St Vincent and the Grenadines followed parliamentary procedures to amend their citizenship laws lately. This was done with the express purpose of allowing ‘second generation Vincentians’ to have a pathway to citizenship. This group also includes Vincentians abroad and allows then to apply for citizenship easily.
According to the prevailing constitutional law, an individual is automatically considered a citizen, regardless of where they are born, so long as one of their parents is a citizen of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The new law on the other hand, allows the grandchildren of citizens to be considered for citizenship on application, irrespective of where they are born. This law was passed with bipartisan support, which speaks to its popularity and significance.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves tables the amendment in the parliament, going against the notion that the change would bring in a horde of people to the island nation.
In a statement regarding the same he had this to say, “We do not see that as something which is a realistic possibility.”
“… 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,” PM Gonsalves stated in the parliamentary session.
According to the amendment to the 1984 Citizenship Act, an individual must be qualified for registration under the amended guidelines and must be of good character too be considered.
The candidate also must have grandparents who were citizens of St Vincent and the Grenadines at the time of his or her birth. The candidate also should not be entitled to citizenship under the constitution or any other laws in practice with in the nation, to be considered under this program.
The candidate must then submit his or her application with the appropriate fees and any documents that the minister in charge deems necessary.
The documents can include, but are not limited to the candidate’s birth certificate and passport, certified copies of documents relevant to the application, including 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. A police record check or a certificate of police clearance will also be required.
He added that the individual who was qualified under the amendment would be required to take the oath of allegiance by law, failing which the application would be null and void.
The Prime Minister added that the minister had the ability to waive the oath for certain cases or categories of people but did not elaborate on what that would entail.
The PM also stated that the law gave the option 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. “That’s an administrative matter which the public servants have been asking for and it makes sense” he said.
There are also provisions for ministers to extend the period of the waiver. “But you will have to come with a negative resolution to the House,” Gonsalves said. He added that the bill had been processed by a select committee of the parliament which had resulted in the compilation of a tidy and well-drawn document which serves many possibilities and eventualities.
When asked why the bill had been brought up at this particular time, he said, “There was no specific occurrence”
According to him it was a part of the maturation process. He also said that this gave second generation Vincentians the option to fast track their citizenship process making naturalization more convenient and less onerous.
“That is to say, a seven-year period or in certain circumstances, five years,” Gonsalves said, stating that he has received many letters from “ordinary Vincentians” and people involved in sports here, the UK and US who wished to represent the nation at regional and international sporting events.
Even the opposition leader, Dr. Godwin Friday, supported the legislation wholeheartedly, saying that it was good for people to have an easier process to look forward to when applying for citizenship.
He also added that the lawmakers aligned with the opposition fully understood the implications of the law and were glad that it had the ability to bring the diaspora closer. It would allow them to consider St Vincent and the Grenadines as their nation instead of just the country of their grandparents or forefathers.
“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 added that the island required an injection of skill, talent, training, capital, money and resources to help the country to continue on its progressive path.
He also made a comparison with the US, Canada and UK, which according to him were magnet countries for the best and brightest minds in the world simply by virtue of the opportunities they provided. According to him this allowed them the luxury of being selective which wasn’t the case for his own nation. Hence, it would be a great undertaking to make the influx of talent and investment easier.