Source: Vientiane Times
Several years ago, the Lao government introduced a policy to reward qualified foreign expatriates in Laos with citizenship if they so desired. Laos also gives family books and ID cards to foreigners who do not want to denounce their original citizenship.
Over the years, a number of foreign expatriates in Laos have requested and been granted citizenship on submission of an official request. Citizenship entitles them to enjoy fundamental rights as a Lao citizen.
Citizenship has been awarded to foreigners who meet 11 criteria as detailed in the Law on Lao Nationality, Director General of the National Assembly’s Department of Petition and Naturalisation, Mr. Khamsing Xaysompheng, has said.
The criteria for granting Lao nationality fall into two categories one for applicants of foreign origin and another for people of Lao origin who left the country and renounced their nationality but now wish to become Lao citizens again.
Under the law’s Article 14, people of foreign origin who apply for Lao nationality are required to renounce their original nationality and must prove they have lived in Laos for at least 10 consecutive years.
Foreigners under the age of 18 are not eligible. Applicants must be able to speak, read and write Lao to a proficient level.
Applicants must also prove that they are healthy and do not carry a serious communicable disease, are not addicted to drugs and are not a convicted criminal. Applicants must possess professional skills and have a career with a secure economic status.
Highly-educated foreign experts are given special privileges as they are required to demonstrate a shorter period of residence in Laos.
A foreigner who marries a Lao citizen will also be given a shorter time requirement concerning his or her residence in Laos.
Children of foreigners who have been granted Lao citizenship will automatically become Lao nationals if they are under 18 years of age. Children who are 18 by the time their parents are granted Lao nationality will not be automatically eligible.
People of Lao origin who renounced their Lao nationality and have become citizens of another country will be required to live in Laos for a shorter term of five consecutive years if they wish to become Lao citizens once more.
People of Lao origin who renounced their Lao nationality but have not yet been granted foreign citizenship will be required to live in Laos for three consecutive years before they can submit an application to request Lao citizenship.
Lao nationals who left the country for more than seven years without permission will have their Lao nationality renounced. Those Lao nationals who departed Laos with permission but refused to come back within an appropriate time and lost contact with the Lao authorities for more than seven years will also have their Lao nationality renounced.
The application process begins with local authorities where the application form must be submitted, then onward through the relevant ministries and the government before final submission to the NA’s Standing Committee for approval.
The number of people seeking Lao nationality has declined in recent years compared to a decade ago. In 2009, as many as 317 foreigners were granted Lao nationality along with another three of Lao origin who previously renounced their Lao nationality but wished to have it reinstated.
In 2014, just 19 foreigners were granted Lao citizenship, according to the National Assembly.
Most of those awarded Lao nationality were traders and business people who met the criteria, according to Mr. Khamsing.
In addition to its citizenship policy, the Lao government gives red family books and ID cards to foreigners who do not want to renounce their existing citizenship status.
Over the past three years, 2,802 family books have been issued to foreigners, enabling them to live permanently in Laos, according to the Ministry of Public Security.
Foreigners who meet the required criteria, including living in Laos for at least seven years, complying with the country’s laws and contributing to socio-economic development, can apply for a red family book. Lao nationals have a blue family book.
Applicants who meet the criteria and want to apply for a family book can do so via the relevant sectors, Lieutenant Colonel Mailar Soukkhaseum of the Family Book and ID Cards Issuance for Foreigner Division under the Ministry of Public Security said recently.
Once the Minister of Public Security has approved the application, the family book can be issued, he added.
Some 2,802 family books, naming 6,444 family members including 2,884 females, have been issued over the past three years. Some were newly issued, while others were provided to replace old ones.
Foreigners are not required to renew their family books but are required to apply for a new one when there are changing circumstances, such as an increase in the number of family members or a new place of residence.
Those holding a family book are eligible to apply for an ID card. Foreigners are required to renew their ID card every five years. Once ID card holders reach the age of 60 they do not have to renew the card, which continues to remain valid, Lieutenant Colonel Mailar said.
In total, 3,198 ID cards have been issued to foreigners over the past three years.
Both family books and ID cards give foreign holders the permanent living permits that enable them to enjoy their stay in Laos.
However, the foreign holders will not equally enjoy fundamental rights as Lao people do, for instance they are not eligible to buy land among other things.
Those foreigners marrying to a Lao woman or man are also required to follow the same rules if they want to apply for in order to enjoy a permanent resident permit in Laos, the Lieutenant Colonel said.