The Duel for Duality

Tackling the issue of dual citizenship for foreigners.

Dear Antoine, 

I’m an Australian citizen and would like to become a Vietnamese citizen because I’ll be marrying a Vietnamese woman and have decided to settle down here permanently. Can I apply for Vietnamese citizenship right after our marriage without having lived in Vietnam for the past several years? Also please shed light on how I can keep my Australian citizenship? 

First of all, let me congratulate you on your upcoming nuptials. Becoming a Vietnamese citizen isn’t a bad idea if you decide to settle down in Vietnam because it may offer you some advantages. However, it is not a common practice, and most foreigners who marry locals and end up settling down here don’t often pursue Vietnamese citizenship. It is certainly due to the complexity of the procedure, in particular the procedure to be exempted from renouncing your foreign nationality.

The 2008 Law on Vietnamese Nationality sets the general conditions that a foreign national must satisfy to become a Vietnamese citizen: he or she must 1) have resided in Vietnam for five years or more; 2) be capable of making a living in Vietnam; 3) understand the Vietnamese language well enough to integrate into the Vietnamese community; 4) have full civil capacity to act; 5) obey the laws of Vietnam and respect its traditions, customs and practices.

You should probably have frowned as you read the first condition, as I understand from your question that you did not actually live in Vietnam until recently. However, the law also allows foreign nationals, in certain specific situations, exemption from one or all of the first three conditions mentioned above. These specific situations are: 1) foreign nationals being a spouse, a natural parent or natural offspring of a Vietnamese citizen; 2) foreigners having made meritorious contributions to Vietnam’s national construction and defense; and 3) foreign nationals whose acquisition of Vietnamese citizenship would be helpful to the State of Vietnam.

You will have to submit an application to the local department of justice. This file must contain specific documents such as 1) a standard application form; 2) a copy of your birth certificate, passport or a valid substitute document; 3) a curriculum vitae made in a standard format as issued by the Ministry of Justice; and 4) recent judicial records. You must also provide papers proving your Vietnamese language skills, your place and period of residence in Vietnam and your ability to earn an income in Vietnam. Nevertheless, the law specifies that these documents are not required for persons exempted from several conditions on naturalization in Vietnam (foreign nationals being a spouse of a Vietnamese citizen, among others).

If you claim to fall within one of the three exempted categories, you will need to prove you satisfy the relevant condition by providing, for instance, a copy of the marriage certificate or orders and medals, to evidence special meritorious contributions to Vietnam’s national construction and defense.

Regarding the procedure itself, your application file will go through various state authorities for verification and review before it will be handed over to the Ministry of Justice. If your application is complete and all requirements are satisfied, it will be sent to the Prime Minister to finally end up on the desk of the President of Vietnam for his final decision.

Also, if your application is successful, you must bear a Vietnamese name. But don’t worry, you can choose the name and it has to be noted in your application file.

Concerning your other question about the right to keep your Australian nationality, that one might be tougher to answer, and you will understand why. Dual nationality remains a very interesting topic for lawyers here in Vietnam.

Until 2008, the Vietnamese authorities were strictly preventing foreigners to acquire Vietnamese nationality while keeping their home nationality. Interestingly, post-war refugees and other overseas Vietnamese who have become citizens of second countries could not reclaim their lapsed Vietnamese nationality without losing their new citizenship. The approach taken did not prescribe at this time resolution of conflicts related to dual citizenship, giving rise to disputes over the protection of citizens between Vietnam and other countries.

A 2008 law has brought a real change on this issue, allowing post-war refugees and other overseas Vietnamese who have become citizens of second countries to reclaim their Vietnamese nationality without losing their new citizenship.

But what changes has this law brought for foreigners and dual citizenship? According to the law, foreigners applying for Vietnamese citizenship must still give up their current citizenship. But, the law allows you to apply for dual citizenship if the President of the Republic of Vietnam allows you to retain your foreign nationality. The President will only issue such exemption in “special cases,” and this remains unclear as no guidelines are given regarding these “special cases.”

What should you do then? I am not certain that your application has a great chance of success, except if you have enough connections inside (or if you are ready to renounce your Australian nationality). Consider keeping your Australian nationality and live as a foreigner in Vietnam with a residence card, almost all foreigners in Vietnam do that and it hasn’t prevented them from enjoying this beautiful country! γ

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