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NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, June 24) – Tonga’s Privy Council has agreed to allow dual citizenship for Tongans and urgent legislation will go to the House this year to make it a reality.

"The decision should bring joy to the hearts of every Tongan - here and overseas," said the Prime Minister Hon. Dr Feleti Sevele, in announcing that the Privy Council yesterday morning, June 23, had approved a submission from the Tongan Cabinet to make dual citizenship for Tongan citizens lawful.

The change is expected to end years of anguish for thousands of Tongans who were forced to relinquish their Tongan passports - many of them seized at Tonga's borders - after they became citizens of countries where they have established their economic bases.

Allowing duality will remove an obstacle to investment in Tonga by overseas Tongans, and dual citizenship will be also be welcomed by Tongan women who lose their Tongan nationality when they marry foreign men.

However, the details of the amendments have yet to be seen.

The Prince Regent, Crown Prince Tupouto’a, in Privy Council directed the Crown Law Office, to formulate the necessary draft amendments to the Nationality Act (CAP 59) and to other relevant legislations, "with the expressed aim of enacting them during the current session of Parliament."

The Prime Minister, Hon Dr. Feleti Sevele, noted that in 2002 the Legislative Assembly had voted in favour of a Parliamentary motion to allow dual citizenship. "In June 2004, my predecessor, HRH Prince ‘Ulukalala Lavaka Ata directed the relevant Government department to propose how dual citizenship could be implemented as soon as possible. In December 2005 Cabinet agreed to establish a Committee to review the Nationality Act.

"Now Privy Council has directed that the work must be speeded up so that dual citizenship for Tongan citizens can become a reality during this year, 2006. The Privy Council’s decision this morning should bring joy to the hearts of every Tongan – here and overseas."

The Privy Council also directed the Crown Law Office to correct anomalies within the Nationality Act.

Under the existing Act, a person born out of wedlock to a Tongan mother in a foreign country could be a stateless child. At the same time a person born out of wedlock to a Tongan mother in Tonga is recognized as a Tongan national.

Similarly, children of Tongan persons who take up citizenship in another country and who take on the new nationality of their parents also lose their Tongan nationality. Yet foreigners who take up Tonga nationality can retain their original nationality, and thus enjoy dual citizenship, because there is no requirement in the existing Act for them to relinquish their original nationality.

Under the existing Act, a Tongan citizen loses their Tongan nationality if he/she voluntarily takes up citizenship in a foreign country. Similarly, a Tongan woman who marries a foreigner and takes on her husband’s nationality also loses her Tongan citizenship.

June 26, 2006

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