New Luxembourg nationality law passes parliament

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After more than two years, Luxembourg’s parliament finally passed a new nationality law on Thursday. Under the law, it will become easier to obtain Luxembourgish nationality under certain circumstances. The law will now have to clear a final hurdle and is expected to enter into force on April 1, 2017.

Parliament passed the new law on February 9 after more than three hours of debate. All MPs from DP, LSAP, Déi Gréng and opposition parties CSV and Déi Lénk voted in favour of bill 6977. Three ADR MPs voted against the law.

Trying to avoid any controversies in the discussions, MPs insisted that the new law should mainly attempt to address Luxembourg’s “democratic deficit”.

A large portion of the country’s inhabitants are non-native, which denies them certain rights of political participation, namely the right to vote in national elections. According to government data, the percentage of the population old enough to vote and actually having the right to vote passed from 62.5% in 2004 to 54.9% in 2015. Politicians are now hoping that the easier procedure will encourage more people to acquire Luxembourgish nationality.

What are the main changes?

  • The obligatory time of residence in Luxembourg to acquire the nationality has been reduced from seven years to five. Of these five, the last year has to be uninterrupted.
  • Applicants must still pass a language test at A2 in oral expression and B1 in comprehension. However, a compensation mechanism has been introduced, allowing balance for a lower score in oral expression with a higher score in comprehension, for example.
  • Candidates must also attend 24 hours of the ‘Living together in the Grand Duchy’ course or pass the test that represents an equivalent of this course.
  • One key component of the reform is the introduction of ‘jus soli’ enabling people born in Luxembourg to non-native parents to obtain nationality when they turn 18, provided they are resident in Luxembourg for at least five consecutive years before their 18th birthday. Additionally, one of their parents must have lived in Luxembourg for at least 12 consecutive months immediately prior to the child’s birth.

Simplified procedures called ‘options’ can be applicable for candidates in 11 different cases, including but not limited to marriage, voluntary service in the army, immigration, the setting up of a “contrat d’acceuil et d’intégration” or having lived in the country for more than 20 years.

  • Applicants who have lived in the country for 20 or more years are asked to attend 24 hours of certified Luxembourgish language classes. They are not obliged to sit the language exam, however.
  • People born in Luxembourg to parents who are not Luxembourgish can apply for nationality from the age of 12 on the condition that the child has lived in Luxembourg for the five years preceding the application, and one of its parents lived in Luxembourg for minimum one year immediately prior to the child’s birth.
  • Candidates marrying a Luxembourger can acquire the same nationality provided the partner lives in Luxembourg or the couple has been married for at least three years immediately prior to the application. The applicants must still pass the language exam and attend the ‘Living together in the Grand Duchy’ course or pass its test.
  • If candidates fulfil all requirements, they can still see themselves denied their application if they have received a suspended prison sentence of two years or a prison sentence of one year.

Praise for Minister Braz

Minister of Justice Felix Braz received a lot of praise for his willingness to work out the reform in consensus talks with the opposition parties. CSV leader Claude Wiseler emphasised that the main ideas of his party had been considered in the bill.

Déi Lénk favoured the preliminary draft, which the government presented in October 2015. The influence of the CSV had diluted some points.

Déi Lénk leader Marc Baum said a “historical opportunity” had been missed in what concerns language requirements. In the original text, people who had been living in Luxembourg for eight years and who were able to prove 100 hours of Luxembourgish courses would receive nationality. In the new version, however, language would still be a barrier for certain people.

ADR opposed to bill

Criticism came out of the ADR camp. According to Roy Reding, the will of the voters — expressed in a referendum in June 2015 that saw voters reject foreigners’ right to vote in national elections — is being ignored. According to ADR, the government is creating social division and the law lacks popular support. The party particularly criticised the “reduction of language skills”, arguing that the tests had already been at a minimal level.

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