by Ranga Jayasuriya
Some key positions of this government have been filled by dual citizens. Gotabaya Rajapaksa - the powerful Defence Secretary is a dual citizen of Sri Lanka and the USA. Basil Rajapaksa - Investment Development Minister has a US Green Card in addition to his Sri Lankan citizenship. Sarath Fonseka, the now incarcerated former army commander is also a Green Card holder. Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations also holds his Australian citizenship in addition to his Sri Lankan citizenship
The government directive stopping dual citizenship is not retrospective - hence it would not affect the citizenship status of those who have already obtained dual citizenship. But it effectively deprives thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of expatriate Sri Lankans of their Sri Lankan citizenship.
And, there are other explanations, as advanced by diaspora Tamils on the discontinuance of the applications for dual citizenship.
A reader commented on a popular website - Transcurrents
“The news coming out of Sri Lanka says that the Sri Lankan government has stopped considering applications for dual citizenship. Will it retroactively cancel the dual citizenship; in which event Palitha Kohona will be only a Sri Lankan citizen and then he will be beyond the jurisdiction of International Criminal Court. Sri Lanka has not recognized the ICC.”
“What a smart ostrich style move to protect its own.”Expatriate Sri Lankans obtain citizenship of their host countries for practical reasons. With the citizenship of the host country, come other opportunities which are exclusive to the citizens such as educational opportunities, better career prospects, security clearance and voting rights, etc.
Yet, many have opted to keep their Sri Lankan citizenship, more so for their emotional attachment with their motherland. Now that the process for dual citizenship is put on hold, Sri Lankans who obtain foreign citizenship would naturally be forced to renounce their Sri Lankan citizenship.
The Controller of Immigration and Emigration, W.A.C. Perera, stresses that the discontinuance is temporary. He said that the system (of granting dual citizenship) is in need of improvement and hence, the accepting of applications is temporary. But he does not know when the new system will come into effect, nor could he say what the proposed procedural requirements would be like.
“I have to make a presentation (on the new system) to the His Excellency the President. Only if he approves the proposals that I can speak to the media,” Perera told Lakbimanews when asked to comment on the new system. He denied that the decision is politically motivated. “There is no intention of denying citizenship to anyone,” he added.
Until the recent government directive, dual citizenship was granted under five main categories: 1.Professional category; 2.Wealth category; 3.Fixed Deposit category; 4.Senior Citizen category; 5.The category of Non-Resident Foreign Currency (NRFC), Resident Foreign Currency (RFC) or Special Foreign Investment Deposit Accounts.
Perera says existing categories could be amended but he declines to elaborate, saying proposals have to be first approved by the President before they are made public. Expatriate Sri Lankans who would be affected by the government’s directive are perturbed by the arbitrary nature of the decision. “The recent decision is arbitrary and an absolute insult to the intelligence of expatriates who came through to help the government during every crisis experienced in the country,” says Anjalika Silva, an expatriate Sri Lankan and a naturalized US citizen. “Not only will this decision anger the expatriate community, it will also result in loss of cooperation from expats when called upon to help their homeland which happens frequently at every turn including financing wasteful projects,” she adds.
Moolah for cash strapped economy
Two years back, this government launched a much hyped residential visa programme to woo retired foreign citizens to the island. The programme which aimed to make Sri Lanka a dream home for foreign senior citizens, was expected to bring foreign remittance to the cash strapped local economy.
According to the programme, each visa applicant was required to deposit US$15,000 in a Fixed Deposit account with a local bank and make a monthly remittance of US$1500 for the principle applicant and US$750 for each dependent for their upkeep. The programme which was launched at the height of the war fell short of its expectations due to obvious reasons.
Yet, Sri Lankan workers abroad remitted money to the national coffers to the tune of US$3 billion.
Also, time and again, the government has wooed expatriate Sri Lankans to invest and share their expertise for the development of the motherland. Recently, the President called upon the expats to counter anti-government propaganda propagated by the LTTE front organizations in the West.
There are one million expatriate Sri Lankans, of which 100,000 are professionals. That is in addition to nearly a million strong Tamil diapora
In addition, every year, approximately 7,000 Sri Lankan students go abroad for higher education and many of them opt to stay in greener pastures after obtaining their degrees.
“Students decide to stay in the West due to better prospects, but that does not mean they have forgotten their motherland,” says, Anuradha Kohona, a Sri Lankan student at the Swinburne University of Technology, Australia.
But this suspension (of the acceptance of dual citizenship applications) would sever that relationship, he warns. “We hold on to our Sri Lankan identity, very dearly,” he says.
Kohona, who is awaiting his Australian citizenship, however adds that if he cannot retain his Sri Lankan citizenship, he would have to be content with the Australian citizenship. “After all, with an Australian passport it is easier to travel,” he quips.
DUAL CITIZENSHIP AXED
The government last week discontinued the acceptance of dual Citizenship applications. Also, the processing of the applications which have already been approved and due for payment were discontinued. The Department of Immigration and Emigration which announced the government's directive on its official website described that the discontinuation was 'temporary.'
Yet, that the government's announcement, which is arbitrary, if not callous, has put on hold the citizenship claims by many expatriate Sri Lankans
The latest government directive means that Sri Lankan nationals who obtain citizenship in a foreign country would be deprived of the means to continue with their Sri Lankan citizenship, which hitherto was allowed through the provision of the dual citizenship.
Under usual circumstances, a Sri Lankan citizen who obtains citizenship of a second country is considered as having renounced his or her Sri Lankan citizenship.
That's where the provision of the dual citizenship comes in. Accordingly, an individual could retain his Sri Lankan citizenship when he is acquiring citizenship in a foreign country, or could resume citizenship at a latter stage after losing it when obtaining citizenship in a foreign country.
Under the previous regulations, an individual was required to pay a fee of Rs.200,000 for the principle applicant and Rs.50,000 each, for the spouse and children under 18 years of age in order to obtain dual citizenship.
Many expatriate Sri Lankans have used this facility to retain their Sri Lankan citizenship.
Who can apply for Dual Citizenship in Sri Lanka?
1. An ex-Sri Lankan holding citizenship in a foreign country
2. A Sri Lankan qualified to receive citizenship in a foreign country and who may contribute to the socio-economic development of Sri Lanka can apply for dual citizenship.
Countries where Sri Lankan Dual Citizenship is accepted are -
Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, United States of America, Canada.
Can the family members of the main applicant apply too?
Yes. The main applicant’s spouse and unmarried children below 18 years of age may also apply for Sri Lankan Dual Citizenship with the main applicant. Additional fee per member will be charged.
Additional Compulsory Documents Required under Each Category
To be considered for the Professional Category the Applicant must possess a Degree or Post Graduate Qualifications from a recognized institute.
To be considered for the Wealth Category the Applicant must possess an immovable property or properties in Sri Lanka valued at not less than LKR 2.5 million
Fixed Deposit Category
To be considered for this category the Applicant must maintain a Fixed Deposit of not less than LKR 2.5 million for a minimum period of one year.
Senior Citizen Category
To be considered under this category the Applicant must be over 55 years of age at the time of application.
NRFC / RFC / SFIDA Category
If the applicant is willing to invest in a Non-Resident Foreign Currency (NRFC), Resident Foreign Currency (RFC) or Special Foreign Investment Deposit Account (SFIDA), he/she can apply for dual citizenship.
Minimum Deposit Requirement / Retention Period
US$25,000 or equivalent in any other designated foreign currency / 03 years
US$25,000 or equivalent in any other designated foreign currency / 05 years
US$50,000 or equivalent in any other designated foreign currency / 03 years
Source: Department of Immigration and Emigration
~ courtesy: Lakbima News ~