On Tuesday, the Riigikogu passed amendments to the Citizenship Act, expanding the opportunities for non-citizen children to acquire Estonian citizenship.
The draft, initiated by the government, allows minors whose parents are of unspecified nationality, a gray passport holder, and a foreign national to claim citizenship. The bill was approved with 63 votes for and 26 against.
The new amendments allows a minor to obtain Estonian citizenship at the request of a legal representative if his or her parent or grandparent was a resident of Estonia on 20 August 1991. The coalition says this will grant 1,500 children citizenship while opposition parties say it will be less.
If a minor who wishes to acquire Estonian citizenship is a citizen of another state, he or she must give up the citizenship of that state beforehand.
Andrei Korobeinik, the Center Party's spokesman, called for a vote on the amendment as it would grant citizenship to children born in Estonia.
"We have over 70,000 gray passport holders today. That's more than the population of Narva or Pärnu, for example. These people believe that Estonia is their homeland. Despite the fact that the word "alien" was written by the Estonian state in their passport in English. They have no other homeland," Korobeinik said. "Here and now, we can all decide together that children born in Estonia, who have lived their entire lives here, are not aliens to us. They are Estonian children," he added.
"This is undoubtedly an improvement in citizenship policy. It does not completely eliminate the problem of gray passports, but at least it stops their reproduction," Korobeinik said.
Hanno Pevkur, a spokesman for the Reform Party, who opposes the bill, said in a statement the amendment would change the principles of citizenship policy. "This will bring in a group of people who will acquire Estonian citizenship without knowing the language and the constitution," he said.
Speaking on behalf of the Social Democrats (SDE), Yevgeny Ossinovski said the party support the bill, although it does not grant 1,500 children Estonian citizenship, as claimed by the coalition, only about 130 due to the specifics of the law. "We would have liked all 8,000 stateless children to have Estonian citizenship," he said, but added 1500 or 130 is better than nothing.
Ossinovski's statement is based on the knowledge that approximately 90 percent of the target group for the change of law is of Russian nationality. But Russia does not allow minors to give up their citizenship until they reach 18. This means out of about 1,500 children, only approximately 130 who are not Russian citizens would acquire Estonian citizenship, the SDE have said.
"We are currently creating a false law for people with this decision because it is virtually impossible to enforce. In my opinion, this is not worthy of the 1,500. But having done everything we can to change that, we support the law at the third reading," Ossinovski said.
Speaking to ERR, Korobeinik rejected this claim, noting that children who have applied for Estonian citizenship will hold their Estonian citizenship until they reach the 18 and can give up their Russian citizenship. "They obtain Estonian citizenship conditionally. To claim that they do not obtain citizenship at all is not correct," Korobeinik said.
Editor: Helen Wright