THE RIGHT TO A NATIONALITY
I. Background information and Current Conditions
Latvia acceded to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness in 1992 and to the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons in 1999. Latvia has also signed, but not yet ratified, the European Convention on Nationality on 30 May 2001, with a number of reservations. The Parliament of Latvia adopted the Citizenship Law on 22 June 1994. The statute defines the requirements for Latvian citizenship, naturalization and rules on the loss and restoration of Latvian citizenship. Dual citizenship is prohibited. In March 2010, the OCMA replaced the Naturalization Board and is now responsible for naturalization processes in Latvia.
Ratification of the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons led to the adoption of the Law on Stateless Persons in 2004. The law determines the legal status of stateless persons in Latvia, as well as their rights and obligations. The status of a stateless person may be acquired by a person whose status is not determined by the Law on the Status of Those Former USSR Citizens who are not Citizens of Latvia or Any Other State (the Non-citizens Law), adopted in 1995. This last piece of legislation governs the legal status of “non citizens.”
During 2009, a total of 3,221 persons acquired the citizenship of Latvia. Of these persons, 3,100 were “non-citizens” and two were stateless persons. There is a higher interest among residents of Latvia to obtain Russian citizenship. 2706 Latvian “non-citizens” received Russian citizenship and residency permit in Latvia in 2009. Currently, there are about 31,000 Russian citizens with residency permits in Latvia. In October 2009, a special service centre in the Moscow Cultural and Business Centre in Riga was established to assist interested candidates to prepare their applications for Russian citizenship. Around 4,000 applications for Russian citizenship were submitted to the Russian Embassy in Latvia in 2009 (twice the number registered in 2008). According to the Russian Consul General in Daugavpils (city in the Eastern part of Latvia), the majority of persons applying for Russian citizenship are “non-citizens” of retirement or pre-retirement age.
II. Achievements and Best Practices
Officially recognized stateless persons holding Latvian residence permits (temporary or permanent) are subjects to the same limitations as foreign citizens and may be expelled from the country pursuant to the provisions and safeguards established by the national immigration, administrative and criminal law. Stateless persons have free access to the labour market, education and healthcare. In addition, stateless persons who reside in an EU Member State and hold the passports of that Member State are exempt from visa requirements when traveling in the EU. Stateless persons who are in possession of a permanent residence permit are enjoying the same social protection as citizens and “non-citizens. Finally, after residing in Latvia for at least 5 years without interruption following the receipt of a permanent residence permit, stateless persons may apply for naturalization.
The scope of rights of Latvian “non-citizens” is close to those of Latvian citizens – they cannot be expelled and they enjoy consular protection. The Latvian “non-citizens” are the only group of persons, in addition to citizens, who enjoy permanent residence status in Latvia ex lege. Once a person has lawfully obtained the status of a Latvian “non-citizen”, s/he can freely reside on a permanent basis in a foreign country retaining also all the rights and privileges enjoyed by Latvian “non-citizen”, inter alia, to move freely and return back to Latvia at any time. “Non-citizens” have the same social guarantees as Latvian citizens. “Non-citizens” may apply for naturalization at any time.
According to the Latvian Human Rights Committee, there are currently 79 differences in rights of citizens and “non-citizens” of Latvia, in particular relating to the right to vote in parliamentary and local elections, and referenda, and the right to work in the civil service or occupy posts that are related to national security. “Non-citizens” cannot be founders or members of political parties.
In certain cases, the naturalization exams have been simplified. Graduates of national minority schools who have passed the centralized exams in the Latvian language and literature are not required to take the language test for naturalization. Applicants over the age of 65 need to take only the oral part of the language exam. The Government has also reduced the state fee for passing the naturalization exams and has extended the number of groups entitled to a reduced naturalization fee (less than 5 EUR).
III. Challenges and Constraints
Latvia continues to face difficulties related to the integration of its stateless population. There are approximately 336,000 “non-citizens” in Latvia as of August 2010. This figure includes 114,000 persons above the age of 60 and 17,000 persons born in Latvia after restoration of independence.
According to the media, the main patterns of reduction of the number of “non-citizens” in 2009 are death (39.1%), acquisition of Latvian citizenship (23.5%), emigration (18.9%), and acquisition of foreign citizenship (18.4%).
The number of naturalized persons has declined after the accession of the country to the EU. During the first six months of 2010, 1,172 persons have received Latvian citizenship: 908 of them were “non-citizens”.
Children of stateless persons or “non-citizens”, who were born after 21 August 1991, became eligible to apply for Latvian citizenship in February 1999. Since this time, about 8,000 children have been recognized as citizens of Latvia. The problem of the low level of registration of children born in Latvia to “non-citizen” parents needs to be addressed.
The Government should revisit the existing requirements for naturalization with the objective of facilitating the granting of citizenship to “non-citizens.” The Government should also revise legislation to provide automatic acquisition of citizenship by stateless children born after 21 August 1991.
In addition, the Government should relax the language proficiency requirements for elderly persons. The Government should also conduct information and awareness-raising nationwide campaigns on citizenship and citizenship rights encouraging “non-citizens” and stateless persons to apply for Latvian citizenship.
Document data: November 2010 Link: https://www.refworld.org/country,,,,LVA,,4cd8f3992,0.html
Publisher’s note: In fact, “non-citizens” were (and are) allowed to be members of political parties. However, their share in a party could not (and cannot, as at 2019) exceed half.