Narvans Ponder Citizenship Dynamic as Application Numbers Drop ({{commentsTotal}})

Source: Photo: Postimees/Scanpix

Though the portion of Narva residents who have Estonian citizenship is still increasing, the number of new applicants has fallen off dramatically in recent years, a trend that concerns some local officials in the heavily ethnic-Russian town.

According to Maimu Vladimirova, head of the Citizenship and Migration Bureau in Narva, the annual application total dropped from 250 applicants in 2008 to 190 last year. As of now, 11 months into the year, 2012's figures stand at just 137.

Most of those who do apply for Estonian citizenship are young people, and most of their applications are successful, Vladimirova told ERR radio.

The industrial town on the Estonian-Russian border has long been the country's demographic anomaly - nearly all of its 65,000 inhabitants are ethnic Russians. Just under half carry Estonian citizenship, Vladimirova said, while about a third have Russian citizenship and 16 percent are stateless.

City secretary Ants Liimets said he doesn't see the citizenship breakdown as a security concern, but nevertheless it raises questions. "Citizens of other countries are always citizens of other countries. [Narva has] the largest consular office of the Russian Federation," he said.

Aleksandr Jefimov, head of the City Council, said that the main disincentive for applying for citizenship is the requirement to pass an Estonian language exam.

"It would be better to give them Estonian citizenship without additional requirements. The absence of citizenship is an obstacle in life. For that reason, people often choose Russian citizenship. If the conditions were less strict, the number of Estonian citizens in Narva and in all of Estonia would be higher," he said.

Liimets echoed the opinion, pointing out that the 1939 Citizenship Act allowed foreigners who had been living in Estonia for 10 years to apply for citizenship without a language exam.

Restpring this section of the law, he said, "would be the best way to give a lot of people the opportunity for citizenship," he said, noting that teaching them some level of Estonian language would also be a stimulus for applicants.