Legal Advice: Emigration

Legal advice from those in the know

"I’ve been living here for a few years now, and I want to apply for Czech citizenship. How do I go about it, and how long does it usually take?"

My dear friend, in my time I’ve met people with many crazy ambitions, but this one tops the lot. To help you understand exactly what you’d be getting yourself into by applying for Czech citizenship, let’s start with a quick history lesson.

As you’re no doubt aware, the Czech Republic was separated from Slovakia in the “Velvet Divorce” of 1993. At this time the Czech Republic was widely considered (especially by the Czechs themselves) to be the “better” part of the previous federation, especially in economic terms. There was widespread apprehension on the part of the Czechs that a great many Slovaks would want to move here immediately.

Accordingly one of the first acts of the newly-established Czech government was to pass law No. 40/1993 Coll., regulating applications for Czech citizenship. This law had one primary aim: to make it very, very difficult for non-Czechs to become Czech citizens. We’ve amended this law six times in the last decade, but it remains one of the most rigid, unforgiving laws in the entire legal system. Generally, there are two ways to obtain Czech citizenship. The first way is for one of your parents to be a Czech citizen. Any child of a Czech citizen is automatically entitled to Czech citizenship, regardless of where the child is born and who the other parent is. If one of your parents is a Czech citizen all you need to do is fill out an administrative form proving this, and you’ll be granted citizenship. But I’m assuming here that neither of your parents are Czech citizens. In this case you can apply to have citizenship awarded to you, but as we will see, it’s a long, difficult and most probably pointless process...

To apply for an award of citizenship, you first need to fulfill one of the following residence requirements. Normally you must: (a) have had the official status of “permanent resident” in the Czech Republic for at least 5 years; (b) have had a “long term resident” visa for at least 10 years; or (c) be married to someone who is a Czech citizen. Note that “permanent residence” and “long term residence” aren’t questions of fact: they’re specific legal terms relating to the sort of permission the Czech government has given you to live here. So far, so good. But here’s the really tough requirement: to be awarded citizenship you must be “unbound from the state citizenship of another state.” What does this mean? It means you can’t simultaneously be a Czech citizen and a citizen of another state. In short, if for example you’re an American citizen, you’ll have to surrender your American citizenship before you can be awarded the Czech equivalent. Anyone wishing to revoke their current citizenship can do so by obtaining a document from their home state to this effect. But think very, very carefully before doing this! If you’re, say, a refugee from Chechnya, then sure, you’ve got nothing to lose by revoking your current citizenship. In the other hand, if you’ve got a US passport or one of those increasingly-popular EU ones, are you sure you want to swap it for Czech citizenship?

Originally, the intention of this law was to remove the possibility of having both Czech and Slovak citizenship, or, more accurately, to stop Slovak citizens from obtaining Czech citizenship. I’ll go further and say that, in my opinion, the law was constructed in this way specifically to stop the emigration of Roma from eastern Slovakian ghettos. In any case it’s an absurd law, and one that almost always involves the would-be Czech citizen renouncing far more than he could possibly gain from the procedure.

In conclusion: don’t become a Czech citizen! Aim to become a permanent resident instead. As soon as you are granted permanent resident’s status you will have virtually all the rights and duties of a Czech citizen, with only minor exceptions: you won’t be able to vote in Czech elections, nor will you be able to stand for election to public office. I’m sure that even a brief survey of the Czech political scene will convince you that these aren’t great sacrifices to make in order to keep your own passport.

Send your questions to legal@pill.cz or contact Klara Vesela-Samkova directly at klara.vesela@lawyers.cz. Your personal details will be treated with the strictest confidence. Legal is edited by Craig Duncan.

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