By Siri Gamage –
Much has been talked about the merits of dual citizenship for countries in the globalised era. As populations move across country boundaries for work, education, residence and other pursuits, some governments are grappling with the issue of dual citizenship while others are benefiting immensely from the same due to their visionary policies. The previous government put on hold the granting of dual citizenship while the scheme was being reviewed. What are the mutual benefits that can be gained from a reasonable scheme of dual citizenship to Sri Lanka? What reasons are there for considering the granting of dual citizenship to Sri Lankan migrants in other countries who have lost their Sri Lankan citizenship?
For example, those who migrated to Australia in the 70s and 80s are now reaching their retirement age. Many of these migrants are professionals who left the country to provide a better education for their children and also to access career advancement while enjoying the fruits of a rule abiding, democratic system of governance and an orderly life. Before leaving the country, many had served motherland for number of years. When these cohorts of migrants settled in countries like Australia are reaching the retirement age, they obviously like to refresh their contacts with the mother country partly for their own self satisfaction but also to regain insights about the country’s rich culture, history, environment, people and customs. Reconnecting with close family and friends is another need. Some are motivated by a desire to serve the mother country in some fashion on the basis of the technical and professional knowhow they acquired from the host country. This applies to those who are in their 40s or 50s also. Given the fact that these migrants are not a burden on Sri Lankan society financially or otherwise and that they can bring in funds for their expenditure in foreign currency, having a scheme to enable for them to stay longer in the country beyond being a mere tourist is a moral act on the part of the government. Dual citizenship is one such avenue commonly used for such purposes.
Some of these migrants to other countries are motivated to invest in Sri Lanka by way of buying an apartment or a house, land, businesses and other ventures. This can add to the growth of national economy. Furthermore, some important connections could be established between Sri Lankan institutions or companies and those in their domiciled countries in various technical and professional fields. They could also mentor younger generation in respective fields with or without remuneration as a community service if opportunities for this are made available on a formal basis.
Many of these migrants to other countries lost their Sri Lankan citizenship when they applied for citizenship in their domiciled countries. As busy people trying to make a living in an alien country and culture, they may not have thought through the consequences of this decision at the time. However, later in their life naturally some migrants develop a desire to return to the mother country- at least for a part of the year- and spend quality time with family and friends while enjoying Sri Lankan hospitality. Looked this way, the government of Sri Lanka can facilitate this desire of migrant Sri Lankans who lost their citizenship by formulating a viable dual citizenship scheme and coupled with a reasonable application fee.
During their stays in the country, most migrants also assist their close relatives who are not that fortunate, in various ways. It could be that they assist financially to improve their living conditions, or provide advice for younger members about how to progress in education or job seeking in and outside the country. Some contribute to religious centres financially and otherwise. Others embrace Buddhism and other religions more closely in such circumstances. These are positive contributions.
If the government makes it harder for those who left the country to obtain Sri Lankan citizenship, there has to be a very good rationale for such a decision. During the war years there must have been security concerns therefore the need to vet applicants carefully. But in the new environment where democratic energies have been unleashed and those in authority seem to understand the global and national issues better, there is no apparent reason to restrict or make it harder for those who left the country to regain Sri Lankan citizenship. Furthermore, many countries in the region and elsewhere have embraced dual citizenship. It is a global trend.
One area where there could be a challenge is when the children of these migrant Sri Lankans want to apply for dual citizenship. Many of them may not be fluent in local languages or the history, the culture and the place. Their motivations for applying for Sri Lankan citizenship could be quite different from the parental generation. Some may have interests in professional work, yet others in voluntary work. The opportunity for the second-generation children to apply for Sri Lankan citizenship should not be curtailed. Rather they should be facilitated.
Obviously the rights and responsibilities of dual citizens is another area to consider carefully. Whether they should enjoy full rights of citizenship including ability to contest elections and campaign for the same or engage in political activity is one area to consider. In my view, there should not be any limit on these for dual citizens. Countries like Italy elect a number of MPs to its parliament from the Italian diaspora. In terms of responsibilities, dual citizens should be required to visit Sri Lanka and stay for at least a couple of months in every two or three years-unless there are extenuating circumstances.
Regaining Sri Lankan citizenship implies loyalty to the country and its people in addition to wanting to regain the lost identity formally. Though many migrants to countries like Australia are domiciled there, the heart and mind of many such migrants are still with Sri Lanka. It is because of the circumstances that they have chosen to be away from the country at some point in their life. This should not be a reason to deny them their Sri Lankan citizenship. I hope the authorities in the new government will look at this issue sympathetically in a broader perspective and facilitate those migrants who left the country and their children to regain Sri Lankan citizenship without creating any barriers