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Latvia: Extension of Citizenship to Emigrants

(Oct. 25, 2013) On October 1, 2013, amendments to the Latvian Citizenship Act entered into force. (Press Release, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia, Amendments to Citizenship Law Come into Effect on October 1, 2013 (Oct. 1, 2013).) These amendments allow those Latvian nationals who left Latvia and acquired the citizenship of another country to keep both citizenships. (Id.)

The dual citizenship rule will also apply to the children of former Latvian emigrants living abroad if they want to restore Latvian citizenship. It will not apply automatically to all Latvians and their descendants living abroad, but will be limited to those who emigrated and became naturalized in other European Union Member States, states that are members of the European Free Trade Association, and NATO Member States. (Id.) Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand have been added to the list, because after World War II, large Latvian ethnic expatriot communities were formed there. These three countries have concluded treaties on recognition of dual citizenship with Latvia. Nationals of other countries will be required to petition the Latvian government for recognition of their dual citizenship. Latvian citizenship will be extended only to those who can speak the Latvian language and are able to prove that they or their ancestors? lived in Latvia. (Id.)

The amended Act states that this category of persons eligible for dual citizenship will include those who left the country because of the Nazi German or the Sovietoccupation or who were deported and did not return before May 4, 1990, the day when Latvia declared its independence from the Soviet Union. (Aleksei Romanov, Children in Latvia Can Get a Passport More Easily [in Russian], DEUTSCHE WELLE (Oct. 1, 2013).) Despite the fact that many Latvians deported by Soviet authorities ended up in Russia and other former Soviet Republics, the Act does not apply to ethnic Latvians living in those countries. At present, about 320,000 people living in Latvia, out of a population of two million, do not have Latvian citizenship. (New Latvian Dual Citizenship Law Excludes Possibility of Russian Citizenship [in Russian], ITAR-TASS (Oct. 1, 2013).)

Another significant amendment relates to the procedure under which children of non-citizens living in Latvia receive their Latvian citizenship. The Act now recognizes as Latvian citizens all children of non-citizens born in Latvia after August 21, 1991, if they reside there permanently and have never acquired citizenship in another state. Henceforth, all newly born children of permanent residents, if born in the territory of Latvia, will be considered to be Latvian nationals and registered as such without bureaucratic complicationsA similar rule will apply to children of Latvian emigrants born abroad, even if only one of the parents is a Latvian national. (Press Release, Parliament of the Republic of Latvia, Saeima Adopts Provisions on Recognition of Dual Citizenship (May 9, 2013).)

Introduction of this new citizenship-granting procedure for children brings Latvian citizenship legislation in accordance with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) requirements (Aleksei Romanov, supra). During the deliberations over the amendments to the Actin the Parliament, some legislators suggested that non-citizens should take an oath promising to raise any children they have as Latvian patriots and teach them the Latvian language if they want their child to be recognized as a Latvian citizen. However, this proposal did not pass. (Id.)

Among other novelties introduced by the amendments is a simplified naturalization procedure for those who studied in Latvia and were educated in the Latvian language. (Saeima Adopts Provisions on Recognition of Dual Citizenship, supra.)

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevichs stated that the newly amended Act “responds to the present day challenges and extends ties between the Latvian State and its citizens around the globe.” (Romanov, supra.) According to him, up to 20,000 people worldwide might apply for Latvian citizenship under this law. (Id.)