Czech citizenship claims increase in wake of legal overhaul

Photo: Filip Jandourek

Last year saw a two-fold increase in applications for Czech citizenship according to newly released data from the interior ministry. In 2016, almost 4,000 applicants proved successful in this quest, which requires passing a language test, having a clean criminal record, and also proof of not being a social burden. Martin Rozumek is the head of the Organisation for Aid to Refugees. He explained that legislation in effect since 2014 was a major factor behind the increase:

Martin Rozumek,  photo: Petra Čechová
“There are two reasons. The first is that according to the current legislation, people can now have two citizenships. In the past a requirement existed that in order to acquire Czech citizenship an individual had to give up their other citizenship. This change is particularly interesting to a lot of Vietnamese claimants, who did not want to give up their Vietnamese citizenship. And secondly, a simplified procedure is in effect for young adults. The condition is that they came to the Czech Republic aged younger than 10-years-old. So such applicants can get citizenship much faster – but they have to request this citizenship before the age of 21.”

So what do we know about the breakdown of the numbers in terms of what foreign nationals are applying for Czech citizenship?

“We see a sharp increase in the number of permanent residency permits issued to Ukrainians, Vietnamese, Mongolians… Nationalities with people that have been living here for many years – sometimes more than ten years. There is also a much larger number of people eligible to apply for citizenship from these countries, mainly Ukraine and Vietnam. And of course they want to become Czech citizens and have the status of a Czech or EU national or citizen, which is naturally much better than having the status of third country citizen or national.”

From what you are saying one can deduce that the increase is not related either to ongoing instability in the Middle East or North Africa, or concerns related to the effects of Brexit…

Photo: Filip Jandourek
“No. In my opinion there is no correlation between the events in the Middle East or the effects of the Brexit on the numbers of those applying for citizenship in the Czech Republic. We are talking mainly about Vietnamese and Ukrainian nationals.”

Do you view the overall Czech system now as a fair one?

“Not really, because the decision-making process is still too arbitrary. So if the interior ministry wants they can always reject a claim. Another problem is the length of the procedure. Sometimes it takes two years to get a first decision on a citizenship application, and that is a big problem. So I would say that it is too arbitrary and the power of the courts to intervene and grant citizenship – not only the interior ministry – should be considered.”