RIGA - President Valdis Zatlers sent to Saeima on Feb. 1 a proposal for amendments to the Citizenship Law which would allow dual citizenship for exiled Latvians and those Latvian residents who have recently left the country to live and work abroad, reports news agency LETA. Saeima’s Citizenship Law implementation Commission was to vote on the bill on Feb. 9.
Zatlers believes that now, with over 15 years since the Citizenship Law was adopted, and a new generation having grown up in independent Latvia, and when it has become a member of the world’s most influential unions and organizations, the time has come to improve the Citizenship Law, which would serve the state’s long-term goals and ensure preservation of Latvian citizenship.
Zatlers highlights two issues: first, the Citizenship Law as it now stands limits the rights of exiled Latvians to obtain Latvian citizenship or the citizenship of the country which provided refuge to them and their descendants. This is unfair, disproportionate, and does not serve the state’s interests, he considers. This dual citizenship situation of exiled Latvians is a consequence of Latvia’s occupation. Zatlers urges Saeima to lift the limitations on Latvian citizens, and their descendants, who were forced to leave Latvia, or were deported and could not return during the German and Soviet occupation from June 17, 1940 to May 4, 1990, and naturalized abroad.
Second, Zatlers notes that the concept of security and integrity changed when Latvia joined the European Union and NATO, and many Latvian citizens have decided to live abroad. It is in Latvia’s interest to encourage them to maintain their bond with Latvia, and retain its citizenship. Dual citizenship is allowed in most of the EU member states.
The president suggests amending the Citizenship Law regarding the determination of citizenship to the children of Latvian citizens, who were born abroad, and also to lift the limitations on dual citizenship to the citizens of the EU, NATO and the European Free Trade Association.
The European Latvian Association (ELA) supports amendments to the Citizenship Law, as well as giving automatic Latvian citizenship to newborns born abroad who have a Latvian citizen as one of their parents.
ELA also urges politicians to support the amendments to the Citizenship Law, said ELA spokeswoman Lasma Gibiete. ELA has on several occasions offered proposals for the Latvian government and officials regarding the development of relations with Latvian communities abroad in the long term, which would be very important to both sides. ELA has also suggested several ideas on how to help Latvians who wish to return to live in Latvia from other countries, or have already returned.
Zatlers says that allowing dual citizenship is necessary because “we have become a dynamic society and we must think about the future. People go to study and work abroad, and may even get married outside the country. Children are born in these marriages.” He emphasized that it is necessary to send a clear political signal that every Latvian citizen and their children are welcome in Latvia as citizens.
In January, Saeima forwarded the All for Latvia-For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (VL-TB/LNNK)-proposed amendment to the Citizenship Law to allow dual citizenship for Latvian citizens to committees for review. Fifty-eight Saeima members voted for the amendment, 27 voted against, and five abstained.
VL-TB/LNNK pointed out that the amendment is to strengthen emigrant Latvians’ ties with Latvia - those who left Latvia in the wake of the Soviet occupation, as well as their children, and those who have left the country after the restoration of independence.
A similar bill was given to the Saeima Legal Affairs Committee last September, but the 9th Saeima did not have time to review the bill.