As of January 2020, there are some 220,000 Latvian non-citizens (nepilsoņi). What surprises me is that 3.5% of them are ethnic Poles (17.8% of the population group), another 2.4% are ethnic Lithuanians (20.6% of the population group), also a small number of Germans (18% of the population group). Their ties with an EU member state might make them eligible to be recognized as a citizen of that state, or have their citizenship of that state restored, which would make them EU citizens and put them in a more favorable legal position. I am wondering what is keeping these people—specifically those of now-EU origin—from either becoming naturalized Latvian citizens, or seeking recognition of their citizenship by their state of ethnicity.
Most nepilsoņi are citizens of other former Soviet republics who had their permanent residence in Latvia at the time Latvia regained its independence. About two thirds of them are ethnic Russians.
While explicitly not considered stateless under Latvian law, they are also not citizens of Latvia (or any other state). They do enjoy some rights, such as residence in Latvia, visa-free travel in the Schengen area and access to Latvian consulary services abroad, but cannot vote or run for public offices.
Of 735,000 nepilsoņi in 1995, some 138,000 got naturalized by 2011, while another 330,000 took on other citizenships. While this likely included some of the aforementioned groups, I have no figures on those, and the ones still left as of early 2020 might be those for whom these two were not an option.
Obstacles to acquiring Latvian citizenship
A 2003 survey among nepilsoņi found that the main reasons for not getting naturalized were:
- belief that they should be entitled to Latvian citizenship automatically, rather than having to seek naturalization
- hoping for the procedure to be simplified in the future
- easier travel to some other ex-Soviet states for nepilsoņi
- concerns about passing the required tests
- no particular need to become citizens
- lack of time
- naturalization being demeaning
- preference for citizenship other than Latvian
However, individual reasons may vary greatly between ethnic groups, which was not considered here. Also, the question focuses only on naturalization, not on exercising potential entitlements to other citizenships.
Obstacles to other EU citizenships
As obstacles to other EU citizenships I would see:
- legislation: not every national (by ethnicity) may be eligible for citizenship
- difficulty with proving eligibility (ethnicity or being a descendant of a citizen of that state)
- conscription, though that would only apply in certain cases (Germany has suspended conscription since 2011 but may reinstate it in case of war, Lithuania did so 2008–2015, conscription may not apply to females or people above a certain age, etc.)
- less stringent visa requirements when traveling to other ex-Soviet states, compared to EU citizens—though this particular group would be the least likely to benefit from that
However, I have no idea to what extent this is really a factor in people’s decisions.
So what is preventing these particular groups of nepilsoņi from seeking either naturalization in Latvia or recognition of another EU citizenship?