Can I get my birth right back? Applying for dual citizenship as an intercountry adoptee

Something that has bothered me since I found my biological family is that I was forced to relinquish my Sri Lankan citizenship post-adoption. It seemed simply unfair. I did not give it up voluntarily. I did not move with a family who gave up their citizenship together (one in, all in). It was, to me, another loss to add to a mountain of losses already a mile high. Was there anything that I was allowed to keep? Did I really have to give up another thing that every other person is entitled to, and currently takes for granted, by way of birth right?

 


 

BIRTH RIGHT

(noun)

  1. A particular right of possession or privilege a person has from birth…
  2. A natural or moral right, possessed by everyone.

 

Oxford Dictionary


 

I did not get Australian citizenship until I was five years old. There seems to be a ‘grey area’ in my citizenship history. My parents were told by lawyers that adoption would automatically bestow Australian citizenship upon me, yet according to the Australian Government, I was not a citizen until I was 5 years old. I find this gap in my citizenship troubling and I probably have an odd obsession with it. I attribute such obsession to anxiety over lack of knowledge around my own birth story and how I came to be. This is part of that story – my early life – and it has so many blanks. For years, I accepted this believed I had choice but to accept this. Yet, now I am in reunion, I have come to realise how validating and powerful knowing your own story is and I want every blank filled; i’s dotted and t’s crossed. It may be unrealistic to obtain that. It is worth a try though.

 

My trip to Sri Lanka in 2014, and my contact with my family, have highlighted to me my strong connection to my country of birth even though I have experienced my lifetime in Australia and made strong connections here too. So, to say that I was excited when I realised that Sri Lanka had decided to allow some previous citizens to resume their Sri Lankan citizenship whilst still retaining their current foreign citizenship (ie ‘dual citizenship’), was a definite understatement. There are costs involved in applying for, and obtaining, dual citizenship in Sri Lanka and the eligibility categories are narrow. At this stage, it seems like I can satisfy the criteria. I hope so.

 

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To some people, applying for dual citizenship might be a simple, unemotional process. I would have thought so too, until I decided to apply. The lead up to submission of my citizenship application has been anything but simple and unemotional, despite the fact that the Sri Lankan Government has developed a fairly straightforward application process.

 

On the day that I went to submit my citizenship application, I was rushed and thinking of many things. In my rush to leave – I COMPLETELY FORGOT my paperwork. That is so unlike me. I had gone through the paperwork meticulously, but then LEFT IT AT HOME. We were almost in Sydney CBD when I realised the huge mistake I had made. That realisation led to a lot of crying, self-blame, stressing and guilt. We had no choice, but to turn around and drive back home.

 

On returning home, we realised there was just enough time to go allllll the way back to the Consulate. So my understanding husband and I started driving back. Then he looked on the Consulate website and realised, luckily, that it was unclear whether the Consulate needed to see my passport (the dual citizenship application instructions stated that I could provide a Justice of the Peace certified copy of the bio page of my passport – which I had with me – but then went on to say that passports were required for consular services). I did NOT take this news well. At this point, my husband decided it would be better if he drove because I was way too upset. In fact, I had a total melt down. The stress of dealing with all the bureaucracy had gotten to me. I felt (and still feel) that it is distressing that I was stripped of citizenship against my will with no consideration to how I would feel. Now I am trying to regain my citizenship and it is incredibly difficult to do so. I understand why. Of course it is must be a very careful process. However dealing with bureaucracy and living far away from all the Government services was proving difficult. (I note that my local passport office no longer provides this service but did provide it until very recently. Thank you Government changes).

 

If I had immigrated with my family, they would be able to assist me in this type of task, even if only because they could speak the same language as the Consulate and understand how ‘things were done’ in my birth country. Whilst the Sri Lankan Consulate officers were knowledgeable and could speak English, it was clear that they were surprised when talking to me (probably because of my Australian accent – we couldn’t understand each other easily despite both speaking English) and they eventually asked whether I was born in Sri Lanka. I felt the implication was that I couldn’t possibly be Sri Lankan because of the way I spoke. Perhaps it is only my sensitivity around the topic of citizenship that led me to make this large mental leap It is quite possible he was not thinking anything of the sort, but trying to confirm my eligibility to apply. Yet I was struck again by how I felt like I really did not belong – would they consider me Sri Lankan enough to be eligible to regain citizenship? Was I still unacceptable (illegitimate and now too Westernised )?

 

There is no advice or support for intercountry adoptees dealing with these types of practical issues relating to our right to stay connected to our culture and origins. We are completely on our own with no one to assist us in navigating our previous citizenships. Some might say that this would be the case for any adult applying for citizenship – but I disagree, because the family of that person would be able to help them or they may even be applying together. In my case, the adoptee case, the family that raised me had no idea about obtaining citizenship in my birth country because it was a foreign country to them. The family to which I was born did not know about citizenship either because they had ever never lost their citizenship. Neither family knew anything about obtaining citizenship because they continued to live in their respective birth countries. It is this sort of situation that intercountry adoptees are caught up in, which demonstrate how lonely it can be. Neither family could relate to our situation. Different rules apply to us as compared to our family members.

 

Dual citizenship would enable me to easily reside in Sri Lanka and I would be able to participate in the community and economy there, working and living amongst other Sri Lankans. I would love to have my citizenship returned to me, so I can feel I am more of a ‘real’ Sri Lankan. (Even though I know it is not that simple, this would be a good step towards that).

 

It is not the process or the paperwork that is the problem. As a lawyer, I have certainly completed my share of forms, and as a former Government Lawyer, bureaucracy is not unfamiliar to me. Yet my application for dual citizenship was not merely process or paperwork. It was, and is, personal.

 

It would be excellent if there were resources for us intercountry adoptees, so that when an opportunity such as this comes up, we were 1) able to be informed about such processes and given practical advice on how to navigate these systems and 2) able to have support to discuss any issues arising as a result of the application.

 

To some people, especially those who are not adopted, obtaining dual citizenship might be a simple, unemotional process with an exciting goal in sight. I would have thought so too, until I started applying for it. I have come to realise that for me, dual citizenship is more than a bureaucratic process. More than a piece of paper. It’s a type of validation that I’m Sri Lankan.

 

One should not need validation, but in the case of this intercountry adoptee, I won’t deny that it helps.

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