Political and social activist Dwyer Astaphan says while the 3-year waiting period for non-nationals to gain citizenship through marriage may not be stated in the law books, the reason for that policy is in fact spelled out in the Constitution.
The Government last week announced that after the Cabinet and Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs researched the issue, it was concluded that there is no legal requirement to prevent persons from obtaining citizenship by marriage except for any unwritten policy which seems to be at variance with the law.
Government press release issued May 20 states, “As of the 13th May 2019, the Cabinet has approved that the Ministry of National Security will process application for citizenship by marriage on requests subject to the relevant legal documentation being provided.”
Speaking to Freedom FM, Astaphan, a former Minister of National Security, said the constitution states that a person marrying a national of the federation is entitled to citizenship, however it has a condition attached which states that an application may be refused by the Minister of National Security, in such circumstances as may be prescribed by parliament in the interest of defense, public safety or public order.
“In other words if you’re married to a citizen you’re entitled to be registered however the Minister has the Constitutional authority to refuse, and the Constitution itself says that the parliament can establish conditions under which a person can be refused. The Citizenship Act [Chapter 1.05] states that the Minister has the authority to refuse to register as a citizen any person who is A. not of good character; B. has been convicted by a competent court in any country of a criminal offense for which he or she was sentenced to death …and so forth; C. has engaged in activities whether within or or outside St. Kitts and Nevis which in the opinion of the Minister are prejudicial to the safety of St. Kitts and Nevis or to the maintenance of law and public order; D. has otherwise been declared bankrupt in any law enforced in any country; E. not being a dependent of a citizen of St. Kitts and Nevis- the person does not have sufficient means to maintain himself or herself and is likely to become a public charge; F. has entered into a marriage for the primary purpose of obtaining citizenship- in other words a fake marriage; and they have a number of other criteria which the Minister is to use to determine whether a person is to get citizenship or not.”
Astaphan explained that the necessary due diligence takes time.
“Here’s the deal, you don’t have the 3-year policy any more- the application is made, the government has to do its due diligence to ensure that the applicant does not fall into any of the disqualifications laid out in the SKN Citizenship Act. In order for the government, the minister and his or her technical people to make that determination it will take time, will it not? So this was the rationale, the basis on which the 3-years was granted, basically to examine the character of the person…and also to see if the marriage is a genuine one.
“It does mean that because the 3-year policy is going to be discarded that the system is going to be more careless than it has been, but the fact of the matter is the due diligence process has not been very good and a lot of people have gotten citizenship for St. Kitts and Nevis from fake marriages, and the government has not given any assurance to the country that it has in place or will put in place a more vigilant and proactive due diligence machinery to ensure people don’t beat the system.”
Astaphan is advising the government to put a qualification period in place for the granting of citizenship by marriage, not to give automatic permission for annual residence and to work, and to carry out out the due diligence efficiently and expeditiously.
“…At least three years, and I would think five years to test the validity of the marriage. If it is a genuine marriage. My concern is the quality professionalism and effectiveness of the due diligence but I do believe that there should be prescribed by law a minimum period before which you can get the citizenship and in the meantime, once the early due diligence is done and you’re ok then you get provisional permission to reside here, not to work, otherwise its going to a lot of confusion and melee.
“Already the number of applications going in to the Ministry of National Security has increased enormously because everybody now thanks they’re going to get automatic citizenship and if the due diligence is not done a lot of them will get it.”