Bratislava, Slovakia – It’s said that good things come to those who wait. For Slovak descendants worldwide yearning for a maroon Slovak passport, that good thing finally came.
This year, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Slovak citizens and Czechoslovak citizens from the territory of modern-day Slovakia will qualify for Slovak citizenship by descent.
After several false starts since May, 2021, on February 16, the Slovak parliament finally passed its new Slovak Citizenship Act in a crucial second vote and a perfunctory third vote on the same day. All that remains is for Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová to sign the bill, which could happen any day now.
The new law could be implemented as April 1, 2022.
As we previously wrote in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Slovak descendants and stakeholders have been carefully following this initially little-noticed citizenship by descent provision with keen interest for more than a year and a half.
The bill passed with its generous third generation (great-grandchildren) eligibility preserved intact and even some improvements, as discussed below.
Who exactly qualifies?
The citizenship by descent provision is estimated to make up to 800,000 Americans alone eligible for Slovak citizenship, and 1.5 million worldwide. After the United States, the countries with the most populous Slovak diaspora are neighbouring Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, and Serbia.
Citizenship in Slovakia offers right of settlement and work authorization throughout the EU, including popular American stomping grounds such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Croatia.
A Slovak passport gives its holder visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to a whopping 182 countries.
Per the new amendment, qualifying applicants will be children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Slovak citizens and Czechoslovak citizens born on the territory of the modern-day Slovak Republic. An important element is that this qualifying ancestor must have been a citizen of Czechoslovakia at some point.
Note: an applicant’s ancestor who lost his/her Slovak or Czechoslovak citizenship would still be a qualifying ancestor for the purposes of this bill, and there is no requirement that the qualifying ancestor have been of Slovak ethnicity.
Furthermore, there is neither a Slovak language requirement nor Slovak cultural knowledge requirement for applicants in the above-mentioned Slovak descendant class. This mirrors big brother Czechia’s lack of jus culturae requirement in its recent 2019 citizenship amendment.
However, unlike with the Czech citizenship by descent provision, Slovakia’s new act does not legally entitle its eligible applicants to Slovak citizenship. Slovak authorities still retain an element of discretion in adjudicating naturalization applications.
The “residency issue” partially resolved
An unfortunate thorn on this Slovak legislative floret is that it contains a residency requirement for applicants. Technically, the citizenship by descent provision only applies to those who have permitted stay in Slovakia (meaning that they hold a residence permit), a requirement that some have petitioned hard to remove through discussions with Parliament members, email campaigns, written petitions, media interviews and the power of pen.
The language of the residence requirement remains in the amendment, but with an enormous hollowing concession made to applicants. According to Milan Vétrak, a member of Parliament who has been at the forefront of discussions with the various stakeholders within the Slovak government, immigration authorities have agreed to alleviate a number of the hassles associated with residency applications.
Potential applicants are to be allowed to apply for residence permits as part of their naturalization application, from the Slovak embassy in their home country. This concession would relieve applicants of the burden to undergo a two-part process (residency and then citizenship), as well as eliminate the need for applicants to have physical presence in Slovakia as part of their application.
The reported reasoning behind this solution of keeping the abbreviated residency requirement, is that it would facilitate increased vetting of potential applicants.
Consolation prize for non-qualifying Slovak descendants
Due to the non-existence of a sovereign Slovak state under the Austro-Hungarian empire, some descendants of ethnic Slovaks who never became Slovak or Czechoslovak citizens unfortunately will not qualify for citizenship by descent under the new amendment.
These desirous Slovak descendants who miss one or more eligibility requirements above may still qualify for the lesser-known Slovak Living Abroad (SLA) Certificate which offers right of residence in Slovakia and a shortened three-year path to naturalization.
Unlike the recent Slovak citizenship amendment, there is no generational limit for qualifying ancestors. Therefore, an applicant with a Slovak great-great-grandmother (or even beyond) would likely be eligible to apply for an SLA. Another important distinction is that for an SLA, an applicant must demonstrate that his or her qualifying relative was of Slovak ethnicity rather than a Slovak or Czechoslovak citizen.
Improvements to the bill
At the 11th hour, an unexpected but welcome pathway towards Slovak citizenship eligibility was added for certain exceptional Slovaks living abroad.
SLA holders that make “extraordinary contributions” to their respective diasporic communities will be able to apply for Slovak citizenship by descent under the same conditions as those with qualifying ancestors.
Consideration for such an application is to be made after endorsement of the SLA office by letter of recommendation.
Preparation and finer eligibility issues
Given that the legislation hasn’t been implemented yet, Slovak authorities have not yet released any guidelines regarding how they intend to determine a qualifying ancestor’s Czechoslovak or Slovak citizenship.
However, we believe that strong evidence of a qualifying ancestor’s Czechoslovak or Slovak citizenship would be a Czechoslovak/Slovak passport or a Czechoslovak/Slovak birth certificate.
In the absence of the above-mentioned evidence, demonstrating the relevant circumstances (i.e. birth in the territory of modern-day Slovakia and emigration in 1910 or afterwards) is believed to suffice to fulfil the requirement, although Slovak authorities will have the ultimate say.
Due to citizenship treaties of Czechoslovakia’s predecessor, the Austro-Hungarian empire, 1910 is believed to be the earliest date a qualifying ancestor could have left the territory of modern-day Slovakia and still become a Czechoslovak citizen in absentia for at least one day, thus fulfilling a critical eligibility requirement discussed above. There are some small exceptions to this rule.
Note: these authors believe there is a possible alternate interpretation of Slovak law in which descendants of qualifying ancestors who left the territory of modern-day Slovakia as early as 1904 may also qualify for citizenship by descent.
Lastly, as with all legal matters, aspiring Slovak citizens are encouraged to seek individualized consultation regarding their specific situation.
By Parviz Malakouti-Fitzgerald and Samuel Durovcik
Parviz Malakouti-Fitzgerald is a Los Angeles-based immigration attorney at the Law Office of Parviz Malakouti and an adjunct professor of immigration law at Nevada State College.
Samuel Durovcik is a law student at Masaryk University’s Faculty of Law in Brno, Czech Republic studying administrative and citizenship Law. Samuel is a native of Bratislava, Slovakia.