Father of British-Canadian accused of joining ISIS hopes to plead son’s case in Canada next week

An example of how inheriting Canadian citizenship (first generation) leads to consular demands even in cases where a person has never lived in Canada:

John Letts, the father of a young British-Canadian man accused of belonging to ISIS and being held in a Kurdish jail in Syria, is hoping to lobby the Canadian government in person next week for help securing his son’s transfer to Canada.

Letts and his wife, Sally Lane, insist the allegations against their son Jack are false but say he has the right to answer any charges against him in a British or Canadian court.

Letts say he would have travelled to Canada long before now had he been allowed.

He and Lane have been subject to a travel ban since being charged in 2016 under British terrorism legislation for trying to send money to their son, who they say was desperate to leave ISIS-held territory in the Middle East.

On Thursday, a British judge eased the restrictions on Letts, giving him permission to travel abroad with the court’s prior approval.

“We were just given the ruling this morning, so we haven’t had really much of a chance to digest it,” Letts said in an interview after the hearing.

“But I’m hoping that next week, I’d like to think I could be in Canada having meetings with appropriate people.”

Family holds dual citizenship

Jack Letts was 18 when he left his family’s home in Oxford to travel to Jordan and then Syria in 2014.

Last spring, Kurdish militias controlling parts of northern Syria stopped him as he was trying to leave ISIS-held territory and jailed him in the town of Qamishli.

Canadian consular officials spoke with him by telephone in January. In audio recordings of the call obtained by CBC News, Jack Letts said he had tried to commit suicide and asked to be sent to Canada.

The British media have dubbed him Jihadi Jack, a label his parents say has made their ordeal all the more difficult. Public opinion in the U.K. tends not to favour allowing people suspected of fighting for ISIS to return.

The parents turned to Ottawa for help, they say, in the face of an indifferent response from the British Foreign Office. Letts, Lane and their two children, including Jack, hold dual citizenship. When asked about the Letts case in the past, U.K. authorities have said they cannot help British citizens in places where the U.K. has no consular support.

Letts, seen in Facebook photo at age 20, went to Syria and Iraq in 2014, and is now in a Kurdish jail in northern Syria. He was dubbed Jihadi Jack in British media, a label his parents feel has hurt his case. (Facebook)

Lane is optimistic that Canada will help see her son extricated from the Kurdish prison.

“I think we’re in a different time frame now,” she said. “Jack’s in detention. There’s an opportunity to get him out of detention, and those questions about what he was doing can now be answered in a trial.”

Parents could face 14 years in prison

Lane says she has been focused on how to help her son rather than on the charges laid against her in Britain, with a trial set to begin in September.

But if found guilty, she and her husband could face up to 14 years in prison, an outcome supporters say would be ludicrous for parents trying to help a child.

John Letts says living under bail conditions and being blackballed by some in the community has been an ordeal, harming the couple’s ability to make a living.

“We’ve been living like this for three and a half years, waiting under this sword of Damocles and under this view that we’re somehow terrorists and aiding and abetting ISIS, and it just makes you very angry and upset. And here’s a breakthrough.”

In his decision Thursday at the Central Criminal Court in London, known as the Old Bailey, Judge Nicholas Hilliard did not lift the travel ban on Lane.

Source: Father of British-Canadian accused of joining ISIS hopes to plead son’s case in Canada next week


Citizenship Applications Dramatic Increase Post-C-6 Residency and Testing Changes

The above chart includes full 2017 citizenship IRCC operational data (preliminary).

Following the coming into force of C-6 reduced residency requirements (from 4 to 3 year minimum) and exemption from knowledge and language assessment for 55-64 year olds, there was clearly pent-up demand. From January to September, 108,001 applications were submitted (monthly average 12,000), from October to December, 99,562 (monthly average 33,187: the changes came into force on October 11).

As I have noted before, the reduced residency requirement will have a one-year impact on all applicants that will work its way through until October 2019; the 55-64 year old exemption will have an ongoing impact on a sub-set of applicants (2009-13 data showed about six percent of all applications were from this age cohort).

Given current end-to-end processing times, one should start seeing the impact of this increase mid-2019.

The 14-17 year old exemption will have a minimal impact given that this cohort will have been in the Canadian school system.

PCO looks to add Indigenous treaties into citizenship oath

Hardly news – mentioned in Minister Hussen’s mandate letter more than a year ago.

Will, however, be interesting to see what “the very near future” means in terms of legislation actually means and whether it is stand-alone legislation or combined with other unannounced changes:

The federal government is looking at adding a commitment to Indigenous treaties in the oath that new Canadians take.

A spokesperson for immigration minister Ahmed Hussen said that while no official decision has been made, legislation to change the oath’s wording will be brought forward in “the very near future.”

The last sentence of the oath currently reads: “I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada, and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.” A possible new wording would oblige new Canadians to say “I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including Treaties with Indigenous Peoples, and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.”

The idea of additional language in the oath of citizenship was included in poll questions by Forum Research Inc. The firm conducts regular surveys for the Privy Council Office.

Just under half – 49 per cent – of Canadians polled said they agreed with the proposed change. Twenty two per cent were on the fence, while 26 per cent were opposed.

The polling used a mixed sample of landline and cellphone responses. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 4.38 percentage points and a confidence level of 19 times out of 20.

Respondents only supported the change with a caveat that newcomers be adequately educated about Indigenous peoples and treaties to ensure they don’t struggle with the new wording, according to the Canadian Press.

The Canadian Press also obtained notes that showed the government intends to modify the script for those presiding over citizenship ceremonies. The changes would refer to “ceremonies on traditional territories, and include remarks on the history of Indigenous people.”

If implemented, the change would put into practice one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action.

Capping off the list at No. 94, the call to action in question proposes the government make the exact change to the citizenship oath’s wording that was considered in the polling.

Hussen’s mandate letter includes an order to add the acknowledgement of Indigenous treaties to the oath.

A spokesperson for Hussen also asserted the government’s commitment to make changes to the citizenship guide and to the oath of citizenship to reflect Indigenous treaties.

This isn’t the first change to the existing citizenship processes to cross Hussen’s desk. Last fall, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel sponsored a petition to “ensure that the final draft of the new citizenship guide includes the condemnation of female genital mutilation.” The petition has over 25,000 signatures.

In late January, the government committed to including a warning about FGM in the citizenship guide.

There is no word yet on the exact timeline for potential changes to the citizenship oath, although Hussen’s spokesperson said legislation will be introduced in “the very near future.”


The Trump Appointee Behind the Move to Add a Citizenship Question to the Census

Not surprising, someone involved in redistricting (i.e., competitive advantage):

In December, the Department of Justice requested that the Census Bureau add a question to the 2020 survey that would ask respondents to reveal whether or not they are U.S. citizens. Since ProPublica first reportedthe DOJ’s letter, civil rights groups and congressional Democrats have announced their opposition, arguing that in the midst of President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown, the question will lead many people to opt out of the census, resulting in an inaccurate population count.

A lot is at stake. The once-a-decade population count determines how House seats are distributed and helps determine where hundreds of billions of federal dollars are spent.

But one question regarding the December letter remained unclear. The letter was signed by a career staffer in a division of the DOJ whose main function is handling budget and procurement matters. Who, observers wondered, was actually driving the policy change?

Emails obtained by ProPublica in response to a Freedom of Information Act request provide an answer: The letter was drafted by a Trump political appointee who is best known for his work defending Republican redistricting efforts around the country.

John Gore, who since last summer has been the acting head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, drafted the original letter to the Census Bureau, the emails show. In one email, Arthur Gary, the career official who signed the letter, noted that it was sent “at the request of leadership, working with John.”

Gore came to the Trump administration from the law firm Jones Day, where he was an appellate specialist best known for defending a range of Republican state redistricting plans that were attacked as racial gerrymandering by opponents. Gore, for example, helped defend a Virginia redistricting that was ultimately thrown out by a court which ruled that the legislators had focused too much on race.

The emails show Gore sending a draft of the census letter to Gary in early November under the subject line, “Close Hold: Draft Letter.” Gary signed and sent the letter the next month and then emailed a note to Gore confirming it was being mailed.

It’s not clear why Gore, who did not respond to a request for comment, didn’t sign the letter himself. The Justice Department press office also did not respond to requests for comment.

ProPublica previously reported that Gore wrote a filing changing the department’s position in litigation challenging Texas’ voter ID law. The Obama-era DOJ had pursued litigation claiming that the Texas statute intentionally discriminated against minority voters; the Trump administration then withdrew the claim. Gore wrote the filing largely by himself but asked career attorneys who’d long been involved in the case to sign it.

A decision on adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census is expected by the end of the month and will be made by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. The Census Bureau is part of the Commerce Department.

Separately, the Trump administration has taken a second step that suggests a philosophical commitment to including citizenship questions as part of the census. It selected as its first political appointee at the Census Bureau a longtime legislative aide to former Sen. David Vitter. The Louisiana Republican made headlines for years by repeatedly introducing controversial proposals for the census to ask about citizenship and immigration status.

Christopher Stanley, who left his job on Capitol Hill late last year, will take one of the Census Bureau’s three politically appointed positions, as the chief of congressional affairs. It’s not clear when Stanley will begin but a spokesman for the Commerce Department confirmed the selection to ProPublica. The position does not require confirmation by the Senate.

Stanley does not appear to have made public statements about the census. But he was Vitter’s legislative aide when the senator introduced a series of measures to change the census that elicited fierce opposition. Stanley worked as an aide to Vitter, first in the House and then in the Senate, for over 15 years, ultimately rising to be the senator’s legislative director.

Before the last census in 2010, Vitter led a legislative effort to get the bureau to add a question about citizenship. It failed. At the time Vitter criticized the system of congressional apportionment for being based on the count of all residents, not just U.S. citizens. “States that have large populations of illegals would be rewarded for that. Other states, including my home state of Louisiana, would be penalized,” he said at the time. The proposal was attacked by civil rights groups.

Vitter tried again in 2014. And in 2016, he introduced another amendment that would have required the census to ask about both citizenship and immigration status.

Since the U.S. Constitution was adopted, the full, once-a-decade census has always inquired about U.S. residents — or “free persons” as the original language put it — rather than citizens. At times in the past, the census inquired about citizenship, but last did so in 1950. The Census Bureau currently asks about citizenship on a much longer survey that goes to a small percentage of U.S. households.

Stanley did not return requests for comment.

Asked if Stanley’s selection signaled anything about the administration’s policy on the census, Department of Commerce spokesman James Rockas said: “We value Mr. Stanley’s many years of Capitol Hill experience. Legislative affairs aides implement policy, they do not decide it.”

Vitter’s stated reason for adding a citizenship question — to change congressional apportionment — contrasts with the December letter from the Department of Justice to the Census Bureau. That letter argues that more data on U.S. citizens is needed to better enforce the Voting Rights Act.

Source: The Trump Appointee Behind the Move to Add a Citizenship Question to the Census


‘I felt a nausea of fury’ – how I faced the cruelty of Britain’s immigration system | Nesine Malik | The Guardian

Good long read and reminder of how attitudes and processes can hamper, not foster, integration:

I first landed in England in September 2004. I took the underground from Heathrow and sat in the carriage with my luggage, face plastered to the window, as the train made its way through the late summer greenery of west London. Culture shock blended with a counterintuitive sense of ease and familiarity with a country – in fact, a whole hemisphere – that I had never visited. I had lived my entire life in Sudan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and had come to the UK to study for a postgraduate degree at the University of London. Over the next weeks, I found the city and its people both bewilderingly cool and enthusiastically welcoming. That duality would go on to be the central theme of my life in the UK – confusing impenetrability accompanied by a yielding accommodation.

I settled in quickly, squatting in a relative’s spare bedroom until I could make arrangements. But I had severely underestimated the expense of London and, already impoverished by the high overseas student tuition fees, I began working while I was studying, my student visa allowing for 20 hours a week. I temped in offices across London, using an A–Z to find my way around. My topography of London is still anchored in the locations of those anonymous office blocks across the city. At the end of my course I extended my student visa in order to finish my dissertation and meanwhile was offered a contract as a research assistant at an investment bank where I had been temping. I went into the interview with precisely £15 to my name. Had the position not paid by the end of the week, I would not have been able to get through the first month.

A few weeks into the job and with a little disposable income for the first time in my life, I rented a room on a Bethnal Green council estate. Standing on the balcony, looking out at east London, I remember thinking that it was a sort of Valhalla. After a year or so, in 2007, a combination of student visa extensions and a partner visa by virtue of a relationship I was in at the time meant that I was granted limited leave to remain (ie with no recourse to public funds). After five years, I would be eligible for permanent residency.

My problems with the Home Office began in 2012. What should have been a routine application for permanent residency was turned down. I don’t remember the exact wording of the letter because my concentration shattered while trying to process what my lawyer was saying. The reason seemed to be that the right to permanent–after-temporary residency had been circumscribed. The laws had changed. “We’ll need to appeal immediately,” she said. “You don’t have to leave right away.”

It is hard to describe what it feels like to confront the possibility of leaving a country in which you are settled. I had by then been living, working (in emerging markets private equity) and paying taxes in the UK for nine years and enjoyed all the natural extensions of that investment – a career, close friends, a deep attachment to the place, a whole life. It is almost as if the laws of nature change, like gravity disappears and all the things that root you to your existence lose their shape and float away. I remember thinking, “I can’t leave, I’ve just bought a sofa.” It was a ridiculous thought, but that secondhand sofa from the local flea market was the first item of furniture I had ever bought. Suddenly, it signified the folly of nesting in a country that had no intention of letting me make a home.

In January 2010 David Cameron, backed into a tough stance by the looming election, announced a “no ifs no buts” pledge to bring immigration down to the tens of thousands. Theresa May took the helm at the Home Office in May and immediately set about making as big a dent in the net migration number, then about 244,000, as possible. Despite the Liberal Democrats making an attempt to dilute some of the crueller aspects of immigration law, condemning the “Go home” billboard vans May sent through the streets of London and publicly challenging Cameron on the tens of thousands figure, immigration policies continued to harden. They culminated in the 2013 immigration bill that declared the country would become a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants.

The resulting legislation represented a fundamental dismantling of the means by which all migrants could challenge Home Office decisions, despite around half of appeals ultimately being successful. By the time the 2015 immigration bill was introduced, the Conservatives, unfettered by coalition, introduced a host of measures that meant a hostile environment policy was surreptitiously rolled out against legal migrants as well.

Unable to tackle EU migration due to freedom of movement, the Home Office, while cutting its numbers of immigration case-workers, focused on non-EU migrants and their families, even when they were legal. “Discretion” – a word that sends chills down the spine of many a Home Office application veteran – became the governing principle. As with Nadir Farsani, a 27-year-old Saudi engineer who has lived in the UK most of his adult life and whose parents have British citizenship. He nevertheless had his student visa rejected by a case worker who decided a quirk of Arabic naming convention meant Nadir’s father’s supporting financial documents were not legitimate. Nadir was not informed nor asked to provide additional evidence and was asked to leave the country. While waiting for his application to be processed, his grandmother in Saudi Arabia fell ill and died. He could not travel to say goodbye.

Since 2010 I have experienced a constant attrition in the ranks of friends who did not have the means or the time to challenge often unfair decisions. Damned by discretion, rather than the law, they left.

The right to appeal decisions was curbed. The tier-1 visa, which had allowed for highly skilled migrants looking for a job or wishing to become self-employed, was abolished. Students’ right to work after graduation was limited and the Life in the UK test became a residency requirement. And British citizens began to be affected. In 2012 May announced rules that allowed only those British citizens earning more than £18,600 to bring their spouse to live with them in the UK. The figure is higher where visa applications are also made for children. She also made it all but impossible for people to bring their non-European elderly relatives to the UK. “Skype families” can spend years on opposite sides of the world, watching their children grow up on video.

Incentivised to reject, the Home Office grew ever more brutal and incompetent. Satbir Singh, CEO of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, is one of many British citizens whose application for his spouse to join him in the UK was rejected. They had satisfied all the requirements, but the Home Office lost their documents. In one of JCWI’s cases, a British citizen on a zero hours contract had a nervous breakdown due to the long hours he had to work in order to satisfy the income requirement. He needed hospitalisation but refused – two weeks off would mean that his income would fall under the threshold.

The principle of reject and hope no questions are asked has given rise to instances of unfathomable cruelty. In one case, reported in February, an interviewee began hallucinating. When her rejected case went to the supreme court, the judge said, “Reading that interview, it is apparent that the claimant was very unwell at the time … She appeared to be talking to people who were not there and the interview nonetheless continued, including beyond a time when she asked whether or not she had wet herself.”

The hostile environment also began to chew up those who had lived their entire lives in the UK. Commonwealth citizens who arrived in the country decades ago have discovered that in a hardened immigration climate they are without the necessary papers. So Paulette Wilson, a 61-year-old former cook in the House of Commons, was sent to Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre last October and taken to Heathrow for deportation to Jamaica, a country she had not visited since she was 10. A last-minute legal intervention prevented her removal, and, following media coverage in the Guardian, she was granted a residency permit.

In most cases, the speed with which the Home Office capitulates when challenged is a clear giveaway that decisions were made in the hope they would not be appealed. In my case, I appealed my residency extension and prepared a case with a litigation lawyer – only for permanent residency to be granted days before my appearance in court. There was no explanation and we had not provided, yet, any new information. My joy was followed by a nausea of fury. I had bankrupted myself trying to pay the £30,000 legal fees and lived in a constant anguish of instability, paralysed and yet tensed for action, only for the decision to be overturned because it was wrong in the first place, and because the Home Office couldn’t be bothered to fight it.

Forty per cent of cases brought before a judge on appeal are overturned. Consider that this applies only to the small number of individuals who have the means to appeal, and the scale of the wider miscarriage of justice becomes apparent. At one point, the government was proposing that the rule of “deport first, appeal later” that currently applies only to foreign national criminals be applied across the board; thankfully, this was eventually overturned by the supreme court, which declared it unfair and unlawful.

The original sin, the motivation for so much of the inhumanity being visited on applicants, is the “tens of thousands” target, an unrealistic and arbitrary number, backed by no intelligence or research. But the heart of the dysfunction throughout the past eight years isn’t that immigration laws have tightened, it is that they have become unpredictable, as new rules are introduced or scrapped. There have been 45,000 changes to immigration rules since May took over at the Home Office. Both applicants and immigration officials are navigating the system using a map whose contours and geology shift constantly. Farsani compares the process to “climbing a crumbling staircase”.

At the same time, the public tone, led by the Tory populism on immigration, became sharper and the idea that the UK had a soft-touch immigration system grew stronger. By the time the Brexit referendum campaign was under way, the national perception of the country’s immigration rules was in fantasyland. It was surreal to watch when, at the same time, I was unable to secure a residency, let alone a passport.

And the ignorance culminated in Brexit. The mainstreaming of lies was complete. A points-based system? We already have one. It’s called a tier-2 visa and to avail yourself of it you have to have sponsorship and a job offer from a UK employer, as well as sufficient funds to sustain you until your first salary. An NHS surcharge? We already have one. Every non-EU citizen who takes up a job or student position in the UK pays £150-200 before the visa is issued. They also pay national insurance, taxes that go towards the Home Office, plus high and escalating fees to process routine applications – in addition to fees paid to all the outsourced affiliated agencies that administer peripheral processes such as English tests and interviews.

Sometimes, going through that third-party machinery was like being in some dark comedy. The £150 English language test I had to book last-minute (or my naturalisation application would have been refused) took place in a lugubrious, privately run testing centre in Holborn, in London. Examinees were kept apart by a complicated, completely over-the top system. The examiner and I chatted amiably for a few minutes before she started the test. Then the frequency changed. Loudly and very slowly, she began: “Have. You. Been. To. Any. Festivals. Recently?” I said no and then she began to painfully explain what a festival was. I assured her that I knew, but just hadn’t been to any recently. She looked down at the subject notes where we had been asked to pick a topic we would like to speak about. I’d written down “Canada” as I had just arrived back in London that morning after delivering a keynote speech at a labour union event in Toronto. “Canada!” She said. “What. Can. You. Tell. Me. About. Canada?”

The really dirty secret is that the government can stop non-EU migration dead whenever it wants. Of the 170,000 non-EU migrants who came to the UK in 2016, about 90,000 were granted tier-2 employment. These are visas that we can simply stop issuing. But the economy needs the labour, something the government will not admit, instead choosing to treat applicants as people who somehow manage to come to the country against its will. If anything, the UK needs more non-EU migrants to plug skills gaps, particularly in the NHS – yet doctors offered jobs in hospitals are being blocked from coming to Britain because monthly quotas for skilled worker visas have been oversubscribed.

And, if Brexit finally goes through, into this inflexible immigration system will march three million EU citizens whose status will need to be registered and regularised. It is simply, for those of us who have been through it, a terrifying prospect. And May still doubles down, running the Home Office from Downing Street. In mid-February she overruled the Home Office in order to insist that EU citizens who arrived during a Brexit transition period would not have the automatic right to remain in the country. The move has caused alarm in the Home Office, with government sources admitting that work on a separate registration scheme had “barely begun” and “almost certainly” would not be ready in time. May then backed down.

The cavalier detachment with which these big decisions are made cannot be isolated from the general corporate cheapening of human life that has set in over the past decade. Satbir Singh sees immigration policy as indivisible from this environment. “If you look at what has happened in Britain over the last eight years,” he says, “there’s a thread of institutional degradation that runs through it all. Whether you are waiting for medical treatment, a welfare payment or an immigration decision, we are all clients, standing behind a glass window.” And we were the lucky ones. We weren’t in detention, which almost 28,000 people entered in 2016-17. We weren’t the ones being interviewed while hallucinating and wetting ourselves. We weren’t being handcuffed as we left burning buses.

And still the plight of migrants and their families doesn’t resonate with the British public as loudly as it should. I have heard the argument that no one has a right to settlement in a country that is not their country of birth many times. But other than in asylum cases or when people are joining family members, it is often the case that a life in the UK just develops organically. Sudan, where I am from, is in my bones, but the UK is where I had built a life just by virtue of the time I spent here. Via study and work, relationships and just the day-to-day of living, an investment is made in the country that you do not wish to unwind. Is that not, at its heart, what integration is? Is that not, allegedly, the Holy Grail? Satbir Singh, having won the right to bring his wife to the UK after the Home Office admitted its mistake, reflects on what is now, effectively and deliberately, an alienating process. “The first interaction you have with the state is suspicion, that you are a liar, a cheat and a fraud. This is an enormous roadblock to integration.”

In 2017, the permanent residency that was granted on appeal qualified me for British citizenship. More than a decade after that moment of pregnant possibility on a balcony in Bethnal Green, and 14 years after excitedly taking in the view of London’s parks on a train from the airport, I was making my way towards my naturalisation with leaden feet. The citizenship had been so shorn of its significance, so stripped of its essential meaning, that the ceremony felt like a formality. And when it was over it felt hollow. My relief was dulled by exhaustion and sadness that becoming the citizen of a country in which I had invested so much had been marred by an extractive, dishonest and punitive system. I now looked forward to only one thing – to never have to think about any of it again.

But the day after the ceremony I was crossing a bridge I had crossed thousands of times before, absentmindedly listening to Talking Heads’ This Must Be the Place. It was one of those cinematic London winter dusks, when the rich colours in the sky cast a benign, almost otherworldly light on the water. And I heard the lyrics – “Home is where I want to be” – for the first time. Every grain in the scene around me sharpened as a welling of belonging stung my eyes.

“They don’t want you to integrate,” Farsani had told me. “They want you to fail so they can point their fingers at you and say, ‘Look, immigrants do not integrate’.” But we do, because the country, in spite of its broken immigration system, slowly, organically, casually, naturalises you in ways that cannot be validated by a Life in the UK test, citizenship ceremony or exhaustive application dossier. But daily this natural, healthy process is being violated, via administrative incompetence and politically instructed cruelty, to fulfil a soundbite “tens of thousands” target the government cannot meet, and is too proud to jettison.

via ‘I felt a nausea of fury’ – how I faced the cruelty of Britain’s immigration system | UK news | The Guardian


EU citizenship for sale as Russian oligarch buys Cypriot passport | World news | The Guardian

Speaks for the inherent corruption of citizenship-by-investment programs:

The Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska has bought a Cypriot passport under a controversial scheme that allows rich investors to acquire citizenship and visa-free access to the European Union, the Guardian can reveal.

Deripaska, an aluminium magnate with connections to Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, is one of hundreds of wealthy individuals who have applied for Cypriot nationality. His application was approved last year.

The revelations will revive concern about oligarchs with Kremlin connections buying EU passports. Large numbers of the Russian and Ukrainian elite featured last year in a list of hundreds of people granted Cypriot citizenship over the past four years.

The island also offered citizenship to Viktor Vekselberg, a major shareholder in the Bank of Cyprus, the country’s biggest bank, documents show. Vekselberg appears to have turned the offer down. His spokesman said he only had Russian citizenship.

Deripaska and Vekselberg appeared on another list issued by the US Treasury in January of oligarchs close to Vladimir Putin. Deripaska has denied claims that he served as a back channel between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign, as an investigation by the special counsel Robert Mueller into possible collusion continues.

The Cypriot documents seen by the Guardian and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) show that Deripaska’s first attempt to become a Cypriot citizen was unsuccessful.

Cyprus has been accused of failing to vet passport candidates vigorously enough, heightening concerns in EU circles about people being able to buy EU citizenship. On this occasion, however, Deripaska was asked to resubmit his case because of a preliminary inquiry into his affairs in Belgium. The inquiry was subsequently dropped in 2016.

Cyprus’s council of ministers sent Deripaska’s case back to the island’s interior ministry, the Cypriot documents say, asking it to investigate further. The oligarch’s naturalisation bid had to be re-examined before a final decision could be made.

Deripaska’s name was made public this week when an interior ministry document listing beneficiaries of the collective investment scheme was distributed inside Cyprus’s parliament. Clerks left it in a room used by journalists, and several picked up a copy.

Leaked documents show that the Cypriot “golden visa” scheme remains a lucrative source of revenue for the island, generating at least €4.8bn (£4.3bn). Cyprus has given citizenship to 1,685 “foreign investors” since 2008 – many from the former Soviet Union, and from China, Iran and Saudi Arabia – and 1,651 members of their families.

The finance ministry has previously said it carries out stringent checks on all citizenship by investment applications, with funds required to undergo money laundering controls by a Cypriot bank. Cyprus is not the only EU country to have granted citizenship to high net-wealth Russians, it says. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of beneficiaries.

Vekselberg’s Renova group is one of Russia’s biggest conglomerates. He made a major investment in the crisis-hit Bank of Cyprus in 2014, buying almost 10% of its stock. The move at a time when the island’s economy was depressed meant he was an “exceptional case deserving of honorary naturalisation”, the documents say.

Vekselberg’s spokesman, Andrey Shtorkh, said: “Mr Vekselberg has only one citizenship, of Russian Federation and was never granted any other citizenship including Cypriot.”

Cyprus made it easier for rich foreigners to gain citizenship in September 2016. It had previously required investors to have at least €5m in domestic assets, including real estate, firms and government bonds. Applicants could also take part in a collective investment scheme by spending a minimum of €12.5m, or €2.5m per person. The ruling council reduced the eligibility threshold to €2m and ditched collective schemes.

The fresh trove of scheme beneficiaries obtained by the Guardian and the OCCRP confirms the extent to which Cyprus’s citizen-by-investment programme has become a main avenue for Russian oligarchs who wish to get a European passport.

The Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes described the visa scheme as “absolutely perverse, immoral and increasingly alarming”. The European commission launched its own inquiry last year into citizenship-by-investment programmes in the EU. The outcome is expected to be revealed later this year.

Cyprus, along with Malta, is one of the countries under scrutiny. “Cyprus is the biggest European investor in Russia and a great number of Russian nationals acquired Cypriot passports. We are all aware that there is also a big problem of recycling money. The point is that Cyprus, like other countries, is not just selling its passport. It is marketing European citizenship,” Gomes said.

Naomi Hirst, a senior campaigner at Global Witness, said EU states that sell citizenship should carry out “the sharpest of checks” on applicants.

“The source of wealth and background of these individuals should be scrutinised,” she said. “If not, then the whole of the EU could be made vulnerable to those who will use these schemes as a ‘get out of jail free card’ to move freely around Europe.”

via EU citizenship for sale as Russian oligarch buys Cypriot passport | World news | The Guardian


Two sides of the same coin? Diaspora Investment and Citizenship-by-Investment

Good commentary on the differences:

It’s no secret that many small states struggle to acquire the finance needed to support their development goals. The Commonwealth Secretariat has recently been exploring the potential of diaspora investment to support development. A recent Commonwealth publication estimates that on average, small states could raise approximately 4.52% of GNI per annum from their migrants alone (excluding first and second generation migrants) as compared to 1.18% of GNI for Commonwealth non-small states (Tavakoli and Raja, 2017).

Similar, but less frequently examined, sources of funding are citizenship-by-investment programmes.These programmes grant citizenship to people who make substantial financial investments in a country. While many countries offer a route to citizenship after a period of residency, with citizenship-by-investment programmes, residency is not often required. This revenue raising scheme is particularly popular with many Commonwealth small states — Antigua and Barbuda, Cyprus, Dominica, Grenada, Malta, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, and Vanuatu all have such programmes. The investments required are often real estate purchases, set term investment in government bonds, or donations to particular charities or funds and the minimum amounts range from $100,000 USD in Dominica to $2.4million USD in Cyprus.

On the face of it, diaspora investment and citizenship-by-investment programmes are two sides of the same coin. They both seek to increase investment by appealing to people’s affinity for a country through its citizenship or would-be citizenship. However, I would argue that their risks and rewards of each are quite different.

With diaspora investment, there is an identifiable pool of people ready and willing to invest in the country of their roots. Their interest in the country is stable and often not subject to the fluctuation of economic cycles. As diaspora investment can take many forms – investment in real estate, bonds, or businesses – the financial benefits can range from increasing government revenue to job creation and adding to GDP. However, the size of the investment can vary greatly from person to person. Furthermore, many diaspora investors may demand higher accountability from the government before investing, or may seek more political rights in the country.

On the other hand, citizenship-by-investment programmes offer an immediate substantial investment which increases government revenue. However, the investment vehicles do not tend to lead to job creation and may have an adverse impact on the property market in small countries with scarce land. Additionally, given that countries offering these programmes are competing with each other for investors, there is the possibility of a race to the bottom. Finally, there is the reputation risk for the country if background checks are not properly conducted.

Given the pros and cons, for my taste, governments would do well to spend more time and effort facilitating diaspora investment as opposed to citizenship-by-investment. I realise however that the issue is completely debatable. Some people argue that criticising citizenship-by-investment undermines sovereignty and attacks a genuine income stream for countries with limited revenue-raising options. Furthermore, some countries don’t have sizeable diaspora communities to make diaspora investment viable. Nonetheless, personally, I think the reputation risks alone outweigh the benefits.

One thing is certain, more research is needed into citizenship-by-investment programmes, including how much money countries actually gain from it.

Where do you stand on the issue? Should more small states consider citizenship-by-investment? Or should more be done to attract investment from diaspora communities around the world?

Source: Two sides of the same coin? Diaspora Investment and Citizenship-by-Investment


Toronto runner set to get Canadian citizenship, trump U.S. travel ban

Good news story:

It appears Soroush Hatami’s dream to compete in the Boston Marathon is finally about to come true.

“That’s exciting news … There’s a high possibility I can get my passport right on time and I hope I can make it to Boston,” Hatami said.

The 37-year-old, who emigrated from Iran to Toronto in 2013 and is a permanent resident of Canada, is set to receive his Canadian citizenship on Friday afternoon.

It would help clear a major hurdle that has barred him from entering the United States.

Marathon runner stopped in his tracks by Trump travel ban

U.S. Supreme Court allows Trump travel ban on residents of 6 mostly Muslim countries

Last January, an executive order issued by U.S. President Donald Trump blocked citizens of several Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States — including Hatami’s birth country of Iran.

Despite qualifying for the Boston Marathon back in October 2017, Hatami was banned from entering the U.S., based on his Iranian citizenship; a decision he calls “unfair” and “xenophobic”.

With over 30,000 runners annually, the Boston Marathon is one of the most prestigious and well-known marathons in the world. (Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)

“Targeting countries and banning everyone from those countries, doesn’t help with U.S. national security,” Hatami said.

But now, with the runner set to take the oath of citizenship after a months-long application process, he’ll be able to apply for a Canadian passport. According to the Government of Canada’s website, with express processing a new passport can be delivered in two to nine business days.

2018’s Boston Marathon is set for April 16.

Beyond the race, Hatami and fellow long-distance runner Daniel Sellers say they aren’t done fighting against the travel ban and hope to help those who may be caught in similar predicaments.

“That’s great that we’re about to realize our goal. However on the other side, the travel ban is not over and our campaign is not over.”

via Toronto runner set to get Canadian citizenship, trump U.S. travel ban – Toronto – CBC News


Good luck with the British citizenship test, Meghan Markle. It’s a mess | Thom Brooks | The Guardian

Good pointed commentary – better to have tests that are more general civic knowledge-based, as in Canada, than ones that try to capture obscure facts. A written test, of course, is more administratively efficient and consistent than individual interviews, the main reason it was introduced in Canada in the early 90s:

Meghan Markle is on a fast track from Hollywood to British royalty. She’ll certainly be joining the royal family from the moment of her marriage to Harry in May. And yet, if she wants to remain permanently in the UK, even the wife of the Queen’s grandson must pass a citizenship test.

The test has been sat more than 2m times since its launch in 2005. Anyone applying must correctly answer 18 or more of 24 multiple choice questions to pass – and the test costs £50 for every attempt.

It’s like a bad pub quiz: the test for British citizenship that few Brits could pass. One candidate failed 64 times before finally passing the test, and if you look at what the government’s quiz asks, it’s easy to see why. How many of us know the height of the London Eye, the age of Big Ben’s clock tower, or that Sake Dean Mahomed introduced curry to the UK in opening the Hindoostane Coffee House on George Street, London? These are some of the nearly 3,000 facts in the 180-page test handbook anyone wanting to stay in Britain is expected to know.

The absurdity doesn’t stop there. The test requires knowledge of the numbers of elected representatives in each regional assembly, but not in the House of Commons. Candidates need not know how to report a crime or register with a GP, but must know the approximate size of the Lake District and about 278 historical dates including when the Roman emperor Claudius invaded Britain.

If the citizenship test is meant to help migrants “integrate into society and play a full role in your local community”, there is little evidence to show it succeeds. The test has appeared in three editions and been used for more than a decade, but there has never been a formal consultation on whether its aims are being achieved. So I did it for them.

My 2013 report exposed serious failings, including the test’s impracticality and the many mistakes and omissions. My report made a dozen recommendations for how these problems might be fixed. Despite being raised in parliament, the test remains unchanged.

If left unreformed the test is damaging integration more than it’s enabling it
For my book Becoming British, I interviewed citizens across the UK about the citizenship test. Almost no one believed it helped their integration into a British society where few had even heard of the test. Instead of building bridges, most saw the test as another barrier whose main purpose was to extract additional fees. The lesson to learn here is that the test is currently damaging integration more than it’s enabling it.

There is an opportunity now to get this right as Britain changes its immigration policies after Brexit. Either the test is substantially modified to become a less trivial and fairer test of knowledge required for citizenship, or it should be thrown on the scrap heap.

A citizenship test is not obviously necessary to demonstrate a knowledge of life in the UK or British values. People could instead be tested informally without an exam, for instance by satisfying existing requirements for lawful residency, avoiding a criminal record, paying taxes owed and the like. These are ways in which people do show an understanding of living in this country in harmony with others.

But if the test is kept, change is needed – and a first step would be to make the answers freely available. Displaying knowledge about living in Britain shouldn’t require buying a book with the information in. And rather than the test remaining a block, it should be relaunched as something that is primarily of symbolic importance. In the US, the test is the last step to citizenship with zealously non-partisan questions about who was the first president or which side won the American civil war.

By contrast, half the UK’s test information on education is about setting up the government’s then flagship programme of free schools, but without any mention of a national curriculum, A-levels and more. Such partisanship needs to go. A test aimed at formally recognising the belonging someone has already earned is clearly preferable to what we have.

And if it is revised, it’s critical that there is a public dialogue about what is included. The government imposes this test of Britishness in the public’s name, but it is so alien as to render it absurd. People need to have confidence in our immigration system again, and imposing arbitrary knowledge tests won’t solve it.

Finally, migrants shouldn’t have a veto, but they deserve to have a voice. If the test doesn’t support integration, this needs to be fixed. Second-guessing the experience of migrants like me – who have passed the test and become British citizens – only continues the problem.

via Good luck with the British citizenship test, Meghan Markle. It’s a mess | Thom Brooks | Opinion | The Guardian


Brexit: Why French citizenship is not the solution for most Brits in France – The Local

Looking forward to seeing a series of similar articles from British expatriates complaining about EU country citizenship requirements.
Most of the articles I have seen to date focus on expatriates who are working elsewhere in the EU; this one appears to be more focussed on retiree concerns:
While the numbers of Brits seeking French nationality has soared since the EU referendum, for the majority of British nationals worried by Brexit becoming French is just not the solution.

Since the 2016 referendum prefectures across France have been inundated with requests from thousands of British nationals applying for French citizenship.

Indeed recent figures showed the number of Brits seeking to become French had soared tenfold since 2015 as worried Brexpats look to guarantee their futures in France.

The numbers only look set to grow as Brexit Day draws nearer, with those Brits who meet the criteria and are prepared to go through the arduous process, look to avoid more limbo.

They know that French nationality will not only allow permanent residence in France but also continued freedom of movement across the EU, something they are not currently guaranteed.

But while just over 3,000 Brits applied for French nationality in 2017 it’s still just a tiny number compared to the overall number of Britons living in France – which is believed to be between 150,000 and 200,000.

That’s because many are simply unwilling or unable to consider becoming French, some for practical reasons and others on principle.

Research carried out by the group RIFT (Remain in France Together) which campaigns for the rights of Britons in France has revealed that for many, becoming French is the absolute last resort.

Of just over 800 respondents to a survey on citizenship, some 40 percent said they would only take French nationality “as a last resort”, in other words if it was the only way to guarantee their right to remain and work in France.

For many respondents the idea of applying for French citizenship just for personal and practical reasons just doesn’t feel right.

Many spoke of a feeling of hypocrisy when citing their reasons.

Gill Harrison, who lives in the south west of France told The Local: “I never thought of applying for French nationality before all this madness started and feel it would be totally hypocritical to start doing it now, simply to make it easier for me to stay here – that’s not a good enough reason for either me or for the French State, to which – I assume – I would have to swear allegiance.

Jan Letchford from near Narbonne added: “I just think on the principle of honesty, both to me and to France, it just doesn’t sit well with me.”

Other respondents to the survey simply felt resentment at being forced into a lengthy and expensive process due to a referendum they believe was a farce and which some were not even allowed to vote in due to the 15 year limit on expats voting in elections.

‘I already have enough paperwork to deal with in France’

“I object to being obliged to adopt another nationality as a purely administrative ‘flag of convenience’ exercise, just to preserve rights I shouldn’t be losing in the first place,” said one respondent.

“I also object to being obliged – by Brexit supporting voters in the UK, and by the failure of the UK Government negotiating team to safeguard my interests – to embark on a time-consuming, potentially costly paper chase which has no guaranteed outcome when I already have more than enough paperwork to do in France, just to stand still,” said the respondent.

For others who would only gain French nationality as a last resort, the idea of switching from British to French nationality does not fit well, especially when they see themselves as neither.

“I have no ‘patriotic’ feelings about GB (especially now!) and don’t really have any towards France (although I want to continue living here as this is where my present life is – who knows for the future?),” said one respondent to the survey.

“What I really prize is my European citizenship but, sadly, that is the one that is most at risk.”

But it’s not just issues around identity, hypocrisy and resentment that are preventing many from applying. Others simply feel they would not meet the criteria, which not only requires five years residence in France but also the ability to speak French to a certain level – AND prove it in an interview –  and to be able to show you can pay your own way in France.

Julian Silver, 52 who lives in the Tarn told The Local becoming French was not an option due to the fact he doesn’t speak the language well enough.

“I could say go on lessons but firstly that is impractical and expensive. And I seem to have a mental block on linguistics of any kind…even computer languages. I had a stroke 10 years ago and had to re-learn to speak afterwards. But I find foreign languages particularly difficult.”

While the language may be barrier for some, for others it was poor health and for many the idea of amassing documents such as parents birth certificates and having them translated into French before waiting another 18 months for an answer was enough to put them off.

“It’s 18 months out of my life that I shouldn’t have to lose. It’s expensive. It’s stressful. It’s not what I would have chosen. And at the end of it all I could still end up with less rights than I’ve got now. It’s not a panacea,” said one respondent to the RIFT survey.

For some taking French nationality was not an option because they would be unable to prove they had “sufficient and stable resources.”

“Taking French citizenship is hardly an option as I’m officially a ‘burden on the state’, in receipt of RSA and Aide au logement. Since 2012 my self-employed accounts show a decreasing ability to support myself,” one British citizen in France who wanted to remain anonymous told The Local.

Another told The Local: “We basically living on savings from the sale of our house in the UK and leading a very simple (cheap) lifestyle being as self sufficient as possible. As a result, we feel that we would not meet the monetary requirements for citizenship.”

Others cited their fear that the British government might make things more difficult for them if they obtain French nationality, although given that they will be able to keep their British nationality there seems no reason to worry this would be the case.

The leader of RIFT’s Kalba Meadows, who analysed the research on the feelings of Brits towards French nationality said: “To put it simply, for a majority of people, citizenship is neither straightforward nor even, necessarily a solution.”

“To suggest that it is ignores the importance of both identity and conscience in the decision of whether to apply for citizenship.”

“While we continue to be told that taking French citizenship is an option if our rights are not upheld post-Brexit, it is not an option available to everyone under current rules,” she said.

via Brexit: Why French citizenship is not the solution for most Brits in France – The Local