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Non-citizens (Latvia)


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Non-citizens or aliens (Latvian: nepilsoņi) in Latvian law are individuals who are not citizens of Latvia or any other country but, who, in accordance with the Latvian law "Regarding the status of citizens of the former USSR who possess neither Latvian nor other citizenship", have the right to a non-citizen passport issued by the Latvian government as well as other specific rights. These are largely citizens of the dissolved USSR who had moved to the Latvian SSR from other parts of the USSR while Latvia was under the control of the Soviet Union, also including their descendants. Children born after Latvia reestablished independence to parents who are both non-citizens are entitled to citizenship upon request by the parents.

Stateless persons (Latvian: bezvalstnieki) are a separate category of individuals. Non-citizens are explicitly not stateless persons under Latvian law. Still, UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance refers to Latvian non-citizens as to stateless persons and refers to 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, recommending to Latvia to revisit requirements of naturalization.[1]



As of January 2008, there were 372,421 non-citizens living in Latvia or 16.4 % of Latvian residents[2], mostly Russian-speaking. In 1991, they were about 700,000. The number of non-citizens is declining due to death, emigration and naturalization. Since 1998, Latvia has allowed naturalization for most non-citizens after a referendum.

All non-citizens (and stateless persons) born in Latvia after August 21, 1991 can be registered as citizens without naturalisation, if they permanently reside in Latvia, weren't punished with imprisonment more than to 5 years, and didn't get any other citizenship meanwhile.[3]. This opportunity can be used by parents until a child reaches age of 15 years, and by child himself in the age from 15 to 17 years.


“ 15. After passing of the Non-Citizen Law appeared a new, up to that time unknown category of persons – Latvian non-citizens. Latvian non-citizens cannot be compared with any other status of a physical entity, which has been determined in international legal acts, as the rate of rights, established for non-citizens, does not comply with any other status. Latvian non-citizens can be regarded neither as the citizens, nor the aliens and stateless persons but as persons with "a specific legal status" (..) 17. (..) the rights and international liabilities, determined for the non-citizens testify that the legal ties of non-citizens with Latvia are to a certain extent recognized and mutual obligations and rights have been created on the basis of the above[4]
Latvian "Alien's Identity Card", official sample

This category of people was created by legislation[5] of the Latvian parliament in October 1991, when it acknowledged as citizens of Latvia only citizens of Republic of Latvia in 1940 and their descendants. This parliament was elected by people who are now non-citizens, too.

Non-citizens' legal status wasn't clear until adopting the law On the Status of those Former USSR. Citizens who do not have the Citizenship of Latvia or that of any Other State[6] in 1995.

Their legal ties with Latvia and, therefore, difference in status from stateless persons (Latvian: bezvalstnieki), such as the right to reside in Latvia without visas or residence permits, are recognized. However, non-citizens have no voting rights,[7] limited rights on pensions[8] etc. They are not allowed to work in government, police and civil services. Besides that, non-citizens were always exempted from military service, compulsory for male Latvian citizens until 2006.

The treatment of Latvia's non-citizens under international relations is defined both by the laws and policies of other countires and by bilateral agreements with Latvia. For example, with regard to international travel, numerous countries allow visa-free travel for Latvian citizens but not for non-citizens.[9] The Russian Federation provides cheaper visas for non-citizens.[10]


Non-citizens may naturalize provided they have been permanent residents of Latvia for at least 5 years, pass tests in Latvian language (with some questions possible, answers to which are sensitive and debated in Latvian society[11]), history and Constitution and know the lyrics of the Latvian anthem.[12] Former members of foreign military and activists considered hostile to the Republic of Latvia, such as activist of various federalist organization of 1991, people convicted of propagating fascist or communist ideas or inciting ethnic hatred, are excluded, though. The government may refuse naturalisation also to people fulfilling all these requirements finding them illoyal (Petropavlovsky case, as of May, 2008 — pending before European Court of Human Rights). As of March, 2008, 128 286 people were naturalized (mostly non-citizens). Naturalization rates have reached their peak in 2005 (accordingly, the maximum of applications submitted was in 2004), and since then, they have decreased 2,8 times by 2007 (the number of applications in 2004-2007 has decreased 6,4 times).[13]

An opinion poll, made by the Naturalization Board and published in 2003, has shown the following obstacles for naturalizing: that a person already deservs citizenship — 34.2%, low skills in Latvian — 23.2%, tests in history — 20.5%, cheaper visas for non-citizens from some countries — 20.2%, naturalization fees — 20.2%.[14]

Non-citizens as a political question

Before the victory in 1990 elections, the Popular Front of Latvia claimed[15] that all willing residents of Latvia should get citizenship of independent Latvia ("zero option").

According to SKDS research[16], in 2005 45.9 % of inhabitants (but only 38.4 % of citizens) supported granting voting rights for non-citizens at municipal elections, against such amendments were 35.6 % of inhabitants (and 42.8 % of citizens). 74.6 % of Russian-speaking respondents and 24.8 % of ethnic Latvian respondents expressed support for this idea, negative attitude to it was shown by 7.8 % of Russian-speaking respondents and 55.9 % of ethnic Latvian respondents.

Nowadays, Harmony Centre is[17] for making the naturalization and granting citizenship to some categories of non-citizens. ForHRUL, supporting these steps, is also maintaining[18] the idea of "zero option". On the other side, TB/LNNK asks[19] to stop naturalization. Most of the ruling parties support the status quo. LPP and LC have claimed in 2007, that they support voting rights for non-citizens in local elections, but offer to decide the question via referendum in 2009, in the same time as the closest local elections should happen,[20] and don't support respective proposals in Parliament now.[21]

International community expresses slightly different views on the question. So, OSCE mission monitoring the 2006 parliamentary elections mentioned that

“ Approximately 400,000 people in Latvia, some 18 per cent of the total population, have not obtained Latvian or any other citizenship and therefore still have the status of “non-citizens.” In the vast majority, these are persons who migrated to Latvia from within the former Soviet Union, and their descendants. Non-citizens do not have the right to vote in any Latvian elections, although they can join political parties. To obtain citizenship, these persons must go through a naturalization process, which over 50,000 persons have done since the 2002 Saeima election. The fact that a significant percentage of the adult population does not enjoy voting rights represents a continuing democracy deficit. [22]

A resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in November 2006 found:

“ The Assembly considers that the naturalisation regulations adopted in Latvia do not raise insuperable obstacles to the acquisition of Latvian nationality and that the applicable procedure does not entail any requirements that are excessive or contrary to existing European standards. However, when it comes to the very specific situation of non-citizens, which is unprecedented and therefore lacks a reference framework of European norms or practices, the Assembly considers that further improvements are possible to avoid unnecessary requirements for the acquisition of Latvian nationality. [23]

International recommendations to Latvia, which concern non-citizenship, include:

  • granting voting rights for non-citizens in local elections;[24][25]
  • facilitating naturalization;[26]
  • reducing differnces in rights between citizens and non-citizens;[27]
  • avoiding asking those applying to naturalization to express convictions that are contrary to their reading of the history of their cultural community or nation.[28]

Russian Foreign Office has published a collection[29] of international recommendations to Latvia concerning the minority rights, including those on non-citizenship issue. Despite advocacy to ease Latvian naturalization requirements, Russian policy is not uniform in its support of that aim. As mentioned, Latvian citizens are charged more for a Russian single-entry visa as non-citizens (more than five times the fee as of December 2007),[30] seen as rewarding if not encouraging statelessness.[31]


  1. ^ Report on mission to Latvia (2008), UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance — see Para. 30 and 88
  2. ^ Statistics of Latvian Department of Population Register (Latvian)
  3. ^ Naturalization Board website, How to become citizen section (Russian)
  4. ^ Judgement of Latvian Constitutional court on losing non-citizen's status
  5. ^ Decision of Supreme Soviet of Republic of Latvia "On restoring the rights of citizens of Republic of Latvia and basic rules of naturalization", 15.10.1991. (Latvian)
  6. ^ Law On the Status of those Former USSR Citizens who do not have the Citizenship of Latvia or that of any Other State
  7. ^ Electoral legislation of Latvia
  8. ^ Judgement of the Constitutional Court in case No.2001-02-0106 (maintaining the limitations)
  9. ^ Бузаев В. В. Неграждане Латвии — Рига: ЛКПЧ, 2007 — стр. 101-103(Russian)
  10. ^ Visa information at the website of Russian embassy in Latvia: Russian, Latvian
  11. ^ Малнач А. 100 тысяч «обманщиков», или Катехизис латвийского гражданина «Час», 15.08.2005.(Russian)
  12. ^ Examinations as prescribed by the Law on Citizenship
  13. ^ Information on naturalization process
  14. ^ Reģionālo aspektu nozīme pilsonības jautājumu risināšanā — Rīga: LR Naturalizācijas pārvalde, 2003. — 66. lpp.(Latvian)
  15. ^ Latvijas Tautas frontes 2. kongress. Programma, statūti, rezolūcijas — R., LTF izdevniecība, 1990 — 7. lpp. (Latvian)
  16. ^ Uzskati par starpetniskajām attiecībām Latvijā — Rīga: SKDS, 2005. — 12.—13. lpp.(Latvian)
  17. ^ Project of HC program, section "Non-citizens of Latvia":Russian, Latvian
  18. ^ ForHRUL program, see Section 7.3.: Russian, Latvian
  19. ^ TB/LNNK program for 2006 elections (Latvian)
  20. ^ LPP/LC vēlas referendumu par nepilsoņu tiesībām vēlēt pašvaldības, 23.04.2007. (Latvian)
  21. ^ Voting in Latvian Parliament on 26.04.2007.(Latvian)
  22. ^ Press statement of the OSCE mission, 08 October, 2006
  23. ^ PACE Resolution 1527 (2006) Rights of national minorities in Latvia — Section 11
  24. ^ Concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: Latvia (2003) — Section 12
  25. ^ OSCE PA Resolution on National Minorities (2004) — Section 16 (see p. 24)
  26. ^ Report by CoE Commissioner for Human Rights on his Visit to Latvia (2004) — Section 132.4.
  27. ^ PACE resolution No. 1527 (2006) — Section 17.11.2.
  28. ^ PACE resolution No. 1527 (2006) — Section 17.9.
  29. ^ List of main claims and recommendations of international organisations and NGO to Latvia as regards rights of national minorities (2004)
  30. ^ Visa regime, Russian embassy in Latvia, retrieved December 23, 2007 (Russian)
  31. ^ The Russian Population in Latvia-Puppets of Moscow?, Tomas Malmlof, retrieved December 23, 2007

See also

External links

Categories: Politics of Latvia | Latvian law | Nationality law

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