A couple of our colleagues at Latvian Radio and LSM are on their way to becoming Latvian citizens after spending their lives so far as "non citizens" with an "alien passport". Here's the second part of their journey towards becoming full-fledged Latvian citizens.
Where does one's homeland begin?
That's a question we've answered, more or less, in our first blog. The next question is - where does one's state begin?
Does it begin with the flag or the national anthem? The official language? Or is it where its borders lie, the borders across which cargo and passengers, and sometimes contraband and tired Vietnamese migrants are carried?
Or perhaps it is with folk songs, history, the number of residents, marriages, newborns, seniors or taxpayers?
Maybe. But very often the state begins with sitting in a hall on worn out chairs, waiting for bureaucratic procedures to take place.
Anna: Submitted the documents on her second attempt
When you dial 8300, the number of the Citizenship and Migration Affairs Office (PMLP), it's very likely you'll be told that the law requires non-citizens to bring the following documents:
- A 3x4 cm photo.
- A declaration of residence.
- A statement proving you're earning legal income.
- A note from your current employer.
When I asked for more info, I was forwarded to the Naturalization Authority.
A few years ago my friend A., who is currently a citizen, posted the following on her Facebook wall:
"…It's a rhetorical question as to why the Naturalization Authority cannot ask the statement proving your earnings from the State Revenue Service [VID] or the State Social Insurance Agency [VSAA]. It's important to them that you visit all of your previous employers to ask for a mythical paper that you had worked there, so that no one has any doubt that you're earning a citizen's passport."
Afterwards my girlfriend A. collected the 'mythical' statements (employers weren't well-informed as to how you should write them) from all of her previous jobs. It turned out that she was sent on the mission not by the Naturalization Authority, which is a separate department of the migration authority, but by 'general' PMLP consultants that serve all of the clients. Barring a simple misunderstanding, each occasion warrants different documents. They can be reviewed competently only by the Naturalization Authority.
For example, if a non-citizen has studied in school during the time Latvia is independent, he only needs to bring a certificate of graduation.
But that's not always the case.
My bilingual education (in Russian and Latvian) was not enough. According to the law, studies should be done in Latvian, and only Latvian. However PMLP said that in some cases they can check which subjects were taught in the official state language, as it's possible you've studied just enough.
But what scared me was not the exam but rather something else. Just like my friend A., I had changed jobs in the last five years. It turned out however that the only, sole statement you need is from the current employer, while the rest is confirmed by the income certificate you can obtain at VSAA.
In a nutshell:
- Obtaining an income statement, with the stamp and all, took about five minutes. That includes the time I spent after obtaining a queue number at the freshly built VID headquarters. It also houses a VSAA office.
- Obtaining for an employer's note took a week.
- A 3x4 cm photo took ten minutes and cost €5.
- Handing in the documents at PMLP took fifteen minutes and cost €28.46 (the so-called state fee).
But - you can only pay by card. I went there on a Friday prior to closing and without any money in my card but with cash on me. I had to return on Monday and try to submit the documents once more.
While the first question that my girlfriend asked long ago, is still unanswered.
Why should you submit any documents if PMLP employees will still run extensive checks on you for months to come?
It's necessary for PMLP employees to know where to start, said Naturalization Authority head Igors Gorbunovs on the condition of anonymity (my anonymity, not his--I asked the question as a journalist not as a person undergoing naturalization).
The state institutions have no joint database. PMLP employees only know the personal code [akin to a social security number, ed.] and the passport number (knowing this is directly tied to their duties) but the rest about the client remains a tabula rasa to them. They don't know whether the client has studied in Latvia or abroad, or whether he or she is currently employed. The government is trying to create a joint database like this.
Gorbunovs also said that such databases cannot be all-encompassing either way.
The state is a machine, and its henchmen oil its cogs and polish its mechanical heart. All for the cause of not letting it stop. That's when the residents will feel safe, improve the demographic statistics and won't start looking for a life where the grass is greener. At least we're being told so.
However the reality is a bit different. A (non-)citizen is still making his way through myriads of executive directorates, tax services, committee offices and thousands of ever-changing ministries X and state agencies Y.
You can submit to or defy the government machine. You can help improve its operations or interfere with them. But the fact remains: bureaucracy is an essential component of this chaotic system. What I can offer against it is just a simple "lifehack":
As concerns citizenship matters, call the Naturalization Authority directly.
Ksenija: Submitted the documents on her first attempt
In my life there's no visible difference between citizens and non-citizens. On the pre-election night both are saying there's no one to vote for and often sigh angrily, "Why am I even paying my taxes?!" Both were watching in abject terror as the Zolitūde disaster at the Maxima store was unfolding. Both gave donations to Latvia's paralympic athletes and rejoiced in their successes.
In over twenty years of my life there were three times when I fully experienced what it means to not have a citizenship. The first time the chance to visit London passed me by. The second time I couldn't go support my girlfriend--one of the people whose dreams of a beautiful life in the United Kingdom turned to deep depression without the chance to drop everything and return. The third time was when I started collecting naturalization documents for the first, unlucky attempt to become a citizen.
The worst part about everything related to state institutions, to me, is collecting documents.
I can only join Anna in saying that the right thing to do is call the Naturalization Authority straight away and learn everything directly from them. The employee on the other end deduced right away that I had studied in Latvian and, in all likelihood, I won't have to pass the language exam, when I said "Hi, I would like to learn what documents I need for naturalization". She added that all I'll need is a graduation certificate and an employer's note.
The diploma from full-time studies at the University of Latvia proves that I had been in Latvia for three straight years and that I know the language well enough. An employer's note served both as proof that I'm in Latvia and that I have a legal source of income. (I must add that in some cases extra proof that you're residing in Latvia might be needed.)
If I had known it from the start, I might have saved the month I spent procrastinating as I did not want to collect documents in every nook and cranny of Rīga.
Right after Christmas I received the employer's note about my status in Latvian Radio, and I had already removed the baccalaureate diploma from its place of honor on the shelf. (The time spent on making the statement depends on the lawyer making it.)
At work, when I asked if I could leave earlier to make it to PMLP, I was told - yes, you can, if you finish the day's work earlier. That's why Anna and I arrived at PMLP 20 minutes before closing time. There were many people in the building, but, at the time when I was almost sure we'd have to repeat the visit, my number rang from the speakers and a young employee started processing my application.
As he was entering the number of my diploma in the database, I studied a brochure about becoming a Latvian citizen. I must say that it cannot be read without a good command of Latvian.
It also happened that PMLP employees were suspicious about my status as an external correspondent.
They asked me to write an explanation about where exactly I had been all that time and what it actually means.
In the end the young PMLP employee explained the exam procedure to me and handed a list of questions. He said that if I pass the exam on the first try I'll get my beautiful, red Latvian citizen's passport after half a year.
The process was generally quick and painless, even though the working hours of the PMLP department are not suited for an average working person who has exacting superiors.
Only the small things are left -- committing the answers to the 134 questions to memory and making it uninterrupted to the examination place on the day I'll take the exam. The examination place is in one of the most legendary places of the city--the Maskavas Forštate suburb, near a tunnel nicknamed "the dressing room".