Encouraging progress in restoring citizen status of Lithuania’s Jewish diaspora

Changes in citizenship laws favour South African Jewry

Stefanie de Saude

The Lithuanian government has made promising progress in restoring citizenship for the country’s Jewish diaspora, many of whom are South Africans. Of South Africa's Jewish community, an estimated 80% are of Lithuanian descent, effectively making it the third largest Lithuanian diaspora in the world.

“The Jewish community in Lithuania - the Litvaks, as they are commonly known - shrunk dramatically from 220 000 in the 1930s, to 15 000 in the 1980s and a mere 5 000 today. The Lithuanian government, in a bid to restore the history and place of Litvaks in the country, has made special provisions for members of the Lithuanian diaspora wishing to acquire the citizenship status of their forefathers,” explains Cape Town-based immigration specialist Stefanie de Saude.

Until recently, Litvaks had increasingly seen their applications for citizenship rejected by the Lithuanian Migration Department. Applications made on the basis that the applicants' parents or grandparents were forced to leave the country because of specific internal or external dangers were suddenly not approved.

One would question whether the Lithuanian government would not do better in both its efforts of historic redress with the Jewish diaspora and its own economic ambitions to ensure its own policies and procedures encourage and enable the possible return of the Litvaks.

Recently, the president of Lithuania amended the Citizenship Act which favorably assists many Litvaks who submitted applications for Lithuanian citizenship by reinstatement and those whose applications were previously refused.  “According to the Chief Directorate of the Citizenship Section of the Migration Office, this amendment applies to all persons and their descendants (within three generations) who until 15 June 1940 were Lithuanian citizens and emigrated by 11 March 1990 from Lithuania, provided that they did not emigrate to the then Soviet Union.”

De Saude adds that, if an application has been refused on the basis that they did not satisfy the Lithuanian Ministry of Interior that the ancestor had fled or was exiled from Lithuania (and therefore excluded from holding dual citizenship), the applicant can immediately “re-instate” their applications for Lithuanian citizenship.

According to the Central State and Historical State “the processing of archival searches now takes on average two to four months from payment of the invoice to attend to the search.” It takes a further month to post the outcomes to South Africa via their postage system.

According to de Saude, the processing takes on average 15 – 24 months.  On a cautionary note, it is unlikely for the Migration Office to attend to an application within a year of the submission date. “If, they have any queries pertaining to the application, they will delay processing until all the queries have been attended to.  Because of the change in law and because the officials will be tasked with reconsidering all pending and refused applications, this may delay the processing of applications even further.”

It is important then to work with a firm that can confidently and competently manage your Lithuanian nationality affairs and see your applications all the way through to a successful outcome.

To find out more about how you can apply for Lithuanian citizenship, please visit www.desaudelaw.com

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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