A careful analysis of regulations and practices of the Armenian government shows that it is possible for a foreigner to acquire Armenian citizenship without living in Armenia or learning the local language.
Permanent Residence for the Last Three Years
Under article 13 of the Armenian law on citizenship (No. 16 of Nov. 6, 1995) a foreigner can apply for Armenian citizenship if he or she:
1. Has permanently resided in Armenia for the last three years
2. Knows the Armenian Constitution
3. Is able to communicate in Armenian language
At first sight, it seems that the law is quite strict and the foreigner must stay in Armenia for three years, learn the Armenian language and the Armenian Constitution. However, a legal analysis of these requirements shows that they are easier to meet than you may think. Let us analyze them one-by-one.
An important gap in the law is that it does not define what permanent residence is for purposes of acquiring citizenship. Does it mean that the applicant must hold a permanent residence card for three years? Does the applicant have to actually spend in Armenia a certain number of days in a year? If so, how many days? The law does not answer these questions, and the only way to clarify the issue is to look at the practice of the government agency that implements the law: the Passport and Visa Department of the Armenian Police (Passport Department).
In practice the Passport Department does not count the number of days that the applicant has spent in Armenia during the last three years. Instead, the three-year requirement is considered to be met if the applicant has held a residence permit in Armenia for the last three years. Moreover, it is not necessary to hold a permanent (five-year) residence permit, and a temporary (one-year) residence permit also counts towards the residency requirement. By contrast, the number of days spent in Armenia on a visa (or without a visa for visa-exempted foreigners) does not count towards that requirement.
The good news is that a foreigner does not have to spend a certain number of days in Armenia to acquire or maintain his temporary or permanent residence permit. In practice this means that there is no requirement to actually reside in Armenia to get a passport as long as you have been in possession of a valid temporary or permanent residence permit for more than three years.
While the procedure of obtaining residence permits in Armenia is not covered in this article it is sufficient to say that even small-scale business or investment activities in Armenia will qualify you for a residence permit.
Knowledge of the Armenian Constitution
The Citizenship Law does not detail the level of knowledge that is required from the applicant. In 2007 the government published a multiple-choice test (Decision No. 1040 of Aug. 30, 2007) that is used by the Passport Department in assessing the applicants. The test is quite simple and consists of 30 questions with three answers for each question to choose from. In other words, passing the test is as easy as ticking the right boxes. All the questions and correct answers are published and available online, and the test looks the same every time, including the sequence of questions and answers.
Ability to Communicate in Armenian Language
Here again, the Citizenship Law is very broad and does not clarify what it means to be able to communicate in Armenian. Is verbal communication sufficient or the foreigner must also be able to read and write in Armenian? Is only elementary knowledge required or the foreigner must be able to talk about complex subjects?
In practice, the knowledge of Armenian language is assessed based on the same multiple-choice test that is also used to evaluate the applicant's knowledge of the Armenian Constitution. The applicant is not required to reach a certain level of reading, writing or speaking skills. The test can be administered very quickly (within a few minutes) and the administrator can stop the test after only a few questions once he/she is satisfied that you are sufficiently educated.
Moreover, in practice, the Passport and Visa Department of the Police tolerates the presence of licensed translators to assist the applicant with the test, which essentially makes the language requirement irrelevant.
These conclusions, although favorable to the applicant, are primarily based on the current practices of the Passport Department, and it may be dangerous to rely solely on them as practices may change unexpectedly and without notice. In addition, applicants must keep in mind that meeting the above three requirements only makes them to eligible to apply for an Armenian passport but does not guarantee that the application will be approved. Citizenship is granted at the discretion of the President of the Republic. Rejections do not have to be motivated and they cannot be appealed.
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