In September 2019, simplified conditions were introduced for emigrants and their descendants to acquire Czech citizenship by naturalization (amendment 207/2019 Coll.). Another amendment to the Act on Citizenship (Act No. 186/2013 Coll., hereinafter referred to as the “Act” and the „Amendment“ respectivelly) is, however, now subject to discussion in the Lower House of the Czech Parliament.
The aim of the Amendment is to tighten the conditions for acquiring citizenship. The Ministry of the Interior as the submitter of the amendment argues that the proposed changes are necessary mainly in light of the worsening global security situation. This is quite surprising, since these reasons, i.e. danger to “national security, sovereignty and territorial integrity, democratic foundations, lives, health, or property”, are already taken into account and may serve as the grounds for denial to grant Czech citizenship to a foreigner (e.g. Section 13(2) and Section 22(3) of the Act). What then are the specific changes proposed by the amendment? We present below three changes which we consider the most important.
This article follows on our earlier text, where we focused on how the current Act on Citizenship of the Czech Republic had worked in practice (link to article: Acquisition of Czech citizenship). In fact, the statistical trends have not changed – see point 4 of this article.
1. Extending the requirement for clean criminal record to include other groups of foreigners
A foreign applicant for Czech citizenship must, in general, submit a proof of a clean criminal record. According to the Act, a fairly large group of foreigners may acquire citizenship by declaration, without the need to prove clean criminal record.
Under the existing rules, a certificate of probity has to be submitted by a foreigner acquiring citizenship by declaration pursuant to Section 35 of the Act. The provision targets young people with a long-term stay in the Czech Republic. In 2017 and 2018, their number was 1,539. The above manner of acquiring citizenship is completely abandoned by the amendment; from now on, this group of foreigners will be subject to the newly introduced special regime of acquiring citizenship based on an application and under simplified requirements.
Until now, the proof of a clean criminal record has not been required in other methods of acquiring citizenship by declaration (specifically the methods described in Sections 31, 32, 34 and § 36 of the Act). It is precisely the missing requirement to produce a certificate of probity that the Ministry now sees as weakening the Czech Republic’s security interests. Consequently, the Ministry has proposed the proof of a clean criminal record to also be compulsory in other cases of acquisition of citizenship by declaration.
If the current version of the amendment is adopted, a certificate of probity will also have to be produced by e.g. foreigners who lost their Czech or Czechoslovak citizenship prior to the date of effect of the Act, i.e. prior to January 1, 2014 having at least one parent or grandparent who is or was a Czech or Czechoslovak citizen, or children placed in foster care or another form of care in the Czech Republic. These applicants had an advantage under amendment 207/2019 Coll. The majority of these cases involve restitution of Czech citizenship by people who were deprived of the Czech or Czechoslovak citizenship by totalitarian regimes. The requirement for this group of people to prove clean criminal record appears rather illogical as the citizenship is to be returned rather than newly granted to them.
2. Proof of absence of administrative delicts
One of the goals of the Act and of the Amendment is to ensure the acquisition of citizenship by only those foreigners who are sufficiently integrated in the Czech society, particularly in terms of family, labour or social integration. During the process of obtaining citizenship, the Ministry of the Interior assesses, in particular, social integration, which also includes the foreigner’s approach to compliance with the Czech law (including the certificate of probity). In our opinion, however, the foreigners’ clean criminal record is a question of security rather than integration.
In the explanatory memorandum, the Ministry points out that, for the purposes of assessment of a foreigner’s overall approach, it is also important for the legislation to allow to check not only the clean criminal record, but also the absence of offences committed by the foreigner. Given that offences are less serious than crimes, the Ministry suggests that only the following foreigner be denied citizenship: one who has been convicted, by an enforceable judgement, of deliberately committing at least two offences in the last three years from the date of filing an application.
We do not believe that common administrative delicts, such as those committed on Czech roads, have anything to do with the “worsening global security situation”, e.g. terrorism, radicalism, nationalism or organized crime, i.e. the facts referred to by the Ministry in justifying the need for the Amendment.
3. Proof of income
So far, applicants for citizenship have been required to prove their income and sources of income. They were, nevertheless, not obliged to demonstrate that their income was sufficient to cover their living costs in the Czech Republic. In fact, there was a real danger that citizenship of the Czech Republic might be acquired by foreigners who were not self-sufficient to live in the country.
The Amendment is going to change this. From now on, a foreigner will have to prove not only the amount and sources of income, but also the fact that his/her income is sufficient to cover his/her needs and costs of living. The practical application is still not clear: will a foreigner who is a hedonist, lover of good wine and food or fast cars, be required to prove more resources than a foreigner who is a humble person and only drinks mineral water? The proof of income of a foreigner who does not have his/her own financial income but is supported by another person will include the funds of the supporter.
4. Statistical data
Most new Czech citizens were recorded in 2014 – more than 10 thousand. Between 2015 and 2018, approx. 5-6 thousand of new citizens “arrived” annually; the 2019 number is likely to be similar. The countries of origin of the new Czech citizens have not changed – the states of the former Soviet Union (Ukraine, Russia, etc.) rank first, followed by Slovakia and Vietnam.
The Amendment is not convincing as it is hard to understand how it is expected to combat the danger posed by new citizens. The amendment raises confusion; in our opinion, some of the rules introduced by the amendment will be less effective in combating the deteriorating global security situation, while applicants for Czech citizenship will have to overcome more bureaucratic obstacles.
The co-author of the article is bnt junior associate Jan Mandík.
Act on Citizenship (Act No. 186/2013 Coll.)
Amendment to the Act on Citizenship, Act No. 207/2019 Coll.