The call of home

Monday, 7 January 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Dual citizens can provide many positives for Sri Lanka. Yet new approval processes that are being contemplated by the Government could be more of a deterrent than a way of connecting hearts to this sun-kissed isle.

It was reported over the weekend that the Government is set to resume the dual citizenship system this month, but applicants will face a tough screening procedure including a face-to-face interview with a panel headed by Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The other members in the panel will be Foreign Ministry Secretary Karunatillake Amunugama and Public Administration Secretary P.B. Abeykoon.

The panel is expected to look into criteria such as the applicant’s professional qualifications, investment capacity and the need to obtain dual citizenship. Persons applying for dual citizenship will first have to face an interview with a panel from the Immigration Department before facing the panel of the three Ministry secretaries; applications from people with criminal records will obviously not be entertained.

Since many of the people who are seeking dual citizenship have left the country in their youth the panel will be closely looking at the reason for their decision to return. According to the report some 2,000 applications for dual citizenship scheme are pending.

Given these high numbers, it would seem that since the end of the war many people who were living abroad are considering returning to their country of origin. This can be seen as a positive for Sri Lanka since such people, presumably, would want to invest and work in the country. This could mean new funds and expertise, which is especially important given the high number of professionals who are currently leaving these shores for better opportunities elsewhere. Moreover, the return of people, particularly of Tamil nationality, would boost the Government’s image and build better relationships with the diaspora community.

The dual citizenship scheme was introduced in 1987 and more than 4,000 people have been granted this facility in the past 26 years. Nonetheless, application numbers show that there is a greater interest in becoming a dual citizen of Sri Lanka since 2009. Perhaps the reason could be nothing more than the sentimental need to reconnect with their roots.

Be that as it may, the Government has to set in place a simple, transparent and efficient system that will not be stymied by waiting on top officials. The Defence Secretary is a busy man and one would think that he would find it difficult to reserve time to interview hundreds of applicants. Public officials that peruse the validity of the applications can make an informed call based on set criteria that will serve the purpose of both the country and individual.

What happens when it is time to renew the visa? Does that mean a second interview with Rajapaksa? How sustainable and pragmatic are the procedures that are being set in place and will they encourage more applications? Intimidating applicants is perhaps the surest route to reducing paperwork and interviews.

For applicants, the reasons for leaving would have been myriad, but they have decided to return. It is important that officials, often the creating a deep impression, should understand the applicants’ attachment to this island so that there can be a mutually-enriching connection. Give them a place to call home.