Maltese nationality law

Maltese nationality law
Coat of arms of Malta.svg

Maltese nationality law is based primarily on the principles of Jus sanguinis, although prior to 1 August 1989 the principle of Jus soli was the basis of the law.

Dual citizenship was severely restricted under Maltese law from independence in 1964 until 10 February 2000, when all restrictions were removed. Dual citizenship had been allowed in limited circumstances from 1989, but only for persons born in Malta who met specific residence criteria.

Prior to 21 September 1964, Malta was a British Crown Colony and Maltese persons held British nationality.


Acquisition of Maltese citizenship at independence - 21 September 1964

Maltese citizenship was conferred at independence upon persons born in Malta who had a Maltese-born parent.

Persons acquiring Maltese citizenship at independence generally lost their British nationality (Citizenship of the UK and Colonies) unless they had ties by way of birth or descent (father or paternal grandfather) to the United Kingdom itself or a place which remained a colony.

Any Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies (CUKC) connected with Malta who did not acquire Maltese citizenship at independence retained their CUKC status. Based on their ties with the United Kingdom, they became either British citizens or British Overseas citizens on 1 January 1983. See History of British nationality law

Birth in Malta

Any person born in Malta between 21 September 1964 and 31 July 1989 automatically acquired Maltese citizenship at birth.

From 1 August 1989, a person born in Malta only acquires Maltese citizenship at birth if a parent of that person is

  • a Maltese citizen; or
  • born in Malta.

Maltese citizenship by descent

Persons born outside Malta between 21 September 1964 and 31 July 1989 only acquired Maltese citizenship by descent if the father was:

  • a Maltese citizen born in Malta; or
  • a Maltese citizen by registration or naturalisation

Women could not pass on their Maltese citizenship unless they were unmarried.

From 1 August 1989, children born outside Malta to Maltese born or naturalised mothers acquired Maltese citizenship by descent automatically.

From 10 February 2000, a person born outside Malta between 21 September 1964 and 31 July 1989 to a Maltese born or naturalised mother may apply for Maltese citizenship by registration.

Changes to the Maltese Citizenship Act in 2007

Due to amendments to the Maltese Citizenship Act which came into force on 1 August 2007, it is now possible for all persons of Maltese descent to obtain Maltese citizenship by registration. [1]

A person only has to provide documentary evidence such as birth, marriage & death certificates to be registered as a citizen. This documentation must show direct descent from an ancestor born in Malta of a parent who was also born in Malta. If a person has parents, grandparents, etc. that are alive and are also direct descendants themselves, they will also have to make applications (direct line cannot be broken).

The registration procedure may take place at any Maltese Embassy, High Commission, Consulate, or at the Department for Citizenship and Expatriate Affairs in Malta. Residence in Malta is not required.

Naturalisation as a Maltese citizen

Government websites ambiguously state that it is possible 'to become eligible' to acquire Maltese citizenship by naturalisation after 5 years of legal residence in Malta. In practice applications are only given a favourable consideration to persons who were born in Malta, have resided there for more than 18 years (6 more than Switzerland [2]), have a Maltese parent, or based on humanitarian grounds. [3]. Under Maltese law, naturalisation is said to be at the sole discretion of the Minister for Justice and Home Affairs but curiously letters of denial are dished out by the Director of Citizenship and Expatriate Affairs. Neoconservative government officials often apply double standards and sometimes openly display xenophobic tones and attitudes to applicants.

Prior to 1 August 1989, the residence period for naturalisation was 6 years, and those from Commonwealth countries could acquire Maltese citizenship by registration after 5 years residence. On 1 August 1989, the distinction between naturalisation and registration was removed.

Prior to 10 February 2000, persons acquiring Maltese citizenship by naturalisation or registration were obliged to prove they had lost or renounced any other citizenship they held.

Since 10 February 2000, all former citizens of Malta (who were not automatically given Maltese citizenship back) have the right to re-acquire Maltese citizenship by registration.

Maltese citizenship by marriage

The foreign spouse of a Maltese citizen may acquire Maltese citizenship by marriage after 5 years of marriage. Residence in Malta is not required.

  • Widows and widowers of a Maltese citizen (where the spouse died within the first 5 years of marriage) may apply for Maltese citizenship by marriage 5 years after the date of the marriage to their deceased spouse.
  • Persons separated from a Maltese spouse may still apply for Maltese citizenship by marriage provided they lived together for 5 years
  • Prior to 10 February 2000 the 5 year period of marriage did not apply, while before 1 August 1989 only the foreign wife of a Maltese man was eligible for citizenship by marriage

Despite such measures, marriages of convenience between Maltese nationals and women from Eastern Europe or Arab/Maghreb men continue to take place.

Maltese citizenship by adoption

Prior to 1 January 1977 a person adopted by Maltese citizens normally acquired Maltese citizenship automatically. The facility to acquire Maltese citizenship by adoption was removed on that date.

From 1 August 1989, a child adopted by Maltese citizens acquires Maltese citizenship automatically provided the child is under the age of 10 at the date of the adoption.

Loss of Maltese citizenship

1964 to 1989

At independence in 1964, Malta adopted strict rules to prevent dual citizenship in adulthood.

  • an adult citizen of Malta acquiring a foreign citizenship automatically lost Maltese citizenship
  • a Maltese citizen who had acquired another citizenship at birth or during childhood was obliged to renounce that other citizenship before age 19. Otherwise, Maltese citizenship was lost.

Reforms of 1989

From 1 August 1989 Maltese law was amended to allow certain emigrants from Malta to retain Maltese citizenship. It was necessary to have been born in Malta and meet certain residential criteria in order to benefit from this provision.

Those covered by this limited exception were deemed never to have lost Maltese citizenship. In other words, the change in the law was retrospective to 21 September 1964.

The reform did not assist Maltese citizens by descent who had been born in other countries (such as Australia or Canada) who were still obliged to renounce their other citizenship by age 19 or face automatic loss of Maltese citizenship.

For example, between 1964 and 2000 (when the law changed), approximately 2000 Australian born young persons (aged 18) renounced their Australian citizenship in order to retain Maltese citizenship. They were generally unable to recover their Australian citizenship later on, or migrate back to Australia. Details

Reforms of 2000

From 10 February 2000, it was no longer possible to involuntarily lose Maltese citizenship based on possession or acquisition of a foreign citizenship.

A former Maltese citizen by birth or descent who had resided outside Malta for 6 years was automatically conferred with Maltese citizenship retrospective to the date on which they lost it. In other words, they are deemed never to have lost Maltese citizenship.

Other former Maltese citizens who do not meet the requirements for automatic re-acquisition of Maltese citizenship are entitled to obtain Maltese citizenship by registration. This includes former Maltese citizens who acquired that status by naturalisation or registration, and those who resided outside Malta for less than 6 years.

Dual citizenship

With effect from 10 February 2000, there are no restrictions under Maltese law on its citizens holding other citizenships. Dual citizens are entitled to hold a Maltese passport.

European citizenship

With effect from 1 May 2004, Malta is a member of the European Union (EU) and European Economic Area (EEA). Maltese citizens are hence free to live and work in any of the EU and EEA member states. The transitional arrangements that allowed existing EU states to restrict free movement of labour from the Eastern European members for seven years do not affect Maltese citizens.

Commonwealth citizenship

As a Commonwealth member, citizens of Malta are Commonwealth citizens and hence have certain rights in the United Kingdom

  • access to the UK Ancestry Entry Clearance (no longer relevant since Malta joined the European Union)
  • access to the UK Working Holiday Visa scheme (no longer relevant to Maltese citizens)
  • entitlement to UK Right of abode for Maltese citizens born before 1983 with British born mothers. This offers effectively full citizenship rights in the UK (with a simpler route to naturalisation) compared to the standard arrangements for citizens of other EU/EEA member states in the UK.
  • full rights to vote and stand for public office in the United Kingdom.
  • the option of joining Her Majesty's Armed Forces.

See also

External links

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