Albania to grant citizenship to Ethnic Albanians in the neighbourhood and diaspora

By Albania & Kosovo Country Expert Gezim Krasniqi,

Until recently, the Albanian citizenship regime was one of the last remaining regimes in the region of Southeast Europe that did not apply the post-territorial principle of ethnic selectivity. Despite the fact that the Albanian state is surrounded by more than 2 million ethnic Albanians living in the neighbouring states of Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Greece, the Albanian citizenship regime has historically been based on the principles of territory and residence and not on ethnicity. The 1998 Albanian Law on Citizenship both allows dual citizenship and does not contain ethno-centric formulations and provisions, a fact that has been widely praised by international organisations and seen with suspicion and a certain sense of disappointment by Albania’s co-ethnics in the successor states of Yugoslavia.

However, following a recent decision by the Albanian government, the country is set on course of joining other neighbouring states in granting citizenship to co-ethnics living in neighbouring states and to the wider Albanian diaspora, based on ethnic selectivity criteria. The outgoing Prime Minister Sali Berisha had already made public his plans of granting citizenship to ethnic Albanians worldwide in late 2012. However, this was widely seen as a political move by a conservative and populist leader who, faced with growing popular discontent over corruption scandals and economic failures, sought to use the nationalist and patriotic euphoria surrounding the Albanian statehood centenary (on 28 November 2012) for an electoral purpose. In fact, his nationalist statements, made on the occasion of Albanian national day celebrations and his subsequent proposal to grant citizenship to all Albanians were met with scepticism and criticism both inside the country, in the region and internationally.

Nonetheless, the announcement was received with great interest among Kosovo Albanians, who remain the only citizens in the Western Balkans who still need a visa to travel within the European Union, a requirement that could be circumvented through obtaining Albanian citizenship.

Despite the change of government in the June 2013 elections, the outgoing government of Sali Berisha adopted decree no.554 on” Procedures for the Recognition and Acquisition of Albanian Citizenship by Persons of Albanian Origin, Excluding Citizens of the Republic of Kosovo.” on 3 July 2013. The three categories of persons concerned by the decree are: a) persons born of at least one parent of Albanian citizenship or origin who possessed Albanian citizenship at the moment of birth of the claimant, regardless of the place of birth; b) persons whose ancestors were in possession of Albanian citizenship and are no longer alive at the time of request, provided that the claimant can prove a direct descent from such an Albanian citizen ancestor; c) persons of Albanian origin who are citizens of an EU member state, of the United States of America or other states the citizens of which are not required to hold a visa to travel in the states belonging to the Schengen Area or who are documented residents in one of these states; d) persons of Albanian origin who possess another citizenship or are stateless, in cases when one of the parents of the claimant is an Albanian citizen; e) persons, whose parents are of Albanian origin and possess another citizenship or are stateless and when the claimant was born in the territory of the republic of Albania.

As regards categories a and b - i.e. persons born of parents of Albanian origin or citizenship - the new decree, referring to article 7 of the Albanian citizenship law, which stipulates that ‘everyone born of at least one parent with Albanian citizenship shall acquire Albanian citizenship automatically’, treats these people as Albanian citizens, whose citizenship should be formally recognised upon their request. The Albanian state will recognise the right to Albanian citizenship to persons from category a and b based on article 7 of the Albanian citizenship law and according to the procedures determined in the administrative guidelines issued by the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  

On the other hand, category c, d and e affects all persons of Albanian origin who live in neighbouring states, with the exception of Kosovo, those who are EU citizens, as well as those who are of Albanian origin and born in Albania. This category also includes citizens of third states, including Kosovo citizens, who are legal residents in EU or Schengen Area member states. Persons falling in categories c, d and e will be granted Albanian citizenship based on point 7 article 9 of the Albanian citizenship law, according to which “a foreigner who has reached eighteen years of age can acquire Albanian citizenship by naturalisation even if he/she does not fulfil the requirements of this law… if the Republic of Albania has a scientific, economic, cultural or national interest [in the foreigner’s naturalisation].” Accordingly point c, d and e of the decree represent a very far-reaching and highly inclusive interpretation of point 7 article 9 of the Albanian citizenship law.

As far as administrative procedures are concerned, persons falling in categories c, d and e can apply for Albanian citizenship based on point 7 of article 9 of the Albanian citizenship law when: 1) they are over eighteen years of age; 2) the Ministry of Interior concludes that applicants do not pose a threat to the security and constitutional order of Albania; 3) applicants have filed an application together with a self-declaration of Albanian origin; 4) it is proved that the applicant is a descendant, up to three generations, of persons of Albanian origin, but is not an Albanian citizen at the time of application. In cases when the person is under eighteen years of age, his/her parents shall apply on his/her behalf, whereas for persons between fourteen and eighteen years of age, a written consent of the child is also required.

Persons interested in acquiring Albanian citizenship on the basis of this decree should prepare a petition addressed to the President of the Republic and submit it to the Ministry of Interior or, in cases when the applicant lives abroad, to the Consular Mission or Embassy of the Republic of Albania in the country of residence. Upon receiving the application, the Ministry of Interior, is obliged to decide on the application within 30 days and forward the decision to the office of the President, who signs the decree.

Whereas points a and b mainly target second generation ethnic Albanians who emigrated in the 1990s – potentially amounting to one million eligible persons –  point c is clearly crafted in a way that excludes Kosovo citizens of Albanian origin residing in Kosovo from acquiring Albanian citizenship. Although point 2 of the additional dispositions of the decree states that “ the acquisition of Albanian citizenship by Kosovo citizens of Albanian origin will be regulated by a special agreement between the Republic of Albania and the Republic of Kosovo”, the exclusion of Kosovo Albanians resident in Kosovo from the right to acquire Albanian citizenship seems to have been necessary in the face of EU threat to reintroduce visas for Albanian citizens had Albania offered citizenship to 1.8 million ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

However, as regards the determination of Albanian origin, the decree states that the applicant’s self-declaration as Albanian is a valid proof of his/her Albanian origin. The decree will enter in force once published in the Official Gazette. 

While it is still too early to speculate about the practical implications of this decree, its adoption together with recent plans to grant citizenship to foreign investors will without doubt transform the conception and configuration of Albanian citizenship and can potentially impact upon the already complex citizenship constellations in the region.