Since September 2019, Czechia has allowed the descendants of former Czech and Czechoslovak citizens to the second generation (grandchildren) to claim citizenship by descent, thanks to Section 31(3) of an amendment to the Act on the Citizenship of the Czech Republic (“ACCR”). Former citizens have been allowed to claim their lost Czech or Czechoslovak citizenship since the new Czech Citizenship Act was passed into law back in 2014.
Czechia’s 2019 amendment is the penultimate law among the Visegrád countries furthering the region’s complete trend towards liberalization of citizenship by descent. As we wrote in March, Czechia’s southern neighbor, Slovakia, is currently on deck with its pending citizenship draft amendment proposing citizenship by descent to third generation descendants (great-grandchildren).
Key Eligibility Point of Czech Article 31(3) Amendment
Article 31(3) applies to children and grandchildren of Czech or Czechoslovak citizens, given that those ancestors have lost their citizenship at some point.
An important element of this law is that these descendants may claim their citizenship “by declaration” which means they are legally entitled to citizenship, taking discretion out of the hands of Czech authorities in the adjudication of the application (so long as they meet the formal requirements). Furthermore, this means applicants neither have to provide evidence of good character nor possess any Czech language skills.
The condition of loss of Czech/Czechoslovak citizenship means that this provision generally provides eligibility to two categories of applicants:
- those whose ancestors emigrated to countries, which had signed treaties with Czechoslovakia banning dual citizenship (most notably the United States and almost all USSR-sphere-of-influence countries); and
- those whose parents naturalized abroad after the Czech Republic became independent in 1993.
As a practical matter, a common scenario would look like this. In 1922, a Czechoslovak citizen (“Mr. Novak”) from the area now part of modern day Czechia leaves Czechoslovakia to emigrate to Chicago, Illinois. Mr. Novak is present in the United States until naturalizing in the United States, thereby losing his Czechoslovak citizenship. Fast forward to today, and as descendants of this former Czechoslovak citizen, Mr. Novak’s children and grandchildren would likely qualify under Czechia’s Section 31(3).
So by now, planeloads of newly minted dual Czech-American citizens should be raring to raid the streets of Prague to drink fake absinthe and stuff their faces with trdelník, right?
Not so fast.
New Data Reveals Anemic Naturalization Rate with New Law
Thanks to a recent Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request by the authors of this article, the numbers released by the Czech Ministry of Interior show that since the ACCR was amended in September 2019 to include the descendants of former citizens (per Section 31(3)), only 280 applicants worldwide have successfully applied during the period of September, 2019 to April 9th, 2021 (the termination of the FOIA’s date range). Unfortunately, the figures in the FOIA do not reveal the total number of applications made during the same timeframe.
For context, in the United States alone, over 1.2 million people claimed full or partial Czech descent in the 2000 U.S. National census.
With presumably at least tens of thousands of eligible applicants worldwide, stunningly only the equivalent of a university lecture hall’s attendance have successfully applied for Czech citizenship under Section 31(3).
Possible Causes for Slow Pace of Naturalizations
Despite the recent global economic downturn, one assumes that Czechia’s Section 31(3)’s $23 citizenship application fee is not cost prohibitive for applicants.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle for potential applicants is the fact that the statute requires loss of citizenship on the ancestor’s part. As mentioned earlier, this only occurred in cases in which Czech/Czechoslovak ancestors who emigrated to certain countries antagonistic to dual citizenship at the time. Counterintuitive to our typical notions of citizenship by descent, under Czech Section 31(3), an applicant only qualifies if their ancestor lost their Czechoslovak or Czech citizenship by any means.
Nevertheless, as one of those countries is the United States, which possesses the largest Czech diaspora in the world, it is astounding that more Czech/Czechoslovak descendants have not utilized this option of citizenship by descent to gain permanent access to Europe.
From their experience discussing this Czech law with dozens of Czechoslovak and Czech ancestors, these authors believe that applicant doubt regarding eligibility may be resulting in a low application rate.
Another possible contributing factor may be a lack of knowledge of family history among potentially qualifying applicants. Quite simply, many would-be applicants are not even aware that they are the descendant of a former Czechoslovak citizen.
Key to Screening: Determining the Last Czech/Czechoslovak Citizen in an Applicant’s Family Line
With the investment migration market growing in the United States, it is reasonable to assume that potential CBI clients will start to take a harder look at the family tree in their bid to acquire mobility assets.
For the purposes of Czech Section 31(3), investment migration professionals should screen clients who may have Central European ancestry. Extra attention should be given to screening clients from Czech-heavy areas of Chicago, Illinois, and the state of Texas.
Professionals should also take extra care with the tricky business of determining which ancestor in an applicant’s lineal history was the last in the line to have had Czechoslovak or Czech citizenship, as that qualifying relative is often not the last relative born in Czechoslovakia. Such a determination often determines an analysis of bilateral citizenship treaties requiring the expertise of a professional.
Lastly, any indication from a client that they have ancestry from any of the Visegrád Four (Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, and Hungary) should serve as a big blue and gold-starred flag that the client should be properly and thoroughly screened for citizenship-by-descent eligibility.