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Official Gazette

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

A history of Vietnam’s citizenship laws

Updated: 10:28’ - 01/07/2009

Nguyen Thi Ngoc Lam
Ministry of Justice

Aware of the significance of citizenship, the young Democratic Republic of Vietnam, immediately after its emergence, attached importance to promulgating laws on citizenship to suit the different historic circumstances. Vietnam has since issued a large number of laws and regulations on citizenship.

The Vietnamese law on citizenship has developed through two different periods.

From 1945 to 1975

Prior to the August 1945 Revolution, Vietnam was a semi-feudal country under the French colonial rule, divided under the French policy of “division to rule” into three zones subject to three different regimes and legal systems. Questions of citizenship were not clearly defined in any legal documents.

With the success of the August 1945 Revolution, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam came into being. The determination of Vietnamese citizenship had great political significance as preparation for the general election of deputies to the first National Assembly of the newly independent Vietnam.

Consequently, President Ho Chi Minh signed Decree No. 53/SL of October 20, 1945, on Vietnamese citizenship, which affirmed in Article 3 the equality in Vietnamese citizenship of the various ethnic groups living on Vietnamese land: “Such ethnic minority groups in Vietnam as Tho, Man, Muong, Nung, Kha, Lolo, etc., who reside within Vietnamese territory, are all Vietnamese citizens.”

It also prescribed in Article 2 the following cases of bearing the Vietnamese nationality due to birth:

“People falling under the following categories are all Vietnamese citizens:

1. Their fathers are Vietnamese citizens;

2. Their fathers are unknown or stateless persons while their mothers are Vietnamese citizens;

3. They were born in Vietnamese territory while their parents are unknown or stateless persons.”

The determination of the citizenship status of newborns was thus based on a combination between the principle of “consanguinar rights” and the principle of “birth-place rights”, which aimed to minimize statelessness for children born in the Vietnamese territory.

Decree No. 53/SL also defined cases of bearing Vietnamese citizenship through the restoration of citizenship: “As from the date of promulgation of this Decree, Vietnamese who were naturalized as French nationals will be regarded as Vietnamese citizens provided that they declare to relinquish their French citizenship at the Civil Status Bureau of the Municipal Administration of one of the following cities: Hanoi, Hai Phong, Vinh, Hue, Nha Trang, Sai Gon, Bien Hoa or at a place to be prescribed later by the Northern, Central or Southern Committee” (Article 4).

The procedures for relinquishing French citizenship were very simple in the service of the parliamentary general election. Under this provision, persons who failed to make such a declaration were deprived of the right to vote.

The decree also defined cases of losing the Vietnamese nationality, stating in Article 7: “Vietnamese citizens will lose their Vietnamese nationality in one of the following circumstances:

1. They have been naturalized in foreign countries;

2. They decline to resign from positions they have held overseas even though they have been warned by the Government;

3. They have committed acts of infringing upon the independence and the democratic republican regime of Vietnam.

These provisions on restoration or loss of Vietnamese citizenship showed that the Vietnamese state had adopted the sole citizenship policy from the outset.

Though Vietnamese naturalization constituted an important issue, it was not yet provided for in Decree No. 53/SL. Only until December 7, 1945, was this issue dealt with, by Decree No. 73/SL promulgated by the President of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

It specified in Article 1 the conditions for foreigners to be naturalized in Vietnam: “Foreigners who wish to be naturalized in Vietnam must satisfy the following conditions:

1. Being a full 18 years old;

2. Having lived in Vietnam for 10 years;

3. Having a place of residence in Vietnam;

4. Being able to speak Vietnamese;

5. Having good conduct;

6. Their Vietnamese naturalization must be consented to by their foreign spouses, if any.”

Decree No. 73/SL also stated: “Those who have been naturalized in Vietnam will enjoy the same interests and bear the same responsibilities as Vietnamese citizens” (Article 3).

In December 1946, when the French colonialists returned to re-conquer Vietnam, the Vietnamese people were pushed into a fierce and protracted war of resistance. In such circumstance, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam promulgated Decree No. 215/SL of August 20, 1948, offering special interests to foreigners who supported and assisted the Vietnamese people in their resistance war. “Those who have rendered meritorious services to the resistance war will be exempt from the conditions for Vietnamese naturalization, prescribed in Decree No. 73/SL of December 7, 1945.”

The emergence of these decrees laid an important legal foundation for the formation of a system of laws and regulations on citizenship.

In 1954, the Geneva Agreement on Vietnam was concluded, dividing the country into two zones under two different political regimes.

On December 14, 1959, the President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam promulgated Decree No. 51/SL, abrogating Articles 5 and 6 of Decree No. 53/SL of October 20, 1945, stating “Vietnamese women who marry foreigners bearing foreign citizenship before the promulgation of this Decree will keep their Vietnamese citizenship. Those who wish to bear their husbands’ citizenship shall, within six months after the promulgation of this Decree, apply for relinquishment of their Vietnamese citizenship, which must be permitted by the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

This provision guaranteed the equality between men and women as stated in Article 9 of the 1946 Constitution that “women are equal to men in all aspects” and affirmed that the right to citizenship was the personal right of each individual. Each individual had the right to choose his/her citizenship; and women married to foreigners could retain their original citizenship if they did not want to adopt their husbands’ citizenship. If they did, they had to apply for relinquishment of their Vietnamese citizenship and obtain the Government’s permission.

From 1960 on, under the Law on Organization of the Government, the Cabinet did not include a Ministry of Justice; hence, the tasks of the Ministry of Justice were transferred to the Ministry of Public Security, the Supreme People’s Procuracy, the Supreme People’s Court and partly to local administrations.

On February 8, 1971, the Standing Committee of the National Assembly of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam issued Resolution No. 1043/NQ-TVQHK6, on relinquishment of Vietnamese citizenship and naturalization, under which the Government Council was assigned to consider and decide on specific cases of naturalization or relinquishment of Vietnamese citizenship.

Prior to 1975, these regulations only dwelt on specific issues posed by the revolutionary reality of the time. However, they also demonstrated progressive viewpoints of the Vietnamese state on such fundamental issues related to citizenship as equality between ethnic groups living on the Vietnamese soil regarding citizenship; assurance of the rights of individuals living within Vietnamese territory to citizenship; equality between Vietnamese citizens in civil rights and obligations, regardless of their original citizenship or naturalization. The provisions in these documents laid the foundations for the subsequent formulation of the Law on Citizenship.

Since 1975

After the end of the anti-US imperialist war on April 30, 1975, the country was re-unified, and the National Assembly of the unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam adopted on December 18, 1980, in its 7th session, a new constitution which clearly stated in Article 53: “Citizens of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam are those who bear Vietnamese citizenship as provided for by law.”

So, the question of Vietnamese citizenship was prescribed for the first time in the country’s constitution, creating a legal basis for the Law on Citizenship, which was passed on June 28, 1988, by the National Assembly in its third session and took effect on July 15, 1988, replacing Decree No. 53/SL, Decree No. 73/SL, Article 6 of Decree No. 215/SL, Decree No. 51/SL and Resolution No. 1043-NQ/TVQH. It officially codified the provisions on Vietnamese citizenship, helping settle a number of nationality-related problems encountered in reality.

This was the country’s first law prescribing almost all matters related to citizenship. It stated in Article 3: “The Socialist Republic of Vietnam State only recognizes that Vietnamese citizens have only one nationality, namely Vietnamese nationality.”

With this statement, the 1988 Law on Citizenship laid down the sole-citizenship principle. However, it failed to introduce mechanisms for materializing this principle, causing difficulties in the enforcement of the law and leaving complicated legal consequences.

Being promulgated at the initial stage of “doi moi dat nuoc” (national renewal), the 1988 Law on Citizenship no longer satisfied requirements of international integration during the 1990s, when socio-economic development as well as the trend of international integration attracted more foreigners to work or do business in the country, with increasing numbers of marriages between Vietnamese citizens and foreigners.

This situation, together with the emergence of the 1992 Constitution and the 1995 Civil Code, required updated and complete legal provisions on citizenship.

Consequently, on May 20, 1998, the Xth National Assembly of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam passed in its third session the new Law on Citizenship, which replaced the 1988 Law and took effect on January 1, 1999.

Compared to the 1988 Law, the 1998 Law had the same structure but added articles, dwelling on different matters related to citizenship.

The 1998 Law stated in Article 1:

1. In the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, every individual is entitled to a citizenship. Vietnamese citizens will not be deprived of their citizenship, except for cases prescribed in Article 25 of the Law.

2. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam State is a unified state of all nationalities living in the Vietnamese territory; all members of different nationalities are equal in the right to Vietnamese citizenship. 

Such equality was further elaborated in Article 9: “The marriage, divorce and annulment of unlawful marriage between Vietnamese citizens and foreigners shall not change the Vietnamese citizenship of parties concerned…” Article 10 said: “The naturalization as Vietnamese citizens or loss of Vietnamese citizenship of either spouse shall not change the citizenship of the other.”

In addition to these provisions, which were seen in the 1988 Law on Citizenship, the 1998 Law included new provisions on State policies on protection of overseas Vietnamese (Article 5) and policies towards overseas Vietnamese (Article 6) and towards Vietnamese citizens residing overseas (Article 7).

These provisions conformed to Party and State policies on great national unity, creating closer sentimental and legal bonds between overseas Vietnamese and the Vietnamese state.

Sole-citizenship principle

While the old law acknowledged the sole-citizenship principle in passing, the 1998 Law defined this principle in a stricter manner by stating in Article 3: “The Socialist Republic of Vietnam State recognizes that Vietnamese citizens bear only one nationality, that is the Vietnamese nationality.”

It also contained several provisions to restrict cases of dual citizenship, such as “persons aged under 15, who found their parents, either fathers or mothers, or guardians who bear foreign citizenship, shall no longer bear Vietnamese citizenship” (Clause 2, Article 19); “foreign nationals who are naturalized in Vietnam shall no longer retain their foreign citizenship, except in special cases to be decided by the President” (Clause 3, Article 20); “conclusion of treaties to restrict dual or multiple citizenship” (Article 41).

The 1998 Law on Citizenship perpetuated and elaborated on five legal bases for possession of Vietnamese citizenship, which were already defined in the old law. They included grounds prescribed in Articles 16, 17 and 18 for possession of Vietnamese citizenship by birth; grounds prescribed in Articles 19, 28 and 30 for possession of Vietnamese citizenship by naturalization, and restoration of Vietnamese citizenship or under treaties to which the Socialist Republic of Vietnam has signed or acceded.

As such, the basic grounds for possession of Vietnamese citizenship include birth, naturalization and restoration of Vietnamese nationality.

The 1998 Law provided for the citizenship of children on the principle of “consanguinar rights” (nationality of children born with both parents being Vietnamese citizens, Article 16; nationality of children born with either parent being a Vietnamese citizen, Article 17) in combination with the principle of “birth-place rights” (nationality of children born with both parents being stateless, Article 18; citizenship of abandoned newborns or children found within Vietnamese territory, Article 19).

These provisions on children’s citizenship guarantee to the utmost children’s rights to citizenship in conformity with the Law on Child Protection, Care and Education as well as the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Vietnam has acceded.

For naturalization, Article 20 of the 1998 Law on Citizenship prescribed five conditions as compared to the three defined in the 1988 Law for foreign nationals and stateless persons to be naturalized. They include:

- Having full civil act capacity under Vietnamese law;

- Abiding by the Vietnamese Constitution and laws and respecting the traditions, customs and practices of the Vietnamese nation;

- Knowing Vietnamese enough for integration into the Vietnamese social community;

- Having permanently resided for five or more years; and,

- Being able to earn their living in Vietnam.

For restoration of Vietnamese citizenship, a person who has lost his Vietnamese citizenship may also restore it if he falls in one of the cases defined in Clause 1, Article 21, of the 1998 Law and does no harm to national interests.

Stemming from practical requirements, the 1998 Law has also provided in Article 22 for “certificates of Vietnamese citizenship,” aiming to satisfy the aspiration of overseas Vietnamese who still retain Vietnamese citizenship, when they invest in the country and require certificates of Vietnamese citizenship for enjoyment of preferential policies.

Loss of citizenship

The 1998 Law prescribed cases in which Vietnamese nationals would lose their citizenship:

- Renouncing citizenship;

- Being deprived of citizenship;

- Being so provided by a treaty to which the Socialist Republic of Vietnam has signed or acceded; and,

- Cases defined in Clause 2 of Article 19, and Articles 26 and 28 of the Law.

Compared to only one article in the 1988 Law, dwelling on the competence and procedures for settlement of citizenship matters, the 1998 Law devotes 10 articles to providing more adequately and more specifically for the competence of various bodies, including the National Assembly, the President, the Government, ministries, ministerial-level agencies, government-attached agencies, provincial-level People’s Committees, and overseas diplomatic missions and consulates. It also spells out the procedures for settlement of citizenship matters, including places for filing applications, time limits for settlement of requests related to citizenship, and settlement of citizenship-related complaints, denunciations and disputes.

After ten years in effect, the 1998 Law has played an important role in creating a legal basis for closer relationships between citizens and the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, ensuring the performance of Vietnamese citizens’ rights and obligations towards the State and affirming the Vietnamese State’s responsibility towards its citizens.

However, current domestic and international situations have seen great changes with Vietnam becoming a member of the World Trade Organization and instituting open-door policies for international integration and attraction of foreign investment. This requires revision of a number of legal documents, including the 1998 Law on Citizenship, to suit these realities.

The emergence of the 2005 Civil Code, the 2005 Law on Investment, the 2005 Law on Residence and the 2005 Housing Law has made a number of provisions of the 1998 Law on Citizenship no longer suitable. In addition, many other provisions of the Law remain infeasible (such as those concerning the sole-citizenship principle). And state administration of citizenship is inefficient and not concentrated in one key body.

For these reasons, revision of the 1998 Law on Citizenship was inevitable. On November 13, 2008, the National Assembly passed the new Law on Citizenship, which will take effect on July 1, 2009.-

Tags: citizenship , law

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