A few days ago our sister newspaper the Daily Mirror carried a news story headlined “Hassle-free system for dual citizenship for 10 countries.” While one might have wished for a less ambiguous label- after all we are not granting dual citizenship for 10 countries are we- this story coming from official sources, left some gaping [...]


More clarity on dual citizenship needed


A few days ago our sister newspaper the Daily Mirror carried a news story headlined “Hassle-free system for dual citizenship for 10 countries.”
While one might have wished for a less ambiguous label- after all we are not granting dual citizenship for 10 countries are we- this story coming from official sources, left some gaping holes.

To be charitable one might excuse some of these officials, busy as they undoubtedly are during these days of elections to the highest office in the land, for not being particularly clear in what they say or for not providing more detailed information on the subject.

The earlier scheme pertaining to the granting of dual citizenship to persons of Sri Lankan origin who were permanently or long time residents in a foreign country or obtained citizenship of another country, was suspended some two years or so ago.

Since then there have been constant inquiries from persons desirous of becoming dual citizens asking whether the scheme will be reintroduced or a new system put in place and, if so, when.

During my two-year diplomatic stint with the Sri Lanka High Commission in London inquiries with regard to the resumption of the dual citizenship scheme was a constant refrain of Sri Lankans living there whenever we met at one occasion or another.

So imagine my surprise when I received a spate of emails and other means drawing my attention to the fact that the UK was not among the countries listed in the news story that quoted Damayanthi Jayaratne, additional secretary of Civil Security and Development.

As an aside may I say that her designation itself appears rather curious. My memory rewound fast to a story that a former senior colleague of mine at the Daily News, then a highly respected and respectable newspaper, used to repeat when he would go into that mood called “jollification” which comes with the first signs of inebriation.

The six-foot something Christie Seneviratne, then Sports Editor of the Ceylon Daily News swears that walking along Third Cross Street, Pettah one day in search of one thing or another he espied the name board of a shop which read “Annamalai Chettiar, Iron Safes and Ghee.”

Christie Seneviratne’s tale would, of course, be embroidered with varying details at every telling and his state of jollification. But the ludicrousness of the items on sale would never stop titillating Christie’s listeners.

I am not sure whether Ms Jayaratne’s designation suggests that she is defending development or developing civil security or all of them, like some of us were never certain whether Annamalai Chettiar, if he was not a figment of Christie’s imagination, ever used ghee to lubricate his iron safes.
Never mind though, for there are more important issues that need exegesis than trying to unravel administrative idiosyncrasies. I use the word exegesis advisedly, for thousands of our people living abroad have been waiting religiously for the edicts that would explain whether they could obtain dual citizenship or not and to be so informed.

Now it seems that somebody akin to an oracle has spoken. Alas, not very clearly. It is the gaps that need filling up.

Until our administrative Zeus descends from Olympus or any disciples not overly overworked are available to fill the gaping holes, one is left to try and make some sense of what seems to have been cobbled together as a new year gift to what is now popularly called the “diaspora” even by some politicians who have turned this word into a cliché’

So let us begin at the beginning, as the King told Alice.

The additional secretary of Civil Security and Development has said that this new scheme to grant dual citizenship will apply to persons of Sri Lankan origin who are citizens of 10 other countries.

According to the news report the 10 countries are the US, Canada, Switzerland, France, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, Norway, Sweden and Italy,

Are we to understand that there are no other persons of Sri Lankan origin living anywhere else in the world who deserve dual citizenship and that none of them will be entitled to it even if they have expressed a desire to obtain it?

Anybody with a modicum of intelligence knows that persons of Sri Lankan origin live in many other countries beside the 10 countries named.
Are they then to be denied dual citizenship because they do not live in any of the 10 countries that seem to have been picked by some person or persons without any explanation as to how and why only those living in them qualify?

Now Damayanthi Jayaratne had a subsequent opportunity to correct any errors in the news report or the lack of clarity in it since the report appeared. One does not see any corrections or clarifications.

So this new scheme applied only to the countries named. Glancing through the listed countries one would notice that none of them are from the continent of Asia though we are aware that many Sri Lankans — let us call them that for convenience- live in say Singapore and Malaysia and in lesser numbers in Thailand.

They are, if one were to adapt Sam Goldwyn’s celebratedphrase, included out as are those in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. Some countries in Europe such as Austria, Belgium, Holland and Denmark are also excluded probably because they do not entertain dual citizenship.

Then one must surely ask whether this administration does not consider those living in the excluded countries as persons of Sri Lankan origin eligible to apply for dual citizenship.

If the argument is that the countries listed are where most of the Sri Lankan diaspora live, then the ire of those who emailed me is understandable. As far as I recall Sri Lankans of all communities living in the UK total 500,000 or thereabouts.

Sri Lankans in Canada could be included, why should Sri Lankans in the UK? If the Daily Mirror had inadvertently dropped the UK from the list there was ample opportunity to correct the omission.

Since the additional secretary had held a press conference to announce the scheme I quickly went into the Defence Ministry’s website since this appears to be a scheme devised by that ministry.

To my surprise I found the report of that media conference did not list the countries to which scheme is applicable. Surely the best way to reach expatriates interested in dual citizenship is through these modern means of communication. So why had the ministry’s report of its additional secretary’s media briefing not contained the relevant countries.

Since then I have been informed that the UK is included in the list of countries. Had it not it would have been a serious omission and hardly justifiable.

According to the additional secretary this is a hassle-free scheme. Fine, if she says so. But surely that is a judgement that must be made by the applicants who might find that the wheels of our administration grind even more slowly than God’s mills.

It also needs to be explained how this is hassle-free compared to the previous scheme that has been dumped in the dustbin, which did not require applicants to come to Colombo for interviews..

One presumes then that the applicants would have to travel to Colombo to face interviews. So if a family of three applies all three would have to be here at some cost. And pray how much would the process itself cost? Would payments have to be made at the time of application and would that payment be forfeit if the applications are rejected.

These are questions that those living abroad would surely like answered.

The additional secretary has only mentioned the hassle-free part of the scheme applicable to those from countries which, unfortunately, are not mentioned in the Defence Ministry report.

One does not need to be a Socrates to conclude that if the scheme is hassle-free for applicants from 10 countries or whatever, others outside them, if eligible, will be hassled. If so, Sri Lankans outside the listed countries would want to know how they would be hassled and by what means, before taking steps to make their applications especially if initial payments are required. .

Could somebody please explain the rationale for all this? Or is there more to this scheme thanmeets the eye?

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