Sri Lankan authorities continue to receive a spate of inquiries about the status of dual citizenship, the granting of which was suspended by the Government more than two years ago.  A notice on the official website of the Department of Immigration and Emigration has remained unchanged for many months: “Acceptance of Dual Citizenship applications are [...]



Govt. slow in resuming dual citizenship

Expat Lankans say they are cut off from the soil and prevented from investing, living with aging or ailing parents

Sri Lankan authorities continue to receive a spate of inquiries about the status of dual citizenship, the granting of which was suspended by the Government more than two years ago.  A notice on the official website of the Department of Immigration and Emigration has remained unchanged for many months: “Acceptance of Dual Citizenship applications are temporary [sic] discontinued until further notice”.

The Government has already said it will reintroduce the facility after changes to the relevant laws. The Cabinet has granted its approval but amendments have been a long time coming. Yesterday, Immigration and Emigration Controller General W.A.C. Perera said he had the same answer he did three months ago — that the Legal Draftsman’s Department had directed the proposed amendments to the Attorney General’s Department for observations.

The Sunday Times reliably learns that the AG’s Department has now sent its observations to the Legal Draftsman. While the public are still not privy to what has been suggested, it is widely anticipated that an applicant would have to pay more than he did before for the dual citizenship. New conditions are likely to be introduced.

With the status quo still murky, a large number of Sri Lankan origin people abroad expressed their frustration at not being able to proceed with their applications. Others said they had lodged their documents “a long time ago” and were still waiting. Among this group were aged parents who fretted about not being able to settle their property — that is, transfer it to their “foreign” children — before they passed away. For instance, one 75-year-old public official said he wanted his 40-year-old son (an Australian citizen) to inherit his assets but could do nothing about it. He said he was worried by it.

Interestingly, none of the people interviewed for this article agreed to being named. One person, who wished only to be identified as “a Tamil man from Toronto” said his mother owned land in Mullaitiviu and did not know what to do with it. “I don’t think she can write it off to me since I’m not a citizen,” he said. “I haven’t looked at the legal aspects in depth yet.”

A former Sri Lankan national living in Britain said she was disappointed she could not have dual citizenship and had to apply for a visa each time she visited. She is a Muslim, married to an Englishman. They have a young son. “Selling property or handing it over to children is a problem that my mother is faced with,” she said. “I couldn’t bring my own savings to Britain because I was a resident here. It is very complicated and frustrating.”

“It has also put us off investing in Sri Lanka for fear that it may not be easy to take our investment out when we want to,” she continued. “This was something we considered when my husband took redundancy three years ago.”A Sri Lankan origin mother-of-two in Germany said her father in Sri Lanka could not leave any property to her because her children would not be able to get dual citizenship. She faced an additional problem: “Germany won’t allow dual citizenship either. So I had to turn down my father’s offer of building a house on a prime piece of land in Sri Lanka last year. We were all a bit disappointed and I can’t understand why the Sri Lankan government wants to shut people out.”

“Most of the older people I know already have dual citizenship so they don’t have a problem,” she elaborated. “I think it is people of our generation who are considering settling down in Sri Lanka for retirement and bringing all their foreign currency with them that have the problem because they can’t hand down their property to the children anymore.”A permanent resident of Canada who has retained her Sri Lankan citizenship said her mother — who is now a Canadian passport holder — was frustrated at not being able to request dual citizenship. “She even wrote to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is an old friend, but got no response,” she said.

Another Canadian citizen, a Sinhalese, said she was less concerned about property than about her right to choose. Her parents are retired and live in Sri Lanka. “Life is about making choices,” she reflected. “For us to make choices, we must have options.”“I did choose to leave Sri Lanka and start a life elsewhere,” she continued. “When I took up citizenship, I was under the impression that I was entitled to dual citizenship. I did not know that my original citizenship had been revoked the day I took my second citizenship and that I would have to reapply for citizenship.”

“Secondly,” she said, “I did not know that one day I would not be able to do so. It impacts a lot of individuals in various ways, whether it concerns family or property. In my case, I am an only child with aging parents and I would like to be able to go back and take care of them when the time comes. And when they do ‘cross over’, I would like to be able to continue living in my house as a Sri Lankan citizen.”

“If I do choose to leave, I would like to have the option of inheriting what my family has left for me without being penalised for it,” she said. “From a Government standpoint, I understand that it may see the Sri Lankans who left as being of no benefit to the country anymore. Many leave just to be able to provide a better life for the family left back in Sri Lanka.”

But, she said, it was not the Government’s place to take that option away. “They need to give people options, and if it means attaching some conditions to the option so that it is lucrative to the Government, so be it.” A lot of Sri Lankans had fled the country because of the war. This woman said it was now unfair to deprive them of their property rights. “The war meant that there was no light at the end of the tunnel for so many,” she explained. “Their objective was to get out, not to liquidate assets. Now, post-war, the Government has changed policies and left a large population unable to sort out their property matters. It is not right for the Government to extort victims of a war-torn economy, post-war.”

A Sri Lankan origin Tamil living in Australia said she had once been interested in getting dual citizenship but was “quite turned off by it all now, if they are going to make this process so unnecessarily difficult”. “For me, it’s not so much about the handing over of property or investing,” she explained. “It’s purely so I have the option of returning to take care of my parents should the need arise. I have thought about coming back to Sri Lanka and working for a few years, being close to family. Now that seems like a distant dream.” Another woman recently moved back to Sri Lanka with her husband and two children. All are of Sri Lankan origin but now hold British passports. “We have to apply for visas every year,” she said. “My husband’s company gives him a work visa but I have to apply under the ex-Sri Lankan category. And under this category, I cannot work or even volunteer. Very sad.”

The suspension of dual citizenship has also affected investment. A senior corporate sector lawyer said he had clients who wanted to return and invest here but cannot.  It would seem that Immigration and Emigration Department officials would be happiest to see dual citizenship back. According to what they have told some of the sources interviewed here, they get yelled at “by angry, upset, people”. And others in the public sector also get no end of inquiries.

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