Ministry proposes dual citizenship

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Tsitsi Matope

THE Ministry of Home Affairs is proposing dual citizenship to be legalised in Lesotho through the new Lesotho Citizenship and Immigration policy draft. Such a move, the draft states, would foster Lesotho’s economic growth, among other benefits.

Lesotho is losing social and economic benefits through immigration laws which deny certain rights to Basotho who would have renounced their citizenship. The laws also deny Lesotho ability to retain in the long-term, foreign skills and other benefits from foreign nationals who may want to become citizens of Lesotho while also retaining their original citizenship.

In the case of Basotho who have renounced their citizenship, they are subsequently legally treated as foreigners in their country of birth and automatically lose their land ownership entitlement as a result, among other prejudices.

Despite taking up new citizenship, many Basotho still maintain strong ties with the country and their families back home. Research by the Ministry of Home Affairs has shown that they still contribute back home but this is limited to supporting household consumption and not enterprise development and investment projects.

This is attributed to the current immigration laws which do not recognise them as citizens of Lesotho, the research further revealed.

According to the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Machesetsa Mofomobe, the Lesotho Citizenship and Immigration policy draft proposes practical interventions which seek to help address the social and economic repercussions of denying Basotho dual citizenship.

“The current constitutional and Citizenship Order provisions prohibit Basotho citizens over the age of 21 from holding dual citizenship. Through this draft policy, we would like the government to reconsider these provisions based on the modern context that has seen Lesotho suffering heavy losses due to the inadequacies of the current immigration laws,” Mr Mofomobe yesterday told the Sunday Express.

He explained that through dual citizenship, the country would be in a far better position to tackle the brain-drain; maximise on remittances from Basotho in the diaspora, which could alternatively act as Foreign Direct Investment or an alternative to development assistance; protect the social security rights and benefits of Basotho in the diaspora and migrant labour; facilitate the right of establishment within the country; and the re-integration of the Lesotho diaspora in the national socio-cultural set-up.

“We are proposing that through dual citizenship, we can recognise Basotho who became citizens of various host countries and this allows them to remain better-connected with their families, friends and communities, which favours transnational solidarity and business relationships,” Mr Mofomobe said.

Over the years, many Basotho living outside the country, in particular South Africa, have opted to become citizens of their host country due to the advantages that citizenship offers.

Mr Mofomobe said legalising dual citizenship in Lesotho would, therefore, ease the movement of Basotho abroad and protect them against deportation; promote legal employment, which would also assist Basotho to compete in the formal job-market and enable them to access retirement benefits and social programmes including welfare, healthcare and public education.

“This will also go a long way in preventing fraudulent acquisition of foreign documents by our people,” the deputy minister added.

Mr Mofomobe further said one major concern and reason the ministry was proposing dual citizenship to be legalised was to allow the development of strategies that would minimise and reverse, where possible, the adverse effects of brain- drain.

“We would like Lesotho to recover the costs and reap the benefits of our social, economic and educational investment in all Basotho. Importantly, the country should facilitate ease access to and exploitation of the knowledge, skills and experiences that Basotho have acquired in the diaspora. We are also looking at retaining the foreign skills we have by allowing migrants in the country to also have a choice to become citizens of this country without necessarily renouncing their original citizenship.  This will help to harness the benefits of migration for development,” he said.

Dual citizenship would also facilitate the creation of institutional structures to ensure organised interaction between the government and Basotho in the diaspora, and to support development initiatives proposed by the Lesotho diaspora for national economic development, Mr Mofomobe highlighted.

He also said it was imperative the government looked at the issue through an economic development lens, particularly because remittances had proved critical to the survival of many households.

According to a recent World Bank Migration and Development report, a total of USD580 billion were transferred as remittances globally in 2015. In Lesotho, the official record of remittances from South Africa alone represent around 29 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

“This policy proposes to institute new interventions that will not only increase the inflow of remittances to Lesotho, but also facilitate and encourage significant investments into the economy,” Mr Mofomobe said.

Such investments would help support Basotho in the diaspora upon their return to Lesotho at the end of their careers, he said.

Mr Mofomobe added the policy commits to introduce multiple interventions which would easily entitle Basotho in the diaspora to their career- investments and social security rights and benefits in foreign countries.

Apart from addressing dual citizenship issues, the policy, among others, also seeks to ensure the Lesotho citizenship is well-regulated and granted to people of good moral character who would add value and contribute to the economic, political and socio-economic development of the country. The policy also seeks to ensure Basotho are not exposed to international terrorism and other international criminal acts.

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