Issues Faced by Expatriates Who Remain Loyal to Sri Lanka Without Dual Citizenship
Posted on April 24th, 2017

Anjalika Silva USA

Dual citizenship for Sri Lankan expatriates living overseas is assumed by successive Governments to be a status that will benefit the country through loyalty with financial and property ownership privileges provided for Dual Citizenship holders.  As the two main reasons for Dual citizenship, not many go beyond personal reasons to provide benefits to the country in general except for investment returns.

There is a side to dual citizenship that has taken a turn to become an aversion to those who do not opt for dual citizenship.  Dual citizenship or not is of little consequence if any expatriate wishes to serve the name of Sri Lanka while living overseas.  It also should not become a status that results in two tiers with respect to the treatment of expats who have chosen not to take the Dual citizenship as a personal choice but continue to invest time, personal funds and service to their motherland with passion and commitment.  Sincere service to the motherland does not necessarily require a dual citizenship for someone born in Sri Lanka with gratitude for their free education and a solid foundation and a passionate commitment to make things better.

As a naturalized US citizen of Sri Lankan origin, I am prompted to write this article due to firsthand experiences that have repeatedly resulted in a not so cordial Welcome to Sri Lanka” for someone who has for over 25 years devoted time, effort and personal funds for Political advantage to Sri Lanka building bridges with my adopted land. Cultural promotion of Sri Lanka and Charitable projects for orphans, supporting the war disabled and for rebuilding the lives of Tsunami victims count among numerous projects taken on for decades of service to Sri Lanka.  Sri Lanka is little known in the USA except by negative connotations like the tsunami, war, human rights violations to mention a few while the positives about our history, culture and achievements if any are not known.  By personal contact and educating American Legislators, the true picture of Sri Lanka can be presented by planting seeds with the right facts that get fed through their network in the US Congress. This when done right gives a whole unique perspective of the country we left behind that can be our foot print left overseas.  One does not need a dual citizenship to achieve this.  At least, I didn’t need it.  All it takes is reading, knowledge, passion and skilled communication.  I can speak for the US but I am aware through service by moderating a group forum called Patriots for Unitary Sri Lanka out of the USA with a network of Sri Lankan expatriates in the UK, USA, Australia, Canada and other small groups, that the passion and commitment is disbursed throughout the expatriate communities worldwide. They are few but care immensely committed whether or not they are dual citizens.

Obtaining dual citizenship is used mostly by expats who wish to purchase property or invest in rental property in Sri Lanka.  There are few incentives offered to expats who wish to remain overseas and support the country.  I will be addressing some of these frustrating issues that we as expats experience when we set foot in Sri Lanka for brief trips without dual citizenship. These are addressed under relevant headings below.

  • Immigration treatment to non-dual citizens on Arrival – Sri Lanka has a reciprocal 5-year multiple visa arrangement for US passport holders who can visit for periods not exceeding 6 months, make multiple trips over a period of five years without any issues with immigration.  This visa is paid for by US passport holders and issued by the Embassy for Sri Lanka in the USA.

The actual experience on landing in Colombo is rather humiliating.  The first question asked is whether the passenger is a dual citizen. Today, there are many US passport holders that look Sri Lankan but are born in the USA who do not qualify for dual.  The tone in which the question is asked immediately sets us, the non-dual citizens up for special questioning and taken out of the line.

The reason I chose to point this out is that between 2015 and 2016, I had 3 embarrassing experiences at immigration where I was taken out of the line and sent to a room to speak with an officer.  The counter immigration officer did not want anything to do with me because I was not a dual citizen and my visa apparently was not on their computer although stamped, and validity endorsed by the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington DC.  Inefficiency on the part of an agreement between the Ministry of External Affairs, and the Department of Immigration is not the problem of the passenger.  The first two occasions, I was asked to relay a message to the Embassy not to issue these visas. I had to politely indicate that I am not in the business of dictating to the Embassy that it was a matter between two government departments. The Sri Lanka Embassy endorsement on my passport was disregarded on all three occasions.  I was not alone because this is the experience of many others who have complained but all of us have no redress.

On the third occasion, it happened to me in August/September 2016.  In the line of questioning by an officer in the room, he disclosed that the Immigration Department deletes all their computer entries every 6 months!!!!  But the Sri Lankan system of issuing 5 year multiple paid visas is totally disregarded.  This in my mind is completely ridiculous and is not an excuse for treating us differently having paid for a visa.  I brought it to the notice of the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington DC on my return as they don’t receive feedback that their endorsements on our passports are not validated by immigration or preserved on their computers.

For all the service given to Sri Lanka for decades, this greeting on arrival has sadly put me off travel unless it is essential.  To me, it was three occasions of humiliation!!!!  We cannot approach our politicos to complain so that matters will be reviewed if anything should change.  I maintain that I can approach my US Congressman with requests for help much easier than providing feedback in Sri Lanka. It is hoped that this feedback will help to improve matters.

  • Request for changes and suggestions: Firstly, immigration computer files with 5 year multiple visas issued by embassies for which travelers pay must be flagged with identifiers and saved for the duration of its validity.  Deletion of other files can be done after saving those that need to remain.  It is a very basic exercise in IT to be able to do that. Treat all expats with respect for the service they provide without using the Dual citizenship to create a two-tier system of expats who make a choice to retain one citizenship.  Not all of us require dual citizenship with Sri Lanka and it does not diminish our loyalty to the country.  We have different circumstances and reasons for return that should not put us in a lower class of expats as determined by the government push for dual citizens to help the country as if non-duals are assumed to have given up on Sri Lanka.
  • Future of Dual Citizenship holders in the USA: With the current administration in the USA, it is unclear what the future holds for those of us who are US Citizens that hold a dual citizenship with another country. It was necessary to become citizens of the US when we spent all our working life and invested for retirement in an adopted land that has treated us fairly with the same privileges as citizens born in the USA. Today, there is an obscure line as to where naturalized citizens stand in the future.  Due to these ambiguities, the current privileges of a US$ pension that can be continued regardless of where a US citizen choses to live can change.  It could mean that duals may not be allowed to receive the Social Security Pension if living in another country.  In the present situation, holding back on a dual citizenship is not a bad idea.  Sri Lanka should get creative and relax some of the stringent laws if they wish to benefit from the non-dual citizens of Sri Lankan origin. Nothing remains static, and we need to see flexibility and a two-way street if we are sought after for help to Sri Lanka.

The Healthcare privileges for retirees in the USA through Medicare cannot be used overseas although premiums are paid to the US government by retirees.  Healthcare needs also bring to bear on the decision of expats to return to Sri Lanka because there is no health insurance coverage for those over 70 years in Sri Lanka.  There are no age limits for Medicare health insurance for retirees in the USA.  Prohibitive cost of private healthcare in Sri Lanka is something to be considered.

The expat population in the USA is now in the 4th or 5th generation and getting further away from familiarity with Sri Lanka.  Retirees who wish to return to Sri Lanka and remit their US$ pensions should be granted dual citizenship without hassles of payment if their pension is being remitted in the longer term.  However, this is not assured in the future.  Holding back on taking dual citizenship should not make us Sri Lankan born expatriates lesser beings.  We are entitled to make choices according to our personal circumstances.

  • NRFC Accounts: Providing the opportunity for expatriates who prove birth in Sri Lanka and a foreign citizenship are entitled to opening NRFC accounts.  However, in the process, the banks do not follow a clear policy where they ask for National Identity Cards (NIC) from all account holders.  If one does not have an NIC card as a non-citizen who left prior to the issue of NIC, the account holder can only become a beneficiary even as a foreign currency earning naturalized citizen of another country. This shuts the door on a huge chunk of NRFC investors of Sri Lankan origin born prior to the issue of NIC cards in Sri Lanka who are now senior citizens.
  • NIC Card Requirement from Non-Dual and Dual Citizens who left prior to NIC issues: The NIC card issues started much later than the time when Sri Lankans started to emigrate overseas starting from the late 1950s and 1960s. In those times, cards were not issued to people who lived overseas and today, there is a large population of expatriates who hold foreign citizenship but born in Sri Lanka who can be investors in the NRFC accounts.  However, again, there is ambiguity as to the need for an NIC card.  This excludes a population of foreign exchange earners who have disposable income that they wish to invest in NRFC US$ accounts even at the lower interest rate of 3% than the Fixed Deposits of Rupee accounts in Sri Lanka.  In the USA, savings accounts for small savers brings 1% or less in returns.  If a secure NRFC system is established, the country can gain so much more from expat savings.  This is left untapped, with ambiguities -when it can be a win-win for both Sri Lanka and the investing expats. Non-duals don’t have NIC and it should not be a requirement for them to open foreign currency accounts in Sri Lankan Banks.  The requirement does not add up to a logical argument if they have a birth certificate. Even dual citizens who left Sri Lanka over 40 years ago, cannot open NRFC without NIC cards and to apply for new cards, they don’t have a resident address in Sri Lanka and will need to chase Grama Sevakas who don’t know these folks at all.  Why should this be a requirement?
  • Online Banking Services in Sri Lanka: The maturing populations of expats continue to aid needy families, educate needy children, support family members, donate to charities through rupee accounts.  The banks in Sri Lanka today report account holding to the US tax authorities but as we understand, amounts are not required and it is an informational reporting to prevent double taxation. This again may change but quoting the current scenario, it is imperative that expats have good online banking services and that the country should standardize online banking practices to compete with international standards in private banks.  In the case of online banking with state banks, the password system is cumbersome, consumer unfriendly and antiquated to say the least.  Above all of this, the services are unreliable. To help needy beneficiaries in Sri Lanka, current account balances must be easily accessible.  This is not so and when the bank decides arbitrarily to deactivate an account, it takes a paper application that needs to be signed by the accountholder living overseas, scanned and forwarded to reset the password for an existing established account. There are instances when a password reset has taken 3 months going back and forth.  This is not efficiency.  These are detrimental inefficient practices that need to be revisited.

Being experienced with banking systems abroad, the customer has quick and instant access to reset passwords using encryption of security verification information to make changes immediately.  Speeding up does not compromise security if the systems are setup to be secure and efficient.

This undependability in online banking especially in state banks is a huge drawback that needs to be addressed.

Conclusion: Issues raised here are for improving services and for giving feed back to the authorities concerned.  Services in place must be revisited and improved using feedback to yield the benefits anticipated.  There is tremendous potential if only services are monitored for fine tuning and improvements. Empty promises don’t produce results.  Actions taken in the right direction for the right reasons do.  Over to the authorities for action!

Anjalika Silva

USA

[email protected]

 

6 Responses to “Issues Faced by Expatriates Who Remain Loyal to Sri Lanka Without Dual Citizenship”

  1. Christie Says:

    I agree with your concerns.

    You are lucky. What about our domestic workers in the Middle East?

  2. Ananda-USA Says:

    I know Anjalika Silva personally, as a patriotic Sri Lankan expatriate who has contributed heavily to promoting Sri Lanka in the United States over a very long time.

    She has raised some very valid concerns regarding Dual Citizenship, issuance of Visas, and maintaining seamless access to Sri Lankan bank accounts used for investments, charitable activities and family support in Sri Lanka. Expatriates have both the ABILITY and the MOTIVATION to help Sri Lanka, and their concerns should not be ignored.

    The reported dishonoring of the 5-year visas issued by Sri Lanka’s Embassy in Washington DC when expatriates arrive in Sri Lanka is particularly troubling. I urge both the Embassy and the Immigration and Emigration department in Sri Lanka to take whatever steps are necessary to rectify this situation.

  3. helaya Says:

    Same ting happened to my wife who went to Sri Lanka on 5 year multiple entry visa. What I heard was that they expect PAGAVA to get something done. One time her passport with visa expired and she took new passport and the old one with visa o Sri Lanka and she had hell of a time. Upon arrival in L she gave her passport to her uncle who used to be in foreign service and he went to passport office and got the visa transfer to new passport. He told me that people work at the airport expecting PAGAVA to do anything. This is very pathetic situation.

  4. Cerberus Says:

    I think a lot of Tamil diaspora may have got dual citizenship in preparation for the change of constitution by Ranil to allow foreigners to buy large plots of land. If Ranil allows any foreigner or a dual citizen to buy large plots of land in Sri Lanka then the Tamils can form their Eelam by just buying up the land they need from the stupid Sinhalese.

  5. Christie Says:

    Cerberus, You are right. Most of the new duels are Indian colonial parasites I hear. Some of whom have thrown lavish parties to celebrate the occasion in their dual countries.

  6. Ananda-USA Says:

    Christie,

    Meka thiyena prashnaya, thela wadiwunama lissana ekada?

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