OCMA Uldis Apsītis: A new digital tool to encourage non-citizens on the road to Latvian citizenship

"How did the proportion of Latvians among the Latvian population change during the Soviet occupation?", "Why is Lāčplēsis Day celebrated in Latvia on November 11?" - such and similar questions are asked in the new digital tool, with the help of which interested parties can ascertain their knowledge and prepare for examinations for the acquisition of Latvian citizenship. Uldis Apsītis, Deputy Head of the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, talks about the new tool.
04.08.2021. Elita Veidemane
 
©Madara Puķe

Please tell us about the new digital tool.

It is an opportunity to try the naturalization exam by answering questions about language and state laws, history and culture, the Constitution and the anthem. Such a tool will make the task of passing the exam easier, and perhaps people will be less afraid of this test.

Are people really scared?

We regularly conduct surveys of target groups. About a quarter, when asked why they do not naturalize, say that they are afraid of the exam.

I think the exam is very easy.

It just seems like that to us. The language part in particular is difficult. Of course, such an exam will be easy for us. For those who do not use Latvian widely on a daily basis, this part of the exam will be quite complicated. The number of people who pass the necessary checks to obtain citizenship is decreasing every year. That is why, to encourage people, we have developed this online tool, which shows that the exam is not extremely complicated. But it's not just for encouragement - it's also for studying. When a person marks the answers they think are correct in the tool, it then tells them - were they are correct or not.

Have you been present at an exam yourself - to get an idea of ​​how it works?

I listened once. Of course, people are worried during the exam. It is one thing to listen and understand, quite another to speak. Of course, speaking is not included in the new exam tool, people have to train by themselves.

Is it a positive moment that people acquire the citizenship of the Republic of Latvia? Do they need it?

Those who really want to acquire the citizenship of the Republic of Latvia must get it. On the other hand, for those who do not want to such an electronic tool means nothing. A person has to decide for himself whether he needs it or not. If a person has established a family here, works here, he intends to stay in Latvia and support it, then why not? In addition, some professions are only available to citizens. On the other hand, those who still have non-citizen passports have their own argument not to try to acquire the citizenship of the Republic of Latvia: there is no problem entering Russia with the old passport.

How long did the development of the online tool take?

About a year. It is one thing to develop the technical solution, quite another - to create a set of questions and tasks so that everything is understandable and logical. The availability of the digital tool has been important for a long time, and it became particularly vital during the pandemic when face-to-face communication was limited.

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The naturalization process started on February 1, 1995, and by December 31, 2020, 148,478 naturalization applications had been received for 161,911 persons. According to the data of the Register of Natural Persons, on January 1, 2020, the population of Latvia was 2.083 million (now less), of which 85% or 1.768 million inhabitants were Latvian citizens, 10% or 216,682 were non-citizens of Latvia, while 5% or 98,200 - foreigners.

For the time being, it is difficult to predict whether the digital tool will encourage non-citizens to decide on the citizenship of the Republic of Latvia. The exam is, objectively speaking, simple, so it does not require an enormous intellectual effort to pass. Apparently, those more than 200,000 non-citizens have arguments other than the existential fear of some basic questions. And among “other arguments” we often see deep contempt for Latvia, its history and culture. In such cases, no digital tool will help.

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