Every so often, a scare article appears in western European media, mostly in the right wing press, claiming that Romania’s citizenship policy in Moldova is allowing thousands to exploit a passport loophole that allows them easy access to live and work in the EU (see Le Monde, Daily Express, Der Spiegel, even BBC News). Just yesterday, with news that Moldova’s access to budget travel was increasing with a tri-weekly WizzAir flight to London, The Sun reported this as evidence that Moldovans, via Romanian passports, were “flooding” to the EU. While this fits into a growing narrative of right wing obsession with EU migration rights, it is also a misrepresentation of the experiences of acquiring Romanian citizenship in Moldova.
Firstly, before Moldovans received EU visa free access in 2014, their access to the EU, and most notably Romania, was highly restricted. Visas were costly and required sums of money in the bank (€500) that were out of reach for most. Romanian citizenship therefore became a pragmatic tool to circumvent restrictions imposed since Romania acceded to the EU in 2007, and travel between Romania and Moldova became much more difficult and costly.
Secondly, Romania does not “give” out Romanian citizenship. It is an application process that can take up to two years, with individuals waiting patiently to receive their invitation to the embassy to be able to file their documents. It is also expensive. Before you can even apply, you have to have documents, that must be in Romanian. This means Soviet era documents have to be translated and transcribed into Romanian; this all costs money. Because Romanian citizenship is “reacquired” from grandparents, and great grandparents, who lost their Romanian citizenship during the Second World War when the Soviet Union annexed the present-day territory of Moldova, these documents also often have to be retrieved from archives. With Soviet policies of deportation, this can make documents, such as grandparents’ birth certificates, particularly hard to locate.
All of this leads to a time-consuming and expensive process, even before the application has been made. With this, consider that Romanian bureaucracy has been over-run by applications. Leading to, among those I interviewed, an average waiting period of 1-2 years. At least until 2012, there’s also a huge back log of applications, held over from when Romanian citizenship reacquisition was suspended (2001-2007), while Romania tried to accede to the EU.
In the eyes of many Moldovans, and the Romanian state, Romanian citizenship is a fair trade for the abuses of the Soviet state to their grandparents, and great grandparents, in Romania failing to act towards a state withdrawing Romanian citizenship from them at the end of the Second World War, and the brutalities of fifties years of Soviet rule.
Romanian citizenship is certainly an attractive thing to have in a world where Moldovans have been pushed to the periphery; it allows the freedom of movement, residence and status as an EU citizen, for individuals, that is seeming further away at a state-level. This is why describing it as a “loophole” is dehumanising by overlooking the experiences of document retrieval, application and the reasons for application which demonstrate that Romania is not simply giving out Romanian passports to Moldovans.
This post is based on my thesis research on the experiences and practices of Romanian citizenship in Moldova.