Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Long and the Short of It - Sri Lankan Dual Citizenship

I was at a social gathering recently and one of the main topics of discussion was the state of play with regards to dual citizenship applications in Sri Lanka. The interested parties were mainly expat Sri Lankans (who had either relinquished their Sri Lankan passports in order to obtain a foreign passport or who were born abroad and have never held Sri Lankan citizenship) and other foreign nationals (looking at their options given the new legislation on sale of land to foreigners).

By way of background, the granting of dual citizenship commenced in 1988 following amendments to the Citizenship Act and Immigrants and Emigrants Act in 1987. The Sri Lankan Government suspended the granting of dual citizenship in January 2011 stating it sought to review and make amendments to relevant laws. Since then, there has been much public and private debate about the politics, economics and everything but the "kitchen sink" regarding the reintroduction of dual citizenship by the Sri Lankan Government.


Passports and Border Controls


As with most things, there's a whole lot of politics and ownership surrounding this topic. If you go back to a time when passports and official border controls didn't exist, well, it'd be a bit of a free-for-all. However, even back in those times, tribes, makeshift weapons and asserting one's ownership probably constituted the equivalent of our system of passports and border controls.

Around the globe, each country and it's government makes its stance known by how it legislates and controls entry through its borders. Sri Lanka is no different from any other country, though with it's current (though suspended) laws it belongs to the list of countries that allows dual citizenship. There's actually quite a few countries that restrict dual citizenship - check it out here.

At the end of the day, it comes down to rights - be it voting, working, owning land or property, inheritance etc. If you're a Sri Lankan citizen (and hopefully living in Sri Lanka), then you have more rights than if you aren't one. It's the way it works. The issue is when you sit outside and want in. If you want in for the "right" reasons, then, subject to ticking all the right boxes, you're let in. What the powers-that-be are hoping to prevent (rightly or wrongly) is to prohibit, or make it more difficult for those deemed wanting in for the "not-so-right" reasons. If only it were so easy to legislate and put into practice.... maybe that's why there's an almost four-year suspension in granting of dual citizenship in Sri Lanka.

There are a few articles I've come across that make for interesting reading. I'm not going to rehash the history, politics and opinions, but feel free to have a read:

Article: Govt slow in resuming dual citizenship
Article: Dual citizenship still in abeyance 
Article: Dual nationality - core issue of the day




Current State of Play


At the time of writing this blog post, the Department of Immigration and Emigration ("DIE") still states "Acceptance of Dual Citizenship applications are temporary discontinued until further notice" on its website. I'm not sure whether anyone else picked up on the sudden resignation of the Immigration Head last month. To me, this is an eye-opener given the timing, as well as all the to-ing and fro-ing between DIE and the Legal Draftsmen regarding the new amendments. Apparently Cabinet approved new amendments back in January 2012 and a preliminary draft was sent to the Legal Draftsmen later that year. It's anyone's guess what's the hold up.

Plus, there has been public remarks made by the President on his recent visit to address the SLFP in Milan, Italy (also last month) that pledge to restore dual citizenship applications from January 2015.

Article: President Pledges To Restore Dual Citizenship From January Next Year
Article: Dual citizenship from next year?

I heard similar information from friends working within DIE about this timeframe, though I'm more than a little skeptical of the actual timing given January 2015 also happens to coincide with the recently announced Presidential election in Sri Lanka.

The President's recent Budget 2015 presentation to Parliament also included a provision for dual citizenship would be granted for foreign employees.


Speculations regarding amendments to legislation, criteria and forms


There are a variety of speculations about the new amendments to legislation and the criteria for applying for dual citizenship. Please note that these speculations are from both public and private sources and are unconfirmed:

Sri Lankan applicants:
  • pre-screening procedure to check eligibility and suitability to obtain citizenship
  • five-year permanent residency to be offered prior to any dual citizenship application
  • permanent residency visa - no voting rights though ability to work and own some land/property
  • establishment of an "Overseas Sri Lankan Scheme"
  • possible interview of the applicant by a panel headed by Defence Secretary and also comprised of External Affairs Ministry Secretary and Public Administration Secretary
  • application fees to increase above the previous fee of Rs.200,000 per application as there are now two stages (being residency and then dual citizenship)

Foreign applicants:
  • pre-screening procedure to check eligibility and suitability to obtain citizenship
  • five-year permanent residency to be offered prior to any dual citizenship application
  • ownership of land/property linked to new land legislation recently announced
  • possible interview of the applicant by a panel headed by Defence Secretary and also comprised of External Affairs Ministry Secretary and Public Administration Secretary
  • application fees to be reviewed

The old dual citizenship application form can be accessed here. There has been no announcement nor release of the proposed new dual citizenship application form.


Final note


So, back to the discussions at this recent social gathering...

After listening to all the views and opinions of others what I found it most illuminating was, although it has been officially reported that dual citizenship applications have suspended since January 2011 (with a significant backlog of applications still in the system), there are a small number of applications that have been approved.

How is that possible you ask. Well, it's a case of who you know, and if you personally know a certain top-of-the-food chain someone (who has the authority to sign off on your application using the already existing forms and criteria), then you're in luck.

Such is life eh? And not just in Sri Lanka mind you...



2 comments:

Kanishka said...

Hmmm... I speculate dual citizenship will never go ahead based on one point.

"possible interview of the applicant by a panel headed by Defence Secretary and also comprised of External Affairs Ministry Secretary and Public Administration Secretary"

Defense Secretary coming for and one-on-one interview, that is never going to happen. These 3 are the most powerful officials in the country. I don't think they will ever gather for such an interview with one person.

Eva Stone said...

Yes it is a rather unusual requirement to say the least. However, there are likely reasons for putting it out there like that i.e. being a deterrent to certain applications. It'd be highly irregular and astonishing if it were to occur. But, who really knows...

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