VILNIUS - Parliament (Seimas) has passed a new citizenship law that allows children of Lithuanian emigrants in EU and NATO states to gain dual citizenship. The bill will only come into effect when President Valdas Adamkus signs it into law.
Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas who is currently touring New York, told reporters the new edition of the citizenship law will enhance relations between Lithuanian emigrants and their home country.
This is a view shared by the head of the World Lithuanian Community, Regina Narusiene and her Lithuanian counterpart Gabrielius Zemkalnis. Zemkalnis lived in Australia for a number of years and is an example of those whose children will be affected by the new bill. "The most important thing is that people have the opportunityâ€¦they [the Lithuanian Diaspora] can retain their Lithuanian Citizenship," he said.
Narusiene explained that the ruling was made after the Seimas discovered that the old ruling, made in 2006, violated part of the constitution. After the discrepancy was found, they were asked to write a new bill by the Constitutional Court.
According to the new law, dual citizenship will be granted to seven groups of people: citizens of EU and NATO member states; political deportees and prisoners as well as three generations of their descendants; those who left Lithuania during the Soviet rule (1940-1990) as well as their offspring; Lithuanians living in traditionally very populated "isles" in neighboring states; individuals who have been granted a Lithuanian passport alongside the document issued by another state; children of Lithuanian citizens and citizens of other countries that have signed an international agreement with Lithuania on dual citizenship. Lithuania, however, has no agreements of this nature with any other countries at present.
Previously, children of emigrants would have to give up their other nationality in order to gain Lithuanian citizenship. The new law unfortunately does not cover Lithuanians who left the country after independence and got another citizenship after 2006.
During the discussions over the law some politicians brought up the issue of exclusion of countries outside the NATO or EU zones, but Zemkalnis is not concerned, saying those from Australia, New Zealand and Ukraine are covered. "These countries are covered indirectly by the laws," he said. Narusiene moved to support Zemkalnis telling people not to worry, as the exclusion rate will be "very low."
Lithuanian citizenship can be granted if applicants meet the following requirements: pass a language exam; provide proof of legal right to remain in Lithuania at the time of application, live in Lithuanian territory for the past 10 years, have legal means of supporting themselves and pass an exam on basic knowledge of the country's Constitution.
Supporters of the law defended it despite the exclusions.
"People are complaining, but none of it is constructive criticism; it is a wonderful thing the Seimas has done. I congratulate them. It is good, but is it perfect? No it isn't," she said referring to the exclusion of some people. "We are going to strive for more, but this will take time," Narusiene added.
Others affected by the law also expressed approval. Aras Zirgulis is a young Lithuanian American who grew up in Los Angeles, but now lives in Vilnius. He plans to start a Masters in Business Administration in the next school year. He is very happy to hear the news and says he will start application procedures as soon as he can. "This is the fulfillment of a 25 year dream 's it is finally coming to fruition," Zirgulis said. "Doors are finally opening up to me," he added.
Julia Bojko, another Lithuanian American from Philadelphia said she was excited about the move and will also start proceedings as soon as possible. "I am a proud American and a proud Lithuanian. There are no downsides to this 's it will help me and my family and help those who are being forced to make decisions they don't want to," Bojko said.
The landslide decision was reached in the Seimas with 78 members of parliament voting in favor of the bill with four against and nine abstaining.