New law on the acquisition of Czech citizenship: introduction to the main changes valid as of January 2014
What does not change
The essence of the institution of citizenship does not change. Citizenship is still a bond between an individual and the Czech state. In terms of foreign nationals' integration, citizenship is the highest residential status, giving its holder full rights (the law does not recognize any differences between those who have acquired the citizenship at birth and those who have been granted it). Citizenship remains irrevocable (the only exception would be a review of a naturalisation procedure or, in the case of a declaration of nationality, a reopening of a procedure with respect to an improper citizenship acquisition within 3 years).
It is still valid that a child, who has a parent who is a Czech citizen (the only exception will be for children born out of wedlock whose father is a citizen of the Czech Republic) is entitled to acquire permanent Czech citizenship directly ex lege, regardless of whether he/she produces Czech documents, and even regardless of whether he/she knows about their Czech citizenship, or if, along with Czech citizenship, he/she also acquires citizenship from another state, for instance, through their other parent, or by reason of their place of birth.
Citizenship may still be granted (with minor exceptions) to persons who have had a permanent residence in the Czech Republic.
Granting Czech nationality (which is only one of the modes of citizenship acquisition) remains the authority of the Ministry of the Interior of the Czech Republic and applicants may still not be legally entitled to it. The Ministry will consider a number of aspects of foreign national’s life (The Czech Republic may still be one of the toughest states for gaining citizenship), in particular, fulfilment of legal obligations in a number of areas, such as, revenue transparency (unlike the procedure of granting permanent residence where no particular amount of income plays a role here; it should only be plausible that the foreign national is able to make ends meet from their reported income), independence of the state social support system or no requirement for assistance in material needs. The Ministry of the Interior will also continue to determine whether a foreign national has circumvented the Foreigners´ Act (for example, a marriage of convenience, etc.).
New conditions for naturalisation
The new conditions for naturalisation stipulated in Sections 11 - 23:8 specific conditions (see below)
- Room for administrative discretion: „the applicant is integrated into the society in the Czech Republic, in particular as regards integration from family, work and social perspectives.” (according to the explanatory memorandum: "... the applicant's integration into Czech society will be taken into consideration, in particular, in terms of work integration (applicant's labour market integration); family integration (intensity and number of applicant's family and personal ties to citizens of the Czech Republic, respectively, and other persons permanently living in the territory of the Czech Republic); social integration (e.g. engagement in [civil] society, activities in civil associations, and the extent of his/her involvement in social life, and acceptance of cultural traditions). All these factors may have an influence on proving the applicant's full integration into the Czech society. However, the fact that the applicant meets only one condition could suffice to prove this point.).
- Absence of security risks ("the applicant endangers security of the state, its sovereignty and territorial integrity, democratic foundations, lives, health or property values")
Even if an applicant meets all the required given conditions, there is no legal claim for citizenship of the Czech Republic.8 specific conditions (Sections 14 and 15):
- 5 years in permanent resident status (3 years for EU citizens), or permanent residence, and a total of 10 years' lawful residence
Example: A citizen of Ukraine came to the Czech Republic in
2003, but he gained permanent residence only in 2012. Despite not having 5 years
of permanent residence by January 1, 2014, he/she could apply for citizenship
because he/she had 10 years stay in total.
Example: A female citizen of Slovakia married a citizen of the Czech Republic in 2010, and in 2012 she gained permanent residence as a family member. She could apply for Czech citizenship normally after 3 years of permanent residence, which would be in 2015. However, as a spouse of a citizen of the Czech Republic, living with him in a shared household, she could ask for an exception pursuant to Section 15 (1) (e) of the new Act and apply already in 2014).
- Real (factual) stay in the territory for a specified period of time, at least half of the above-mentioned period of residence (a two-month absence or, for more serious reasons, a 6-month absence are not relevant)
Example: A Vietnamese citizen, who had lived in the Czech Republic since the 1990s, gained permanent residence in 2009. Subsequently, he went back to Vietnam (at least once a year. However, he returned to the Czech Republic from time to time, so his permanent residence could not be invalidated). In 2013, he again returned to the Czech Republic. Therefore, he had resided in the Czech Republic for only 1 year of his 5-year permanent residence requirement (2009-2014), which was not long enough. Nevertheless, taking into consideration that in the 10 year period between 2004-2014, he lived here for six year ( more than half of the required time), which means that he fulfils the conditions of factual residence.
- An Applicant has not been convicted of a wilful offence or negligent act upon a final and conclusive judgement (the sentence may not have taken place either in the Czech Republic or in a foreign national’s home country, or in the state where the applicant has lived for more than 6 months in the last 10 years)
- Knowledge of the Czech language (this condition does not apply to foreign nationals younger than 15 years of age, the elderly over 65 years, and those who at least attended a school with Czech language as a language of instruction). Knowledge of Czech will probably be required at level B1, and tests will be carried out by Charles University (it is envisaged that a some foreign nationals will have to take intensive Czech language course)
- Passing of a civic knowledge test, which will include knowledge of the constitutional system, as well as basic knowledge of the cultural, societal, geographical and historical situation of the Czech Republic (it may be possible to waive this condition for the same foreign nationals as stated in the Section 4). This knowledge will be required at the level of the elementary school curriculum – the tests will be carried out by Charles University
- Applicant should prove the absence of substantial breach of selected laws and norms within the last three years, prior to lodging the application (taxes, charges, stay of foreign nationals, etc. ), maintenance obligations to any children, and obligations connected with public service and statutory obligations, miscellaneous obligations to the municipality
- The Applicant shall prove the legal sources of his/her income, cross-border transfer or conveyance of financial assets and the payment of taxes
- The Applicant is not without good reasons, largely dependent on government welfare benefits or assistance in material need. However, this does not relate to applicants who are excluded from gainful activity/employment due to their condition, or as a result of preparing for a future career, or due to maternity or paternity leave, or consistently takes care of another person who is dependent on such care.
A fundamental change is that foreign nationals will not need to renounce their previous citizenship before obtaining Czech citizenship, as they will be allowed to have dual or multiple citizenship. The Czech authorities will not be concerned whether or not the foreign national has multiple citizenship (the institute of the so-called promise will be completely abolished).
It can be said that, in some ways, the new conditions are more favourable to foreign nationals. This includes for instance, the opportunity to apply after a total of a 10 year stay, even without 5 year’s of permanent residence, or the fact that the property acquisitions of foreign nationals will be the object of control up to past 3 years, and not longer. In some respects, however, the new law is stricter, with requirements for, a more difficult Czech language test, more stringent conditions for impunity, as well as fulfilment of maintenance obligations, etc.
Some foreign nationals will be entitled to citizenship
It still remains true that applicants will not legally be entitled to citizenship. In addition to the institute of naturalisation, however, the new law gives a greater role to another method of acquisition of citizenship - the declaration. The declaration is the favoured way to acquire citizenship, which gives foreign nationals a legal right. For example, if a foreign national meets the conditions for citizenship acquisition by declaration he/she must obtain citizenship, even if he/she is a criminal. This is the case for the descendants of former Czech (Czechoslovak) citizens, their children and grandchildren when the issues associated with dissolution of the Czechoslovak Federal Republic were addressed, according to Sec. 18 a 18a, 18b a 18c of Act No. 40/1993 Coll. More information on obtaining citizenship by declaration can be found here.The following categories of foreign nationals will be entitled to citizenship (see Articles 31- 36):
- A person who lost their Czech or Czechoslovak citizenship before January,1st, 2014 (except for Transcarpathian Ruthenia, the Sudeten Germans and citizens of Slovakia). For example, those who emigrated from Czechoslovakia in the past or those who, after 1993, acquired citizenship of another country, and consequently lost their citizenship of the Czech Republic (their descendants, however, are not entitled, and must apply for naturalisation).
- A citizen of the former Czech and Slovak Federal Republic (ČSFR), who was neither a national of the Czech Republic, nor a national of the Slovak Republic (ie. a number of emigrants from the pre-1969)
- A person who wrongly obtained proof of citizenship of the Czech Republic, for example, an identity card, or passport, if it was in good faith
- Second-generation migrants, i.e. foreign nationals, who are aged 18 to 21 years (older foreign nationals will be allowed to make a declaration only during the year 2014), they need to be in possession of permanent residence status, reside in the territory of the Czech Republic from at least the age of 10 years (two-thirds of the period between the entry in the territory and the date of submitting the declaration), and have a clean criminal record
Siblings, citizens of Russia, travelled to the Czech Republic to join their father in 2006, and gained permanent residence. The elder child was 11 years old and younger 9 years old. In 2010, they travelled with their father back to Russia (and returned periodically), and they finally returned to the Czech Republic in 2013. The older child is not entitled to make a declaration owing to the fact that the child was living in the Czech Republic only from the age of 11. Even the younger child cannot make a declaration because he had been outside the territory of the Czech Republic for a total of 3 of those 8 years (2006-2014). Therefore he does not meet the condition of two-thirds of the factual permanent residence. However, if the younger sibling remains for 8 years (2006-2014) in the Czech Republic, and lives here until 2017, then when he is 20 years old, he will be entitled to citizenship, because in the year 2017 the total duration of his stay will be 11 years, and the factual residence in the Czech Republic will be the entire required 8 years (i.e. more than two thirds).
- A child placed in foster care can acquire citizenship by declaration, provided that the child lives legally in the Czech Republic (even without permanent residence).
The new law allows dual nationality
The new law will enable dual or multiple citizenship in the broadest possible sense:
- The applicants will not be obliged to apply for termination of their existing citizenship before granting citizenship of the Czech Republic (so-called promise will be abolished).
- A citizen of the Czech Republic, who acquires a foreign citizenship by applying for it, will not lose Czech citizenship
- Persons who in the past lost Czech or Czechoslovak citizenship (regardless of the reason), will be able to regain that citizenship, and
- The proceedings for granting citizenship (if begun before 1 January 2014 but not be completed by that date), will follow the existing legislation (i.e., easier Czech language test, deeper auditing of past property ownership), however, without the requirement of termination or loss of current citizenship. Therefore, if the Ministry of the Interior issues to the applicant a promise to grant Czech nationality and the applicant is not released from his/her citizenship until the end of 2013, the Ministry of the Interior will continue the proceedings in January 2014 and grant him/her citizenship.
Children of Czech fathers and foreign mothers, who were born out of wedlock
As before, a child born (whether in the Czech Republic or abroad) to a woman with Czech citizenship or to a foreign woman, whose husband is a Czech citizen, automatically acquires Czech citizenship (the child will never lose this citizenship, even if it transpires that the Czech citizen husband, is not the biological father of the child, or if there is a denial of paternity by the Czech citizen).
In the case of children born out of wedlock, where the mother is single or if the mother is married to a foreign national, but the biological father of the child is a Czech citizen, according to the new law, the situation will be more complicated:
- A child born out of wedlock will acquire Czech citizenship through the determination of paternity (the child acquires citizenship on the date of the decision of the court)
- Upon a consensual declaration of the parents (before a court or before the Registry Office); the declaration of fatherhood of a Czech citizen, a child, whose mother has permanent residence in the Czech Republic, or is a citizen of the EU/EEA, or is stateless, will be entitled to Czech citizenship,
- Upon a consensual declaration of fatherhood made by parents (before a court or before the Registry Office); a child , whose mother does not fall into any of the groups stipulated by ii, will acquire Czech citizenship if the parents submit a DNA test proving fatherhood.
In other cases, the child, for whom the paternity of a Czech citizen was determined by a consensual declaration of both parents, should apply for nationality to the Ministry of the Interior. Section 28 of the new Act on citizenship refers to a simplified procedure that will examine only whether the determination of fatherhood of an EU citizen was intentional.
If you are interested in further information concerning the
new conditions for acquiring the Czech citizenship, or in submitting an
application, please contact the Counselling Centre for Citizenship/Civil and
Human Rights, which provides free legal advice. You can contact Martina
270 003 280. Further details can be found here: http://cizinci.poradna-prava.cz/.
This article has been co-financed by the European Social fund and by the state budget of the Czech Republic.
Translation: Apolinarie Rubešová
Proofreading: Nuala Casey
Mgr. Pavel Čižinský is a lawyer and politologist, currently working as an attorney in Prague, who also specializes in migration law; working closely with the non-governmental organisation, Counselling Centre for Citizenship, Civil and Human Rights, and with various other organisations. He is a member of the Committee for the Rights of Foreigners at the Council of the Government of the Czech Republic for Human Rights.