New bill to introduce dual citizenship

Photo: archive of ČRo 7 - Radio Prague

The new bill on citizenship passed the first reading in the lower house of parliament. If passed into law, it will introduce stricter testing for foreigners applying for Czech citizenship and allow the state to look into the sources of applicants’ assets. But there are also some changes that applicants are likely to welcome. Magda Faltová, the director of the Prague-based Association for Integration and Migration, highlighted the main pros and cons of the proposed law.

Photo: archive of ČRo 7 - Radio Prague
"I think that the biggest positive change is that the Czech Republic (will be) allowing dual citizenship for basically everybody. Until now, the existing law only allowed those who have acquired dual citizenship by birth, so they have a Czech and a foreign parent.

"However, I would say that there are more negative changes. The biggest problem that we’ve criticized is that there is a whole set of new requirements for applicants. One of them is a test on the knowledge of the constitution, culture and history of the Czech Republic, then there is a huge change in the Czech language test and then there is the whole set of requirements concerning income and employment. Applicants will have to prove not only their income but also its source. They will have to provide tax returns, but in addition to that, the ministry will be able to find out what is the background of the assets."

In the past, migrant rights groups were concerned with the fact that the requirements in the citizenship law were fairly vague and that decisions and especially rejections were sometimes based on very subjective reasons. Do you think that these new tests will make the decision process more objective?

"Unfortunately we are afraid that it’s not going to happen. The tests might be objective but it’s only a small part of the requirements that the applicant has to fulfil. Ultimately the law explicitly says that there is no legal right to citizenship so even if you fulfil all the requirements that the law sets out, the decision can still be negative – therefore the authorities have a lot of discretion when they are assessing the applications. In this respect it’s really disappointing for us that the law is not clear on the requirements."

Photo: European Commission
How easy is it to get citizenship today? Can you say approximately how many people actually get citizenship out of all who apply?

"Again, this is something that we are quite concerned about because from our point of view the existing law is quite strict. In the Czech Republic there are about one to two thousand people that acquire Czech citizenship per year and this is actually one of the smallest numbers in Europe. A lot of people are discouraged from applying. There are about three or four thousand people applying per year and about one to two thousand get the positive answer. One of the biggest problems [currently] is that there is no possibility to have dual citizenship so people don’t apply because they don’t want to lose their former citizenship."

So given the fact that dual citizenship will be an option once this bill becomes law, do you think more foreigners will be interested in applying for Czech citizenship?

"Yes. From our experience as an NGO providing legal and social counselling for migrants, it is an important issue for them. For some it’s a problem to go back to their country to give up their citizenship because they are afraid of the impact on their families and also their chances to return to their country. There are also some that just want to retain the citizenship of their country of origin."