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Have you lost your citizenship?
SA CHAMBER USA requested our member and leading immigration attorney Karen-Lee Pollak to provide an opinion on the recent Supreme Court Ruling regarding SA Citizenship that may be reinstated. Karen-Lee Pollak shared her expert opinion on the request of the SA Chamber USA to inform South Africans in the USA about their South African Citizenship.
South African Citizenship may be reinstated for many after the South African Supreme Court rules Current Citizenship Law Unconstitutional By Karen-Lee Pollak
Many South Africans living abroad have become citizens of other countries. However, unbeknownst to them they automatically lost their South African citizenship as they were unaware of a South African law requiring them to first apply to retain South African citizenship before becoming citizens of another country.
The law in question is section 6(1)(a) of the Citizenship Act of 1995 which states that South African citizen is automatically stripped of their citizenship if they acquire the citizenship of another country unless they first seek and receive permission from the Minister of Home Affairs to do so.
However, not all hope is lost. On June 13, 2023, in a case brought by the Democratic Alliance, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) unanimously ruled that the above law is unconstitutional. A statement from the High Court reads: “It is further declared that those citizens who lost their citizenship by operation of section 6(1)(a) of the South African Citizenship Act 88 of 1995 are deemed not to have lost their citizenship.”
Finally, after a 5-year court battle, the judgment of the SCA is a victory for the constitutional right to citizenship. The case involved Mr. Plaatjes who met his British citizen wife while working overseas.
He eventually became a British citizen. To his dismay, when he attempted to renew his passport, he was told that he had lost his South African citizenship. He told the court that he never lost his deep commitment to South Africa and expressed his grave concerns about how being stripped of his citizenship may separate him from his South African relatives. An online survey conducted by the Democratic Alliance found that 87% of those who have automatically lost their citizenship had not known about Section 6 and that only 3% intended to forgo their citizenship.
While we are cautiously optimistic that this decision will become final, the Department of Home Affairs has not confirmed whether it will appeal the decision to the Constitutional Court. If it appeals and wins, the provision may again be held valid and South African citizens seeking another country’s citizenship will need to continue to apply to retain their South African citizenship. If the Department does not appeal the decision, South Africans who become citizens of other countries will not have to first apply and receive permission from the Minister of Home Affairs to retain their South African citizenship. More than 800 000 permanent residents apply for U.S. citizenship on an annual basis, with a record number of 850 000 applications being received by USCIS in 2018. On average, 90% of these get approved. It is currently taking about a year from the date of filing to obtain U.S. citizenship.
Karen-Lee Pollak is the Managing Attorney at Pollak PLLC, an award-winning immigration law firm located in Texas. She is originally from South Africa and understands from first-hand personal and business experience the intricacies of uprooting your family to live and work in the United States.