Naturalisation

The Centre for Public Interest Law, Jindal Global Law School is currently offering the year-long Clinic on Citizenship and Statelessness, where the students are developing research outputs on citizenship issues in India and assessing the citizenship determination framework under international law. This research note, prepared by Pritha Paul, is part of the clinic’s outcomes.

Naturalisation refers to the incorporation of migrants usually displaced due to economic, political, or environmental reasons, among others, or immigrants looking for better living conditions or educational and employment prospects in the state they move to. It is a process promising not only recognition of their socio-economic contributions but also improved socio-economic opportunities. Historically, the word ‘naturalisation’ is derived from Middle French ‘naturaliser’ which means “to admit (an alien) to rights of a citizen”.

Jus soli was the guiding principle of the eighteenth century feudal European citizenship until the French Revolution reintroduced the Roman jus sanguinis principle. Both proved inadequate when the two World Wars left numerous migrants, refugees, and stateless persons in foreign lands without protection under the laws of that state. Naturalisation provided an opportunity to people, who were neither born within a State nor had ancestral ties to it, to become citizens solely by virtue of their personal connection formed with the State. Such connections could be established through residence, intention to settle, or a lack of ties to other countries. However, most states hold elaborate and intrusive tests to scrutinise this connection. For instance, Denmark has prescribed housing, residence, employment, language, and lifestyle requirements.

In India, naturalisation is one of the five ways in which one may become an Indian citizen, governed by section 6 of the Citizenship Act of 1955. To be eligible for naturalisation, one must be of good character, reside in India for a period of eleven years, and speak any of the official Indian languages. Upon being granted Indian citizenship, one must renounce any prevailing citizenship, take an oath of allegiance, and reside in or serve India. Initially, one had to renounce one’s existing citizenship upon applying for naturalisation. This had the potential to render one temporarily or permanently stateless depending on the approval or rejection of the application, respectively. Hence, the change is appreciable. However, in a lower-middle income country like India, an application fee of Rs. 1500 and requirement of language proficiency create invisible barriers for poor and illiterate migrants. Contrarily, the privileged who have a symbiotic relationship with the state are overindulged. The state may waive any or all naturalisation requirements for “distinguished” persons. Proficiency in a local language can propel social and economic integration. However, in their home state, persecuted persons are often systematically denied education and employment. In the host state, they are put in isolated squalid detention camps without basic facilities as has been seen in the case of Rohingyas. Even when free to live in the community, they are compelled to settle in the peripheries, like the Afghans in Delhi. For such people, it is nearly impossible to fulfil the naturalisation requirements.

Naturalisation tests ensure not only a low number of naturalised persons but also fewer applicants out of fear of failure, which perhaps is the primary aim of the tests. Between 2011 and 2020, merely 1380 foreigners were granted Indian citizenship through naturalisation. Moreover, the Act, through the 2003 amendment, made “illegal migrants” completely ineligible for Indian citizenship through registration or naturalisation. The unwillingness of the State to incorporate migrants leaves them in a limbo. Most of them cannot be deported due to the principle of non-refoulement. They remain in India for the rest of their lives, but as non-citizens.

Section 6, however, is not applicable to the state of Assam, which is governed by section 6A of the Act. Unlike Section 6, which applies to all persons regardless of their origin, Sections 6A and 6B create special pathways to citizenship for persons migrating from Bangladesh. It ‘regularizes’ i.e. grants immediate citizenship to those who entered Assam from Bangladesh before 1966. Persons who entered between 1966 and 1971 are conferred all qualities of a citizen except the right to vote until ten years from the day of their detection as a “foreigner.” After ten years, they too are regularised. Those who were expelled but managed to re-enter illegally before 1971 or those who entered after 1971 are to be deported. This special provision created two artificial distinctions by:

  1. Granting regularisation to Bangladeshi migrants who entered Assam before 1971 but not to those who entered other bordering states,
  2. Allowing “illegal migrants” who entered India before 2003 to naturalise under Section 6 but not those who entered Assam after 1971.

Additionally, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2019, excludes non-Muslims who entered India from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh before 2015 from the category of “illegal migrants.” It eases their residency requirement from eleven years to five years. The ease is a welcome move. However, the country and religion based classifications are non-secular, arbitrary, and unreasonable.  Many have argued that they violate the Indian Constitution which guarantees certain fundamental rights to all persons irrespective of their citizenship status.

A state cannot be compelled to grant citizenship. However, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 includes in Article 15, “Everyone has the right to a nationality”. The UDHR has become customary international law binding on all states. Granting nationality through naturalisation is an important step in eliminating statelessness. Since India has an obligation towards reducing statelessness under customary international law and other international treaties, India must facilitate naturalisation of stateless persons. A provision obstructing “illegal migrants” from naturalisation is in tension with international law. Articles 31 and 34 of the 1951 Refugee Convention and Article 32 of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons instruct easing the naturalisation process for refugees and stateless persons. Ireland has reduced residency requirements for refugees and waived naturalisation certificate fee for refugees and stateless persons.

As a good practice, one may refer to Prabhleen Kaur v. Union Of India. The only country the petitioner had any real connection to under Section 8 of the Foreigners Act, 1946 was India. Denying her Indian citizenship was held a violation of Article 15 of the UDHR. The court stated that her good character evidenced in her school and college certificates, her knowledge of the nation and her being a part of a community entitle her to be naturalised under Section 6(1) of the Act and she cannot be denied citizenship.These are the factors generally looked at while granting Indian citizenship.

With the refugee crisis and statelessness becoming global phenomena, naturalisation is becoming increasingly important as a means for non-citizens to find a safe space and a community in a strange land. Ironically, the process does exactly the opposite of what it promises, acting as a constant reminder of the ‘otherness’ that one must shed for a mere chance at approval and acceptance. India must remove the restriction on “illegal migrants” and ease the naturalisation requirements for refugees and stateless persons, irrespective of religion and country. This would only be a small step towards ensuring equity and fairness.

Suggested readings:

  1. Katherine Tonkiss, ‘What’s So Bad about Citizenship Testing?’ (E-International Relations, 28 November 2014) https://www.e-ir.info/2014/11/28/whats-so-bad-about-citizenship-testing/ accessed 24 November.
  1. Oded Löwenheim & Orit Gazit, ‘Power and Examination: A Critique of Citizenship Tests’ (2009) 40(2) Security Dialogue.
  1. Albert Kraler, Migration and Citizenship: Legal Status, Rights and Political Participation (Amsterdam University Press 2006) ch 2.
  1. Pritam Baruah, ‘Not Just Equality, the CAA Betrays Constitutional Values of Dignity, Integrity’ The Wire (27 December 2019) https://thewire.in/rights/caa-constitution-equality accessed 24 November 2020.
  1. Vatsal Raj, ‘Statelessness in India – Seeking Solutions in International Law’ (Cambridge International Law Journal, 11 February 2020) http://cilj.co.uk/2020/02/11/statelessness-in-india-seeking-solutions-in-international-law/#:~:text=Migration%20is%20a%20phenomenon%20of%20human%20civilisation.&text=The%20solution%20lies%20in%20the,dictate%20the%20laws%20of%20citizenship accessed 24 November 2020.
  1. Asha Bangar, ‘Statelessness in India’ (2017) Statelessness Working Paper Series No. 2017/02 https://files.institutesi.org/WP2017_02.pdf accessed 24 November 2020.
  1. Oxford Handbook of Citizenship (Oxford University Press 2017) ch 16.
  1. Graziella Bertocchi and Chiara Strozzi, ‘The Evolution of Citizenship: Economic and Institutional Determinants’ (2006) IZA Discussion Paper No. 2510 http://ftp.iza.org/dp2510.pdf accessed 24 November 2020.
  1. Ministry of Home Affairs, ‘Procedure For Applying Online For Indian Citizenship’ https://indiancitizenshiponline.nic.in/Ic_GeneralInstruction.pdf accessed 24 November 2020.

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