Citizenship policy in Latvia

08.08.2018. 10:24

The Republic of Latvia was established on 18 November 1918. In accordance with the doctrine of state continuity in national and international law, the Republic of Latvia retained the legal personality of the state that, de facto, lost its independence in 1940 as a result of occupation by the USSR, followed by Nazi Germany, and then again by the USSR in 1945. The Baltic States were the only three members of the League of Nations that did not regain independence immediately after the Second World War.

Recognition of de iure independence of the Republic of Latvia was maintained by our Western partners throughout the Soviet occupation, the same approach was taken by other states, international organizations and tribunals, among them the European Court of Human Rights.

On 4 May 1990, the Republic of Latvia declared the restoration of its independence with all legal consequences - restoring the body of law (including the Constitution, Civil Code, Property Law, the Law on Citizenship, etc.) and democratic institutions.

On 17 September 1991, the Baltic States became members of the United Nations. And the USSR ceased to exist in December 1991. The Baltic States are not successor states of the USSR.

An integral part of restoration of independence of the Republic of Latvia was the restoration of the status and rights of those persons who were recognized as Latvia’s citizens under the 1919 Law on Citizenship, as well as their descendants.

At the same time, Latvian authorities faced the situation that large numbers of persons who had immigrated to Latvia during the period of Soviet occupation and lost their USSR citizenship after the dissolution of the Soviet Union were residing permanently in Latvia; however, these people had never been citizens of the Republic of Latvia.

Since these individuals were not eligible for an automatic acquisition of Latvian citizenship, a special temporary status was established for former USSR citizens – “former citizens of the USSR without the citizenship of the Republic of Latvia or any other country” (hereinafter “non-citizens”).

Latvia's non-citizens are not stateless persons. The protection provided to non-citizens in Latvia extends beyond that which is required by the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. The fact that non-citizens cannot be considered stateless persons has been acknowledged by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) - see UNHCR’s Global Trends report (published on 19 June 2017) and further publications. 

Non-citizens enjoy equal protection under the law both in Latvia and while living or travelling abroad, and are the only group of persons, beside citizens, who are granted permanent residence in Latvia ex lege. They can have permanent residence in a foreign country while retaining all rights and privileges, inter alia, to travel freely and to return back to Latvia at any time. Non-citizens have the same social guarantees as Latvian citizens, and they enjoy the majority of political rights, including, for example, with regard to pensions and unemployment benefits. The only significant difference between Latvian citizens and non-citizens is the right to vote and to work in the civil service or occupy posts directly related to national security.

All prerequisites have been created for persons with the non-citizen status to acquire the citizenship of Latvia.