New citizenship law takes effect in Russia

By Ramesh Ganohariti (University of Leiden)

On 26 October 2023, a new citizenship law took effect in Russia. The new law has been in the works since December 2021 and was signed by the President in April 2023. It replaces the heavily amended 2002 Law on citizenship. Some of the crucial changes include provisions regulating the acquisition of citizenship by birth, naturalisation, simplified citizenship acquisition, citizenship deprivation, and dual and multiple citizenship.

The number of categories for acquisition of citizenship by birth has expanded. For example, a new pathway has been made for child born to stateless or foreign parents on a vessel flying the Russian flag to acquire Russian citizenship if they would otherwise remain stateless (Art. 13-2).

By contrast, individuals naturalising in Russia through the ‘ordinary’ route must prove their knowledge of Russian history and law (Art. 15-3), in addition to the existing conditions of 5 years of residence, knowledge of Russian language, and the absence of obstacles for becoming a Russian citizen (e.g., violent attempts to overthrow Russian constitutional order, terrorist acts, etc.).

Conditions for marriage-based citizenship acquisition have also become more stringent. In the past, citizenship via marriage was granted after three years of marriage (2002, Art. 14-2-б). The time period has been abolished, but the couple must have a common child for the non-Russian partner to acquire citizenship through marriage (Art. 16-2-5).

Furthermore, categories for the simplified acquisition of citizenship have been amended. The law no longer grants simplified access to citizenship for investors/entrepreneurs (2002, Art. 14-2-ж&з). The simplified pathway to citizenship for “Russian speakers” (2002, Arts. 14-2.1 & 33.1) citizens of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova, and Ukraine (2002, Art. 14-2-л) has been cancelled. Instead, the new law grants simplified access to citizens for individuals who are descendants of individuals permanently residing in the USSR or Russian Empire (Art. 16-2-3).            

In contrast to the more stringent approach to citizenship acquisition, the number of grounds for the deprivation of citizenship (acquired via naturalisation/recognition) has expanded and become more detailed. It includes deprivation based on security reasons, such as (attempting to) commit a crime or engaging in actions that threaten national security (Arts. 24 & 26). No such regulations existed in the 2002 law.

Differentiation between dual citizenship and multiple citizenship has been codified (Art. 4). Under the new law, a dual citizen is defined as “a citizen of the Russian Federation having citizenship of a foreign state with which the Russian Federation has concluded an international treaty on dual citizenship”. Meanwhile, an individual with multiple citizenship is defined as “a citizen of the Russian Federation having citizenship of a foreign state with which the Russian Federation has not concluded an international treaty on dual citizenship”. In practice, this distinction was made in the past despite not being codified in the citizenship law. Currently, Russia has dual citizenship agreements with Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Tajikistan. Individuals falling under the scope of these agreements have specific privileges in Russia compared to those with a citizenship from another country.

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