Thousands of South Africans living abroad were dealt a massive blow when a judgment at the Pretoria High Court brought no relief for South Africans abroad that lost their SA citizenship when they assumed citizenship in foreign countries. Over the last few years, many South Africans lost their citizenship without being notified. The High Court in Pretoria once again highlighted the importance of retention letters.
High Court ruling outcome on citizenship retention
The recent developments in court were brought by the DA. The case argued that section 6(1)(a) of the South African Citizenship Act 88 of 1995 violates the rights of South Africans by stripping them of their SA citizenship if they acquire foreign citizenship. But according to the constitution, there is a difference between “loss” and “deprivation” of citizenship. It was found that the act does not deprive South Africans of their citizenship. This is because they have the freedom to apply for citizenship retention letters with the DHA before applying for foreign citizenship.
This means that South Africans do not have to give up their citizenship when seeking to apply for citizenship abroad. But the problem is that many South Africans are not aware of these rights. They are also unaware in most cases of the fact that they must apply for retention letters. And few know that they stand to automatically lose their South African citizenship for failing to do so.
Unconstitutional practices to be appealed
In most cases, South Africans living and working abroad only realise they lost their South African citizenship when trying to renew their passports from abroad. Another critical flaw in the system is the fact that retention letters aren’t currently being issued under lockdown restrictions. Even if South Africans wish to apply to retain their citizenship, they cannot do so under current circumstances.
The DA plans to make an application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal against the ruling. They argue that the court assumed those who lost their South African citizenship intended to do so. The fact that there is insufficient information and bad advice available for South Africans seeking advice on the matter is also being placed under the spotlight.
It is unconstitutional that South Africans are being stripped of their citizenship without even being notified of it. It should be common knowledge to apply for a retention letter if you want to maintain your SA citizenship. Still, many people are unaware of how the process works. The outcome of the Supreme Court of Appeal case should hopefully aid in the matter.
Why are citizenship retention letters so important?
If you are considering taking up dual citizenship, it is important to understand the legalities around it. You are required by law to apply with the DHA to retain your South African citizenship. Should you fail to do this before applying for foreign citizenship, you risk automatically losing your South African citizenship.
Although an option for resuming South African citizenship does exist if you lost it, the process is extremely complicated. We do not advise this route since it can take years to regain citizenship after losing it. There are also financial and administrative obligations involved in the process.
The importance of renewing your passport from within South Africa
The South African authorities have no way of knowing if you take up foreign citizenship abroad. Foreign authorities do not inform them of your new citizenship. In fact, the only way South African authorities realise that you have obtained foreign citizenship is when you apply to have your SA passport renewed from abroad.
Once they receive the passport renewal application from the embassy abroad, the Department of Home Affairs starts investigating why you are applying from abroad and not from within SA. They then do a Determination of Citizenship check to validate your current status. If it is found that you obtained foreign citizenship without first applying to retain your South African citizenship, you stand to automatically lose it.
It is also much faster and efficient to apply for your passport locally instead of using the foreign consulate services. When applying for a passport from abroad, it can easily take up to a year. From within South Africa, however, the process can be finalised in as little as two weeks.
Please keep in mind that all passport applications must be done in person and this is not something we can assist our clients with.
Professional assistance with citizenship retention letters
We always advise our clients to apply for South African Citizenship Retention letters, regardless of how long it might take to get issued. Even if the process takes a year or two, it simply is not worth risking your SA citizenship in a bid to try and find loopholes in the system or avoid official processes altogether.
In many cases, you do not need a retention letter in hand to start the application process for dual citizenship. As long as you logged your application for a retention letter with the DHA before starting the process, you can start the foreign citizenship application process.
Apostil.co.za can assist you with applying for your citizenship retention letter. We’ll take care of all your paperwork and ensure you obtain your official documents in the fastest time possible. Get in touch with us today to learn more about our pricing and wide range of assistance services.