Knowledge of language is the key for becoming a citizen in Latvia

“I am very old, maybe too old,” says Georgij when asked about his age. He has spent almost all his life in Latvia yet he is one of 262,622 non-citizens in the country. Now he is about to leave the premises of the Office of Citizenship and Migration (OCMA) where he has attended a consultation on the naturalization process.

2015. 14. August, Didzis Melbiksis, Latvia

“I think it is about time for me to become a citizen of Latvia. It has taken too long, and now I heard about these days when it is possible to come and talk to the government officials directly, so I took the chance,” he says and moves to the exit door of the building.

Here in OCMA’s headquarters, in one the corridors behind the desks where you usually go to get a new passport or to renew an expired one, there is a queue of four people. Each of them has a different story, but they all have a common wish – to become citizens of Latvia.

“Many of those who would like to apply for citizenship, have questions regarding the procedures – where to turn with the application, which papers are needed to go through the process smoothly. And, of course, many want to know more about the language test that you have to pass in order to be granted citizenship,” explains Igors Gorbunovs, director of the Naturalization Board at OCMA.

Language is also a key issue for Georgij.  He was born in Russia, but his family moved to Latvia during Soviet era because his father was a seaman. Georgij attended kindergarten and school where he could speak Russian, he later became a seaman, just as his father, and traveled the world. He learned English and German, but his knowledge of Latvian remained weak. While at the OCMA’s consultant desk, he is given an explanation in Latvian of the naturalization process. He receives advice on improving his active language skills and gets assurance that he can indeed pass the test, if he makes a little effort.

Gorbunovs says the advice on how to pass the language test is crucial. Often it is not the knowledge of the language which is the obstacle, but simply the stress of taking the test itself.

“We have had a few cases of descendants from expatriate Latvians who return to Latvia, try to become citizens and fail in the language test,” he says.” Anxiety can be handled by getting accustomed to how the test is conducted, what is being asked of the citizenship candidates and so on.”

There are also details to remember when applying for naturalization – for example, you have to provide papers that prove that you have been resident in Latvia during the last five years.

Most of those who come and want to receive consultations are non-citizens, however, there are often nationals of Russia, Lithuania and Ukraine too.

For those who cannot attend consultations at the OCMA’s headquarters, there is an online guide to the naturalization process on the website, and it is possible to ask questions on Twitter as well. There are also group meetings where candidates can trial the language test and see how well prepared they are for it

In 2014 there were 1,162 applicants for naturalization, and 939 people were granted citizenship of Latvia.  265 have become citizens so far in 2015.

NB: The name of Georgij has been changed with respect to privacy


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