The St Vincent and the Grenadines Parliament has amended the citizenship law allowing for “second-generation Vincentians” born overseas to be considered for citizenship.
Currently, under the Constitution, a person is automatically a Vincentian at birth — regardless of where they are born — if the person has at least one parent who was born here.
The new law, which was passed with bipartisan support, makes it possible for grandchildren of people born here to be considered for citizenship on application, if that grandchild is born outside of the island.
Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, tabling the amendment In Parliament on Thursday, rejected the view that the change in the law would result in a flood of people coming here to live.
“We do not see that as something which is a realistic one,” said Gonsalves, who has ministerial responsibility for citizenship matters.
He said there are reports of an estimated two to three hundred thousand people born overseas, who are entitled, at birth, to citizenship of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
“… they don’t come here. A few of them come, relatively speaking, but to afford the opportunity of those who may wish. So, I don’t see a flood. I think it, at most, would be a trickle rather than a flood because that has been the experience,” Gonsalves told Parliament.
The amendment to the 1984 Citizenship Act states that the applicant must not be qualified for registration as a citizen otherwise than under the amended section and must be of good character.
The applicant must have a grandparent, who at the time of the applicant’s birth was a citizen of St Vincent and the Grenadines, and the applicant must not be entitled to be registered as a citizen under the Constitution or any other law in force here.
He said the applicant must submit his application in addition to the applicable fees and any of the following documents as the minister deems necessary.
These documents may include copies of the applicant’s birth certificate and passport; certified copies of documents relevant to the application, including birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, certificates of registration or naturalisation or any other certificate or evidence of citizenship of his parents, grandparents and other relevant persons; and police record check or a certificate of police clearance.
The prime minister said that the minister or a person designated by the minister may make arrangements to interview the application or any person connected with the application if the minister sees it fit
He further said that a person qualified to be registered under the amendment may not be registered unless the person takes the oath of allegiance specified under the law.
However, the minister may waive the duty to take the oath for certain categories of persons, Gonsalves said, without elaborating.
The amended law also provides for a certificate of citizenship to be provided to a person born outside of the island to an eligible Vincentian parent, constituting a valid record of the automatic right of citizenship accorded to that person under the Constitution.
“That’s an administrative matter which the public servants have been asking for and it makes sense,” Gonsalves said, adding that the law also provides for the waiver of fees for one year from the commencement of the bill and all applications and grants of citizenship made under certain sections of the act
The amendment allows the minister to extend the period of a waiver. “But you will have to come with a negative resolution to the House,” Gonsalves said, noting that the bill was put to a select committee of Parliament, adding that what emerged was a better-drawn bill that was tidier and had worked out a number of practical issues.
Gonsalves said he was asked at the select committee meeting why the bill has been brought at this time.
“There was no specific occurrence,” he said, adding that it was “the maturation of a process” where people overseas who would have been second-generation Vincentians had been asking if they could have the opportunity to apply for citizenship without the onerous provision of naturalisation.
“That is to say, a seven-year period or in certain circumstances, five years,” Gonsalves said, adding that he has received many letters from “ordinary Vincentians” and people involved in sports here, the UK and US who may wish to represent the island at regional and international sporting gatherings.
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader, Dr Godwin Friday in expressing his support for the legislation, said it would be easier to explain to people that they do not have to go through a lengthy process if they became citizens by other means.
He said opposition lawmakers understand the implication of the law and would want to see it as a way as well for enhancing ties and commitment among people in the diaspora who may look at St Vincent and the Grenadines as not just a country of their parents or grandparents but also as their country.
“Those persons who are young and productive and may wish to come back and take up employment here, to invest, to use the skills and training they have acquired in those countries, where they reside or were born and to bring it, to apply it here for the benefit of the country,” Friday said.
He said the island needs that injection of skill, talent, training, capital, money, resources to help the country to continue to develop “in a way that we would like to see it move forward so that it enhances the opportunity for all of us and encourages faster growth.
The Opposition Leader said the island is not “a magnet country” like the United States that attracts the brightest and the best from all over the world simply by the opportunities they provide there and they can be a lot more selective of who they accept.
He said that is also the case in countries like Canada and the UK.