An American friend of mine now living in Vietnam recently applied for Singaporean citizenship. He has disagreed with US foreign policy since the aftermath of 9/11 and didn’t see why he should pay tax to a country he didn’t live in and which he felt no longer represented his life and who he stood for. Having spent a number of years in Singapore, he was offered the chance to “naturalise”.
His application was turned down, but it raised an interesting question. With Vietnam being completely removed from the present battle against Islamic extremism, wouldn’t now be the time to apply for Vietnamese citizenship? There are no terrorism attacks, no bombings, no knifings. The cost of living is cheap, the weather’s good (well, most of the time), and if you’re skilled and have a bit of get-go, there’s lots of work. We have a good lifestyle, we can travel, we aren’t beset by an obsession with rules, business is efficient and most importantly, physically in Vietnam you are safe.
People have already told me that thanks to my language skills I’m already half-Vietnamese, a comment I’m never quite sure how to accept. And having flirted for many years with the idea of applying for permanent residency — this is doable providing you fulfil certain criteria — I decided to look at going the whole hog. I decided to see what I would need to do to become Vietnamese.
Fortunately, I’m not the only person to do this. A certain lawyer, Dr. Matthias Dühn, has been thinking the same thoughts, and in early December he shared a post on LinkedIn about applying for Vietnamese citizenship.
“In times of turmoil, insecurity and lack of stability in Europe, foreign inquiries for obtaining Vietnamese citizenship have been on the rise,” began the post. He continued by explaining the conditions required to apply for citizenship. These are:
a) Having the full civil act capacity as prescribed by Vietnam’s laws
b) Obeying the Constitution and laws of Vietnam; respecting the traditions, customs and practices of the Vietnamese nation
c) Understanding Vietnamese sufficiently enough to integrate themselves into the Vietnamese community
d) Having resided in Vietnam for five years or more by the time of application for naturalization
e) Being capable of making their livelihood in Vietnam.
If you don’t fully meet the conditions outlined in c), d) and e), then you may still be considered for citizenship if you fall into one of the following cases:
i) Being a spouse, natural parent or natural offspring of Vietnamese citizens
ii) Having made meritorious contributions to Vietnam’s national construction and defence
iii) Being helpful to the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
There are some additional caveats. In theory you have to renounce your foreign nationality — in practice there are some exceptions. You also have to adopt a Vietnamese name.
To Renounce or Not to Renounce
There is an immediate issue here; having to lose my existing citizenship. Holding a UK passport has innumerable benefits — travel just being the start of this — but according to Dühn, “in case of marriage with Vietnamese spouse or children, a foreigner would not necessarily have to renounce his or her original citizenship.”
But this is not the real issue. The real issue is the very strong “us and them” mentality that exists in Vietnam. It exists everywhere — outsiders, no matter what colour, race, sex or religion — are always frowned upon. But in Vietnam it has yet to undergo the decades of ‘tolerance’ and ‘integration’ that has been such a feature of the western desire to be cosmopolitan.
This is not Vietnam’s fault. The 19th and 20th centuries in this country were riddled with the intervention of foreign powers, or to put it more directly, the intervention of white males. And through no fault of my own, I come from the same gene pool. Which means that as it stands, I’m always going to be a nguoi nuoc ngoai, and people will continue to refer to me as ong tay. It doesn’t matter how much your Vietnamese family or friends accept you as one of them, you will always be a foreigner.
Then there is the difficulty of understanding Vietnamese culture. It is so complex, so rich, and so full of history and regional variations, and so different to the culture that I was brought up with, that no matter how long I live in this country or how good my language skills, I will never quite get a grasp on it.
So, will I apply for Vietnamese citizenship? Most likely not. Because unlike foreigners moving to the west who can take on new citizenship and become American, British, Australian, French or German, no matter what passport I hold, I can never be Vietnamese
Which is a pity, because I love this country.