countries. According to the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, a total of 30,793 individuals reclaimed citizenship, 40 percent of them in the United States.
In recent months the dual citizenship question has been raised because of the thousands of Latvian citizens who have emigrated to Ireland and other Western European nations in search of work. Many, officials and observers fear, are unlikely to return as they put down roots and start families.
Ainars Baštiks, minister for children and families, has proposed that one way to encourage return migration is to grant Latvian citizenship to children born abroad to Latvian citizens. Under the current system, a child born of Latvian parents in Ireland would have Irish citizenship, but not—apparently—Latvian.
The proposal is one of several discussed by a task force set up by the integration secretariat to examine how to encourage return migration.
“The minister for children and families believes that, looking globally and considering Latvia’s future, every Latvian citizen is important,” Viesturs Kleinbergs, Baštiks’ chief of staff, wrote in an e-mail. “For that reason it is important to insure that a child born to Latvian citizens abroad would have the opportunity to gain Latvian citizenship regardless of which nation they were born in.”
The formula, Kleinbergs said, is very simple: “A citizen is born to a citizen.”
In an interview with the official government newspaper, Latvijas Vēstnesis, Baštiks acknowledged that few children might want return to Latvia, but at present they are not allowed to return at all.
Baštiks’ proposal in recent days has received public support from Artis Pabriks, Latvia’s foreign minister, and Gaidis Bērziņš, the justice minister.
“Because Latvian law does not allow dual citizenship, the parents of children often are forced to renounce Latvian citizenship,” Pabriks said in a July 23 statement, “and after that it hard for our nation to defend the interests of these children.”
Pabriks said consideration should be given to slightly liberalizing the citizenship law to allow children to have dual citizenship in cases where one parent is a Latvian citizen but the other parent is a citizen of one of the other member states of the European Union.
Complicating the matter appear to be differing interpretations of Latvia’s citizenship law. The Ministry of the Interior, which has responsibility for citizenship affairs, is withholding comment on Baštiks’ proposal, said Laura Karnīte, director of the ministry’s press office.
But she pointed out that the law already grants Latvian citizenship to children born to Latvian citizens regardless of where the birth takes place. Section 2 of the citizenship law states that in cases where both parents are Latvian citizens, the child is considered a Latvian citizen regardless of where the child is born. Section 3, which applies to cases in which just one parent is a Latvian citizen, also allows for the child to be considered a citizen.
The difficulty, Karnīte said, comes when encountering Section 9, which prohibits dual citizenship. The Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, she said, has chosen to interpret the law to mean that dual citizenship is not allowed in cases of naturalization. A person wanting to become a Latvian citizen would have to renounce their citizenship in another state.
Also awaited is the outcome of a case now before the Constitutional Court. Marks Locovs, who in 1994 reclaimed his Latvian citizenship under the pre-1995 dual citizenship clause, is challenging the constitutionality of the citizenship law. His daughter, who was born in Israel, is not allowed to receive Latvian citizenship without giving up her Israeli citizenship. Locovs, according to a press release from the court, argues that the citizenship law is counter to the Latvian constitution, which guarantees equal rights for all citizens regardless of where they live.
Preparations for the case are scheduled to be ready by Aug. 22.
The integration secretariat’s survey asks five questions:
- In which country do you live or work?
- Are you aware of the secretariat’s task force’s recommendations for how to encourage Latvian migrants to return to the homeland?
- Do you agree that it is necessary to grant dual citizenship to children born of Latvian citizens abroad?
- Would granting dual citizenship encourage participation in Latvia’s democratic processes, such as elections?
- Would granting dual citizenship in some way encourage return migration?
Results of the survey are expected to be added to a report presented to the Cabinet of Ministers by the task force. The report, assembled by the task force in June, includes more than 20 suggested activities that could help encourage return migration, according to a press release from the integration secretariat.
The report identified six major categories of activities, including analyzing reasons for migration and return; public-private partnerships to support business initiatives among Latvian residents; improving the job market in Latvia; improving information sources for Latvians abroad; educating Latvian society and stimulating positive thinking, and reducing barriers to legal, financial and insitutional ties to Latvia.
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