HANOI (AFP) — Vietnam has amended its nationality law to legalise dual citizenship, a change that could affect many in the Vietnamese diaspora of more than three million people, officials said Friday.
The legislature of the communist country on Thursday passed a revised law that maintains Vietnam's long standing single-nationality principle but, for the first time, allows for a number of exceptions.
The change means that many post-war refugees and other overseas Vietnamese who have become citizens of second countries can officially reclaim their lapsed Vietnamese nationality without losing their new citizenship.
"Those who apply to regain Vietnamese nationality can retain their foreign citizenship if they have justified cause and with permission from the state president," reported the state-run Vietnam News Agency (VNA).
The law also says that children born overseas to at least one Vietnamese parent will be able to claim citizenship of the Southeast Asian country.
The amendment brings the decade-old law in line with what has long been common practice, as many Vietnamese immigrants in the United States, Europe, Canada, Australia and elsewhere hold two or more passports.
Vietnam has in recent years stepped up efforts to lure back overseas Vietnamese or 'Viet Kieu' -- many of whom still harbour a deep distrust of the state they once fled -- along with their capital and expertise.
Many of them fled their homeland during and after the Vietnam war, which ended in 1975, often surviving harrowing journeys as boat people followed by years in crowded refugee camps to start new lives in about 100 countries.
The VNA report said a strict single-nationality rule "no longer conforms to real-life, practical situations" and had led to many violations.
The text of the amended law said that those who regain their Vietnamese nationality are "assured... all rights of citizenship and must obey all citizens' duties towards the state and society according to its laws."
This would suggest that those who regain their Vietnamese nationality will enjoy full rights, such as being able to buy property, but may also be subject to obligations such as military service for males.
However, the law also states that further government decrees will be issued to clarify some of the finer points of the amended law.
National Assembly deputy and Vietnamese historian Duong Trung Quoc told AFP legislators had debated whether those who regain citizenship could buy property, vote in elections and would have to do military service.
"These are not simple issues and deputies only dealt with them in principle," he said. "Ensuring their full rights to citizenship is a huge task.
"Legal conflicts will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis and in concrete circumstances, depending on Vietnamese laws and international conventions signed by Vietnam."