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Samoa: Citizenship Act Amended to Allow Second Generation Samoans Overseas to Claim Citizenship

(Aug. 24, 2016) On August 23, 2016, the Samoan Legislative Assembly (the unicameral Parliament of Samoa) passed a bill that enables people born outside the country who have at least one grandparent who is or was a Samoan citizen to be granted citizenship.  (Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 & Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016: Explanatory Memorandum, Parliament of Samoa website; Bills: 1.01 Bills Considered in Detail and Third Read by the Assembly, LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF SAMOA PROCEDURAL & STATISTICAL DIGEST, No. 23 (Aug. 23, 2016), Parliament of Samoa website.)  The current law, the Citizenship Act 2004, allows only those who, at the time of their birth, have at least one Samoan citizen parent (who must be a citizen otherwise than by descent and have resided in Samoa for at least three years) to claim citizenship by descent.  (Citizenship Act 2004, s 7, Consolidated Acts of Samoa 2015, Pacific Legal Information Institute website.)

The Citizenship Amendment Bill amends the relevant provision in the Citizenship Act to state that a person born outside of Samoa is a citizen by descent provided that, at the time of the person’s birth, “at least 1 parent or grandparent of the person is or was a Samoan citizen.”  (Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016, cl 2.)  The residency requirement is not changed and will apply to either the parent or grandparent.  The bill includes a transitional provision that enables those born before the amendment comes into force to claim citizenship.  (Id. cl 3.)  This means that applications that “are pending with the Ministry [of the Prime Minister and Cabinet] awaiting enactment of the Bill” are covered.  (Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016: Explanatory Memorandum, supra.)

The Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, stated that the amendments are “intended to permit non-citizen Samoan descendants to represent Samoa in various sporting events,” and that the current law affected the number of athletes able to represent Samoa at the 2016 Rio Olympics.  (Lanuola Tusani Tupufia, Law Passed with No Objections, SAMOA OBSERVER (Aug. 24, 2016).)  He also noted, “[w]ith the increase of Samoan [rugby] league players taking up contracts in England, there had been an increase in request [sic] for Samoan citizenship by overseas Samoan descendant [sic] to enable them to represent Samoa when possible … that is the whole gist of the amendment is to reach out to Samoans born overseas who want to represent our country to make Samoa known to the world.”  (Id.)

During committee hearings on the bill, one member of Parliament, Olo Fiti Va’ai, raised concerns that the amendments would allow wealthy foreign investors who are granted citizenship to bring their descendants to Samoa and that such citizens could stand in general elections under current laws.  (Id.)  Another member, however, supported the amendments and questioned “why the lineage entitlement was limited to one’s grandparents and not extended to great grandparents.”  (Id.)  The committee chairperson responded that such an extension could lead to unforeseen complications.  (Id.)

Samoa’s immigration website states that “Samoan citizenship entitles individuals to a range of privileges in Samoa.”  (Samoan Citizenship, SAMOA IMMIGRATION, Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet website (last visited Aug. 24, 2016).)  These privileges include:

  • the ability to purchase land;
  • the right to vote in General Elections;
  • the right to obtain Samoan travel documentation;
  • the ability to represent Samoa in sporting events;
  • the right to claim pension;
  • easier access to employment opportunities;
  • the right to apply for educational scholarships; and
  • cheaper health care.  (Id.)