“I was worried because I am nervous in general, but there [in the examination commission] everything was friendly, everything was clear, everything was fine. I didn't manage right away, there was one mistake, I settled the constitutional knowledge part [of the tests] a month later, but now I know it very well. The [language exam] was pretty easy. You know, there are no borders: you can work, edit, and correct the language. We have a lot of Latvian friends, and of course, we want to speak beautifully and clearly,” said Viktoria, who is currently halfway along the path from Russian to Latvian citizenship.
In September, Viktoria took the naturalization exam, and received confirmation in the final days of last year that she qualified for Latvian citizenship after being tested on her basic language, history and constitutional knowledge skills. In the case of a "non-citizen" that would bring the naturalization process to a close, but because she holds Russian citizenship she is now preparing to submit documents to the Russian embassy for the annulment of her former citizenship.
Dual citizenship is possible in Latvia for citizens of other EU and NATO member states, plus a few other countries with significant Latvia diaspora populations such as Australia and Brazil, but not with the Russian Federation.
Viktoria has been living in Latvia for 16 years. Her husband is a citizen of Latvia, as are their children. She had maintained Russian citizenship for so long for practical reasons to make it easier to visit her grandmother, mother, and brother in Russia.
The decision to apply for the Latvian passport was taken because of the political situation. She has Ukrainian friends, and with relatives living in Russia, the war in Ukraine is a major test.
A similar motivation has led Aleksandr, who came to work for Latvia 15 years ago, to be integrated into society here. Like Viktoria, Aleksandr decided to renounce Russian citizenship only in 2022.
This is an informed decision that reflects his attitude to what is happening in Russia, said Aleksandr. “I submitted the documents to the Russian embassy. And after I have a document that I am not a Russian citizen, only then will I have a Latvian passport. Maybe some sort of inspection, special services … [it's a] long process. I hope I will have [Latvian citizenship] sometime in the summer. I know one Russian girl who's been living here for a long time, she's been looking forward to abolishing Russian citizenship for half a year. For more than half a year. She passed the exam at the beginning of March,” Aleksandr said.
Renouncing Russian citizenship is not a simple process, but Viktoria and Aleksandr are not the only ones prepared to go through it. The interest of Russian citizens in acquiring Latvian citizenship has increased significantly in the past year.
This was confirmed by Madara Puķe, head of public relations for the Citizenship and Migration Affairs Office (PMLP): "There is a huge increase in interest. After the beginning of the war in Ukraine, we have seen the number of calls from Russian-speaking people significantly increase, as well as written emails and submissions. All informational days during which we explain how to pass the citizenship exam are only visited by Russian citizens or Latvian non-citizens.
"The citizens of Ukraine, Lithuania, and other countries came before the war, but this year the interest of Russian citizens has grown significantly. I talked to my colleagues, they said double. More than double compared to last year and the situation before the war."
During the first 11 months of last year, 111 Russian citizens gained citizenship via naturalization, while 312 holders of Russian passports a wrote an application to initiate the naturalization process.
In order to receive Latvian citizenship, applicants must not only live in Latvia with a permanent residence permit and be able to present a legal source of income for the last five years, but also pass the same naturalization examination as "non-citizens" of the Republic of Latvia. So they have to be able to demonstrate Latvian skills at B1 level.
"Our informative days are visited very actively this year by Russian citizens, who are unfortunately very weak [in language] or absent in practice. Whether the applications will also result in citizenship, is difficult for us to predict at this time. Submitting an application is one thing, but successfully passing the Latvian language exam is another issue," the PMLP spokeswoman said.
The path for obtaining citizenship for Russian citizens is so long that we will only see the results for last year's increase in interest this year, said Puķe.
“The process is very long, and it is up to the Russian citizens to consider this. This is longer than with other countries. It is difficult to say whether it is related to legislation or simply to the speed of work among the state apparatus on the Russian side,” Puķe said.
According to PMLP data, 622 people with non-citizen passports of the Republic of Latvia have also expressed their desire for Latvian citizenship during the 11 months of 2022. In this segment, the interest in the citizenship of Latvia has not increased significantly last year, remaining roughly the same as before the Ukraine war.