Sunday, January 25, 2015

Non-resident Nepalese Association (NRNA) and Issue of Dual Citizenship

Dr. Rabin Man Shakya
Portland, Oregon,  USA.

Today more than ever, non-resident Nepalese movement has truly become a global force. The Non-resident Nepali Association which was created by a conference held on Oct 11-14, 2003 in Kathmandu is continuously gathering momentum.

In fact, 2003 the year of formation of NRNA was a year of tremendous importance for Nepal. Hundreds of thousands of people of Nepalese origin across the world have become the part of Nepalese diaspora's global forum that is dedicated to support the economic development of Nepal with different projects. NRNA is the most effective and organized international body of the Nepalese abroad.

Non-resident Nepalese Association - National Coordination Councils have been established in 72 countries of the world, so far. As of now, there are more than 100,000 NRN individual members in the world. Among the hundred thousand NRN individual members in the world, 17,000 are only from the United States making it the most representative NRN - National Coordination Council body in the  world followed by Australia where the number of NRN individual members is 8,000.

A number of countries across the world have benefited tremendously by mobilizing their own people residing abroad, by utilizing resources and expertise, and Nepal should not be an exception. There is no doubt that NRNs have, palpably, rendered significant contributions in some economic and social sectors of Nepal.

NRN-NCC-USA Oregon Chapter's office bearers outside of the Oregon Chapter's office in Portland, USA

Well, the Nepalese people are also not untouched by the process of globalization and international migration. Globalization and global migration are taking place very rapidly. Millions of Nepalese have migrated to other countries in search of jobs owing to dismal economic scenario in Nepal. In fact, as result of globalization and global migration, it will be hard to find a country where a Nepali has not reached today. Thousands of enterprising, educated and professional Nepalese  have sought opportunities abroad. Even twenty years ago, it was unimaginable for Nepalese to go abroad  (except India) for  permanent residency or employment opportunities. The new wave underscores the evolving nature of global migration. However,  no matter, where they go or settle, a Nepali always remains a Nepali. NRNA  should be the common platform of the Nepalese people living abroad. It should champion the common cause and interest of the common Nepalese living abroad, not just the interest of  the nouveau riche, entrepreneurs and technical experts. Today Nepalese diaspora living abroad have some kind of  effects on the entire rural and urban lives of Nepal. In fact, non-resident Nepalese have become the house-hold word in Nepal.

Judging by the contents of the social media sites,  since the debate about the role of NRNA in the nation-building process kicked off some years ago, some sections of the Nepalese people are skeptical about what they view it as the club of some riche-rich.

There is no doubt that NRNA should not be a political platform and NRNs should not be contracted by viruses of political maneuvers and bickering. But it goes without saying that there should always be cordial and harmonious relations between the state and NRNA. At the same time, the state must play a proactive role to facilitate and encourage the NRNs to create jobs and augment the national economy.

Individual members of the NRN-NCC-USA Oregon Chapter

Therefore, when the Constituent Assembly of Nepal enacted Non-resident  Nepali Act 2008, one pillar of the Act's sweeping objectives was to motivate NRNs to take part in all round advancement of Nepal and enhance their attachment towards Nepal and to encourage their investment in Nepal.

For last several years, the NRNA has been earnestly demanding dual citizenship with the   Nepal government.  As of now, according to Nepal's existing citizenship law, people of Nepali origin who have taken up foreign citizenship automatically lose Nepali citizenship, even if the Non-resident Citizenship has been guaranteed in the new constitution of Nepal.

 Anyway, one of the remarkable aspects of the new constitution of Nepal (2015) is related to a provision that grants non-residential citizenship to non-resident Nepalese living across the world.

Thus, the new constitution of Nepal has included a provision to grant non-resident citizenship without voting and political rights to NRNs who hold citizenship of  countries other than SAARC nations.

As per the  new constitutional provision, NRNs holding such citizenship will be ensured economic, social and cultural rights in Nepal.

This means that NRNs can purchase and sell properties or engage in business activities in Nepal. Article 19 of part 2 of the new constitution of Nepal dealing with citizenship states that NRNs that NRNs holding citizenship of foreign countries excluding SAARC nations can be granted non-resident citizenship that will make them eligible to exercise economic, social and cultural rights as per Nepal's law.

However, make no mistake. There should not be any confusion that non-resident citizenship guaranteed by the new constitution of Nepal is not a dual citizenship. Anyway, the provision of non-resident citizenship in our new constitution is a fait accompli. That means for the time being, at least, there is no option for NRNs (who have taken citizenship of a foreign country) except to accept it because that is the practical and real situation that NRNs cannot change right away. But NRNA should always be effortful in pressing the government and the parliament for the full dual citizenship in future.

NRNs holding green cards and permanent resident status are still the one hundred percent citizens of Nepal and non-resident citizenship guaranteed by the  new constitution of Nepal does not apply to them. The new non-resident citizenship provided for by the new constitution only applies to those who have obtained citizenship of a foreign country.

More than 70 nations across the world including India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan have already implemented the provision of dual citizenship with none or minimal exceptional prohibitions.

Since NRNA Position Paper on Dual Citizenship has unambiguously thrown light on the importance and benefits of dual citizenship, I am just going to express some random thoughts on NRNA and dual citizenship issue. According to the NRNA Position Paper on Dual Citizenship, all major political parties in principle agree to provide dual citizenship to the NRNs.

But the discrepancy between the rhetoric and action is the main problem in finding an amicable solution to the issue of dual citizenship. Majority of the stalwarts of the mainstream political parties are committed to granting dual citizenship. However, their actions do not match their verbal commitments. In the past, in rhetoric and public speeches, leaders of the main political parties kept saying that they would leave no stone unturned to provide dual citizenship to the NRNs.

The challenges facing the NRNs are indeed formidable since the global forum of the Nepalese diaspora has to win a lot of 'battles' including the dual citizenship issue. Going by the social media pages, the issue of dual citizenship has drawn fire from some of the social media users who accuse NRNs of having a 'vested interest'.

Well, every organization has its own aims, objectives, priorities and interest, so does the NRNA too. At least, comparing to the notorious political stalwarts and dubious business tycoons of Nepal, the NRNs have a lot more credibility and trustworthiness of the Nepalese people and intellectuals.

The complexities, fluidity and uncertainty of the dual citizenship issue have created illusions among the common Nepalese living abroad.Though, there are lots of debates going on about the dual citizenship for the NRNs, my personal opinion is: Dual citizenship is pretty good and beneficial for an economically beleaguered  nation like ours. The impoverished nation like ours can only benefit by providing dual citizenship to the NRNs.

There are two sides of the citizenship issue. On the one hand, tens of thousands of NRNs have acquired the citizenship of the nations where they are living and on the other hand tens of thousands of the NRNs have still maintained the Nepalese citizenship by holding the green cards. Thirteen years have passed since I moved  to the US with my family. Although I was eligible for taking the US citizenship ten years ago, I have not embraced for one mainly because I do not want to lose my Nepalese citizenship. Therefore, as soon as Nepal government enacts the full dual citizenship, I will be one of the first to apply for the US citizenship. And I am not alone in this case, there are thousands of Nepalese only in the US waiting for the passage of dual citizenship law.

USA-Oregon's NRNs Pradeep Bajracharya and Dr. Rabin Man Shakya
There is no doubt that government's lingering or reluctance  to provide full dual citizenship to NRNs will only provoke a crises of confidence and goodwill for what was long seen as global diaspora force that had provided some kind of support to the Peoples Movement in 1990 and 2006.

Therefore, any decision on the approval or disapproval of dual citizenship motivated by the parochial and partisan interest of certain political parties or groups cannot address and meet the overall aspirations and interests of the Nepalese diaspora.

It would be in the best interest of the government to distance itself from the dual citizenship, mono citizenship dichotomy, and just take effective steps to enforce the dual citizenship to NRNs.

Therefore. procrastination and dilly-dallying in announcing the dual citizenship to the NRNs is harmful to the interest of the nation. Obviously, the political parties especially the ruling Nepali Congress and CPN-UML should shed their rigidity and come together to address the dual citizenship issue in a broader perspective.

Remittance, foreign aid and tourism remain the cornerstone of Nepalese economy and NRNA as the global forum of the Nepalese diaspora can play as a rallying force to enhance  and consolidate them.While this is also true that the role of the Nepalese diaspora abroad in the upliftment of the economy is pivotal and dignified,  time has also come for  the NRNs to come forward with more concrete actions and projects to lend stimulus to the process of country's progress and prosperity.

*Dr Shakya, a Portland based writer, is former assistant editor at the RSS, former associate editor at The Rising Nepal and former lecturer of journalism at the Peoples Campus. He is also advisor of Nepa Chhen, a Portland based non-profit and Education Director of Non-resident Nepali Association, USA Oregon Chapter. Also, Dr Shakya is founding executive member and former secretary of Nepal-Russia Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

**Please read my other NRNA related articles headlined (1)"NRNA-USA Oregon Chapter's First General Meeting Kicks Off" in the month of June,  2015 (2) "Certificates of Election Awarded to NRN-NCC-USA Oregon Chapter Officials" in the month of August, 2015 (3) "Non-resident Citizenship: That's the Way the Cookie Crumbles" in the month of Dec, 2015  (4) "Are the NRNs of the US sidelined in the Recent NRNA Vote?" in the month of Oct, 2015 and (5) "Non-resident Nepali Association - NCC - USA Oregon Chapter and Local Nepalese Diaspora" in the month of Aug, 2015 and "Economic Blockade and Role of NRNA" in the month of November, 2015.

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