DUAL NATIONALITY – A CORE ISSUE- LIFE ABROAD – Part 30:
Posted on June 6th, 2013

Dr. Tilak Fernando

 

As the world became sophisticated, various parts of it have become isolated into separate countries and created what is today known as national boundaries. With such isolation each country has introduced an official document called a “ƒ”¹…”passport’ for travel in the present political and social scenario.

Each country issues this piece of identification to its citizens, but the possession of a passport however does not exempt the holder from compliance with any immigration regulations in force in any territory.

Many moons ago a few Sri Lankans made a journey to the West for educational purposes and when they achieved their objective gracefully returned to their roots to serve their motherland as eminent lawyers and politicians. This was followed by professionals who officially migrated to the UK on official work permits; seemingly the numbers who left Sri Lanka started to swell.

Psychological wedge

Way back in the 1980s those who lived in Britain for three consecutive years met the criteria for permanent residency which made no compulsion for those Sri Lankans who qualified for PR to seek UK citizenship while holding on to their Sri Lankan identity.

Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s administration once made a statutory demand on Sri Lankan expatriates to “ƒ”¹…”remit five per cent of their earnings back to the mother country’. This naturally managed to drive a sharp psychological wedge through Sri Lankans who were working and living abroad.

The British government in the meanwhile gave an option and an ultimatum to those who enjoyed the PR status to apply for British citizenship giving only a breathing space to do so. Under the circumstances many who qualified were wedged between the devil and deep blue sea situation because to obtain British nationality they had to give up their Sri Lankan identity and without the PR or British nationality they could not live and/or work abroad permanently! Therefore, willingly or unwilling those who had no option sought the UK citizenship to abide by the UK regulations at the time.

Dual nationality

In 1987 Sri Lanka ratified the Dual Nationality Bill in Parliament enabling Sri Lankan expatriates to apply for dual nationality with certain conditions laid down by the immigration authorities. A nominal fee of Rs.5,000 was levied for this purpose at the beginning which was seen as a welcome measure to those who had to “ƒ”¹…”unenthusiastically’ part with their Lankan identity. However, the late General Sepala Attygalle, once Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and as the Sri Lanka High Commissioner in the UK subsequently managed to convince the late President R. Premadasa that “ƒ”¹…”Sri Lankan affluent community in the UK made no contribution to their mother country whatsoever, which seemed to have enraged the patriotic President and made him to take a stern decision overnight to increase the dual nationality fee by 2,000 per cent (two thousand per cent) to Rs. 100,000 by a special gazette notification.

The late Foreign Minister, at the time, Lalith Athulathmudali, identified it as a short-sighted and impractical policy and referred to the action as “ƒ”¹…”killing the goose that lays the golden egg.’

President Chandrika Kumaratunga during her tenure in office increased this fee further to Rs. 200,000 turning it into a money spinner. Such an exorbitant fee, in the eyes of Sri Lankan expatriates, seemed to have appeared not simply as an administrative charge levied on the exercise but as having to buy back their birth right for a fee! This very fact is thought to have stood as a stumbling block giving rise to different schools of thought.

Expat’s role

Seemingly some pointed a finger at the expatriate community making blanket statements such as “most of the people, who live and work abroad, cannot drop that relative personal and economic freedom and come back forever. They are practically lost to Sri Lanka”.

Others felt such accusations were groundless and “metaphorically speaking ninety nine per cent of Sri Lankan expatriates, especially the Sinhalese, always “ƒ”¹…”lived in Sri Lanka’ in mind and thought despite their having to leave the country for individual and personal reasons”.

The invaluable contribution made to the motherland by the Sinhala diaspora, through their dedication and charity to help war victims and those subjected to brutal terrorist attacks were self-evident proof during the terrorist war that started to rip the nation into smithereens.

In such a backdrop, the phraseology used by some arm chair pundits at home to condemn expatriates as, “ƒ”¹…”practically lost to Sri Lanka’ was considered as highly inappropriate and offensive to all those who had been working hammer and tongs with commendable fortitude to counter and preserve the good name of their motherland.

Suspension

Sri Lanka has temporarily suspended the processing of dual citizenship applications in order to outline new conditions, and the process will re-commence in the near future. In doing so a strict criterion is said to have been evolved for processing all future applications under the “Overseas Sri Lankans” Scheme which has received the Cabinet approval to amend the Citizenship Act No.18 of 1948 and the Immigration and Emigration Act No.20 of 1948.

Under new regulations, a pre-screening procedure will be executed to check applicants’ eligibility which will involve a one-to-one interview with a panel, headed by Defence Secretary and aided by the Secretary of External Affairs along with the Secretary of Public Administration who will be vetting applicants’ professional qualifications, investment capability and their need to acquire dual citizenship.

As per new criteria, a Sri Lankan applicant having a passport of another country will initially be given a permanent residency for five years after which he/she will become eligible to receive the dual citizenship status. To be properly justified by every applicant, each application will be studied as to how and why applicants acquired a foreign citizenship at the beginning, along with the reasons behind in seeking dual citizenship in Sri Lanka again. The revised fees for the process under the new system would be a total fee of Rs 200,000 to be paid in two installments – permanent residency and dual citizenship of the process.

Pensioners

The existed regulations on dual nationality did not demand various other stipulated conditions except having to pay Rs.200,000 to regain dual nationality.

The fate of those Sri Lankan expatriates who are now retired and drawing a pension in a foreign country is not very clear in the proposed scheme. An important factor that the government needs considering is the existence of an older generation of Sri Lankan expatriates (children of Mother Lanka) who in their retirement (after discharging their parental obligations) are confined to brick walls and television sets abroad! Many such pensioners’ nostalgic dream would be to return to their own roots and live in tranquility.

By the same token it could be said that while some may have the means and capacity to invest in Sri Lanka others may not be so fortunate to do so. If this category of pensioners is encouraged to return to their roots naturally their pensions in foreign exchange too will be channeled to the country which will make a difference to Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange earnings. It would otherwise be a pity to see a category of unfortunate retired Sri Lankan expatriates given only a blank choice of being contented with looking at video clips of their fast developing motherland whenever someone known to them visits Sri Lanka on holiday.

Another incentive to woo the lost professionals back to Sri Lanka would be to offer them the privilege of bringing a motor vehicle (with proof of their earnings abroad) under tax free permits which is at present released to many other categories.

When a country is rich it goes without saying that her people too will be richer.

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One Response to “DUAL NATIONALITY – A CORE ISSUE- LIFE ABROAD – Part 30:”

  1. Sasantha Says:

    Dr Fernando makes a cogent and persuasive case for the Government to reconsider its approach – dare I suggest, ‘somewhat punitive’ approach – to its treatment of Sri Lankans abroad. One look at the more positive and welcoming policies of, say, India should make it clear just how much the home country is losing out financially by putting unnecessary hurdles in the way of Sri Lankans with foreign passports returning. The notion of having to buy back one’s birthright is itself somewhat objectionable. All this feeds in to what many would see (and indeed, have personally experienced) as a certain jealous small mindedness evident in the attitudes and opinions of many of our population who clearly resent what they see as the advantages enjoyed by Sri Lankans who have worked or been educated abroad. The ‘island’ mentality has its place, but not when it potentially operates to the detriment – financially, culturally and socially – of the island itself.

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