Department of Immigration and Emigration

Sri Lankan Identity Overseas



History of Immigration & Emigration and Citizenship of Sri Lanka

Immigration & Emigration before Independence
 

During the period when Ceylon was a British colony, entry into and exit from Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) was controlled by the following ordinances:

  • Emigration of Indians from Ceylon Ordinance no 3 of 1847
  • Foreign Recruiting Ordinance no 01 of 1874
  • Ceylon emigrants Ordinance no 04 of 1882
  • Destitute Immigrants Ordinance no 12 of 1907
  • Emigration Ordinance no 22 of 1917
  • Passport Ordinance no 20 of 1923
  • Aliens Registration Ordinance no 30 of 1935
  • Indian Criminal Tribes Immigration Ordinance no 19 of 1939

 

Emigration of Indians from Ceylon Ordinance 1847 has been enacted to, prohibit natives of India from, entering into contracts in Ceylon, for labor to be performed in any British or foreign colony beyond the limits of India or Ceylon, and from emigrating, from Ceylon to any such colony, for the purpose of employment as laborers. 

Foreign Recruiting Ordinance 1874 was enacted to, control recruiting in Ceylon, for the service of foreign states. BY this law, governor was authorized to, prohibit recruiting persons, for service of foreign states beyond the limits of Ceylon; or permit to do so subject to conditions. 

Ceylon Emigrants Ordinance 1882 was enacted to; regulate the emigration of Ceylonese laborers from, Ceylon under contract of service. By this law, governor was empowered to, declare places where Ceylonese laborers were allowed to, emigrate. It was subject to the condition that such contracts should be signed before a magistrate.

Destitute Immigrants Ordinance1907 was enacted to, restrict immigration into Ceylon of destitute, and vicious persons, and of stowaways. The main objective of this law was, preventing the entry of persons, who would be a liability to the Treasury. By this law a person other than a native of Ceylon or native of British India,   who was unable, by reason of physical or mental infirmity, to maintain himself by his own labor, or is destitute, was not permitted to land. Entry of such a person was permitted only on a bond entered into by a local to the effect that he would repay to the financial secretary any cost and charges, may be incurred in respect of such destitute immigrant. The entry into Ceylon of any prostitute or any person living on the prostitution, too was prohibited by this law.

Emigration ordinance 1917 was enacted to regulate the emigration of persons from Ceylon for the purpose of employment in certain capacities outside the island. In this law emigrant was defined as a native person living in Ceylon and Indian emigrant was defined as a native person of India, other than a person who has obtained a pass under any law in force in British India regulating the issue of passes to Indian emigrants.Provision was made in this law to, both emigrants and Indian emigrants to obtain the consent of chief secretary in writing for embarkation. Only the persons who were over seventeen years of age were granted with consent. They were required to obtain a pass from the collector of customs and enter into a bond with the crown. Further they had to keep a deposit of three hundred rupees with the collector of customs. The persons who were emigrating for employment purposes had to sign a service contract with their employer, and it should have been attested by the controller of customs. In addition to that, there were several provisions, regards to the responsibilities of masters of ships, powers of police officers to search and arrest, and medical examinations at the port, and penalties.

Passport Ordinance 1923 was enacted to make provision to take power to require passports of persons entering or departing from Ceylon. The governor was granted with powers to make regulations requiring that persons entering or departing from Ceylon should be on possession of passports, and matters related to that purpose. Further, he was empowered, to exempt of any person or class of persons from any provision of such regulations. The regulations made under this law were effected up to October 28 of 1949, until the  new immigration and emigration regulations make under the immigrants and emigrants act no 20 of 1948, came into effect.

Aliens’ Registration Ordinance 1935 was enacted to make provision for the registration of aliens (a person other than a British subject or British protected person) in Ceylon. The registrar of aliens was appointed by the governor under the provision of this law. By this law, any alien who was intending to remain in the island for a period of one month or longer was ordered to furnish a return to the registrar. Further there was provision regards to the, restrictions of movements within the island, deportation of aliens, and verification of returns. So it was something similar to the visa requirements of present day.

Indian criminal tribes immigration ordinance no.19 of 1939

This ordinance was enacted by state council, and assented by his majesty the king on 1939.05.23 to restrict the immigration of Indian criminal tribes in to Ceylon. Those days there were some tribes organized as gangs and engaged with criminal activities in India. They were commonly known as Thugs and were declared as criminal tribes by the laws in force in India at that time. By this ordinance the governor of Ceylon was empowered to declare such tribes as criminal tribes in Ceylon by notification. The entry in to Ceylon of such tribes was prohibited without a permit. Provisions were made relating to the removal, arrest, penalties for abetting, and taking fingerprints of such persons by this ordinance. The chief secretary was empowered to make regulations pertaining to the restrictions.

This ordinance was in force until 1948 and it was repealed by the immigrants and emigrants act no 20 of 1948.

Immigration & emigration After independence

Immigrants and Emigrants Act No. 20 of 1948

After gaining Independence from British, the then Parliament promulgated the Immigrants and Emigrants Act No. 20 of 1948. It was assented on October 6, 1948 1* and came into effect on 1 November 1949. 2*   In this Act, provisions was made, to control of entry and remain of non-Ceylonese,   to regulate the departure from Ceylon the citizens, and persons  other than   the citizens of Ceylon ,  to remove or deport  non-Ceylonese who have committed offences under the act or who are undesirables, to supervise the activities of non Ceylonese during their stay in Ceylon, and to organize the administrative set-up for the implementation of the above objectives and matters incidental thereto and connected therein. Regulations made under the Act were published in the Gazette no 10039 issued on 28 October 1949. 3*

Emigration of Indians from Ceylon ordinance, foreign recruiting ordinance, Indian criminal tribes’ immigration ordinance, Destitute Immigrants Ordinance, Emigration ordinance, Passport Ordinance, Aliens registration ordinance, & Ceylon emigrants’ ordinance, were repealed by this law.

Immigrants and Emigrants Act No. 20 of 1948 has been amended at several occasions by the Amendment Acts no 16 of 1955, no 68 of 1961, no 16 of 1993, no 42 of 1998, and no 31 of 2006 and no. 07 of 2015 respectively.

Significant changes made by these amendments were as follows.

Provisions on permanent & temporary residents permits of main act were repealed and resident visa provisions were included instead of them by the Amendment Act no 16 of 1955.

The governor general was empowered to authorize any member of the forces to exercise and discharge powers and duties under the immigrants and emigrants act, by the Amendment Act no 68 of 1961. The aim of this amendment was to stop illicit immigrant entering into the country.

The Authority prescribed to issue or renew passports were empowered to take finger printing for the inclusion in the passport, from a person applying for a passport or the renewal of a passport, by the Amendment Act no 07 of 2015

In 1972 Ceylon became a republic. The name of the country was changed as the democratic socialist republic of Sri Lanka. After that, immigrants and emigrants act has been amended thrice, in 1993, 1998, and 2006 respectively. All those occasions it was regard to restrict illicit emigrants from Sri Lanka as well as illicit immigrants remain in Sri Lanka.

In addition to that following related laws were enacted for specific purposes mentioned below.

Temporary Residence Tax Act no 15 of 1971 was enacted to; make provision for the levy and recovery of a tax computed with reference to the stay in Sri Lanka of certain persons who are not citizens of Sri Lanka.

Passport (regulations) and Exit Permit Act no 53 of 1971 was enacted to provide for regulation and control of the issue and renewal of passports; for the issue of exit permits to citizen of Sri Lanka; and to impose an obligation on citizens of Sri Lanka employed abroad to remit a part of their earnings in foreign exchange to Sri Lanka.

Resident Guest (tax exemption) Act no 06 of 1979 was enacted to exempt certain categories of resident visa holders from certain taxes. Resident guests were granted with above exemption by this law.

Department of Immigration and Emigration

With the enactment of the immigration & emigration act, the necessity was aroused to establish a new department to implement the provisions of it. This new Department was established in October 1949 and started in Colombo Fort. The Assistant Secretary of the Ministry of Defense was transferred together with his staff to the newly formed Department. Police Department, which attended to the field duties, was requested to hand over of those functions to the newly formed Department.  The implementation of the new law was postponed until 01st November 1949 till relief arrangements were made effected to those affected by the new Act. The practice of issuing British Passports to Citizens of Sri Lanka was stopped with effect from 01.11.1949. The New Ceylon Passport came into use from then, and the holder had to be a Citizen of Ceylon.

 

Citizenship Law

Before independence

Before independence, every person born within the dominions and allegiance of the British Crown (and no other) was a British subject. Likewise native Ceylonese too was considered as British subjects. In some laws, enacted in pre independence era, they were being mentioned as native inhabitants, or otherwise natives of Ceylon. Meanwhile the Indians were mentioned as natives of India or otherwise natives of British India in the same laws.

Naturalization ordinance no 21 of 1890

There was no citizenship law in force at that time. But only the naturalization ordinance no 21 of 1890 was in force regards to the provisions for the naturalization of aliens. Under this law any alien who was actually residing in Ceylon could apply to the governor for rights and privileges as a British subject.  This law was repealed by the citizenship act no 18 of 1948.

After independence

Citizenship act no 18 of 1948

Citizenship act was enacted to make provision for citizenship of Ceylon and for matters connected therewith and came into operation with effect from 15 November 1948 (appointed date). By this law established a status known as ‘the status of a citizen of Ceylon’ which status a person owns in one of two ways only viz. by right of descent as provided by the act or by virtue of registration as provided by the act or by any other act authorizing the grant of such status by registration.

Provisions were made by this law on, citizenship by descent, citizenship by registration, and loss of citizenship, initially. Later it was amended at several occasions, by Amendment Acts, no 40 of 1950, no 13 of 1955, no 45 of 1987, no 15 of 1993, no 43 of 1993, and no 16 of 2003, respectively.

 

Significant changes made by these amendments were as follows.

Provisions were made on resumption of citizenship and restriction on dual citizenship by the Act no 40 of 1950.

With the Amendment of Act no 45 of 1987, grant of Dual Citizenship provisions was commenced.

Registration as citizens, of persons registered in a resident guest scheme, under part III of immigrants and emigrants act, was provided by the Act no 43 of 1993.

Earlier the right of citizenship by descent was limited only to the paternal descent. With the enactment of the Amendment Act no 16 of 2003 it was extended even to the maternal descent with effect from the appointed date (1948-11-15) of the citizenship act.

 

Citizenship Division

Citizenship Division of the Ministry of Defense under the Citizenship Act No.18 of 1948 was affiliated with the Department of Immigration and Emigration. Accordingly, activities of the Department were expanded.

Indian and Pakistani Residents (Citizenship) Act No 3 of 1949.

Shortly after the enactment of Citizenship Act No 18 of 1948, the Indian and Pakistani Residents’ Citizenship bill was submitted to the Parliament. This was considered urgent and the Parliament passed the Indian and Pakistani Residents Citizenship Act No 3 of 1949 and came into operation on 5 th August 1949. (appointed date)4* According to the section 5 of the Act persons eligible under the Act had to apply for registration within 2 years from the appointed date. Later that time period had been extended up to 3 years. 5* The Department for Registration of Indian and Pakistani Residents was set up to implement the provisions of the Act and Mr. V. L. Weerasinghe was appointed the first Commissioner, in addition to holding the post of Commissioner of Parliamentary Elections. Later, this Department was affiliated with the Department of Immigration and Emigration. The attitude of Ceylon, towards the non Ceylonese in the country, who was genuinely desirous of merging with Ceylonese, is indicated in the provisions of this Act. Under section 3 of this Act, an Indian or Pakistani who had uninterrupted residence in Ceylon immediately prior to the 1st day of January, 1946, for a period of ten years in case of an unmarried person or a divorcee, or seven years in case of a married person, and had uninterrupted residence in Ceylon from that day to the date of the application, could apply for registration as a citizen and be so registered if he could satisfy the Commissioner that he had lawful means of livelihood.

Nehru Kotalawala agreement 1954.

The time limit allowed for making applications under the Act no 03 of 1949 was stipulated as three years, from the appointed date. Mean while,  according to article 8 of Indian constitution Indian origin persons who was residing outside India on the date of commencement of Indian constitution (26th January 1950) had to register at Indian diplomatic mission situated in that country to become a citizen of India. Registration was done at Indian high commissions offices situated in Colombo and Kandy. But this limited facility was not adequate to facilitate  more than 1 million of Indian origin people lived in Ceylon at that time. As a result of short time limit for making applications under the Act no 03 of 1949, the vast majority of Indian and Pakistan origin who failed to meet stipulated deadline for applications had to await redress for future date. This created a big problem. A considerable number of persons were remained in Ceylon without citizenship of India or Ceylon.

 In the aim of solving that problem a conference was held on 9th and 10th October 1954 in New Delhi. The delegation of Ceylon was in the opinion that those persons continue to be nationals of India, until they are accepted as citizens of Ceylon. Therefore the Ceylon delegation did not accepted the position that any of those persons were stateless. The Indian delegation was in a different opinion. Afore mentioned persons were not registered under the article 8. Therefore the Indian delegation stated that only those persons of Indian origin who were in possession of Indian passports or passes or who have been registered under article 8 of the Indian constitution were Indian citizens.

Finally both delegations came to agreement. Ceylon delegation agreed to complete the disposal of pending applications under Indian and Pakistani residents citizenship Act no 3 of 1949 within two years. Indian delegation agreed to facilitate the Indian origin persons resided in Ceylon to register themselves as Indian citizens if they choose. The Ceylon delegation was headed by then prime minister sir John kotalawala and Indian delegation was headed by Indian prime minister Jawharlal Nehru.Both prime ministers signed the agreement on 10th October 1954 at New Delhi. This agreement is known as Nehru Kotalawala agreement. But the problem was not solved completely. Large number of Indian origin persons were remained in Ceylon without citizenship rights either in Ceylon or India. This paved the way for another agreement widely known as Sirima – Shasthri pact between India and Ceylon signed in 1964.

134,320 Indians and Pakistani residents were issued with Ceylon Citizenship Certificates by registration under the provisions of the Indian and Pakistani Residents Citizenship Act No 3 of 1949  Act. It was amended twice, by the Amendment Acts No 37 of 1950 and No 45 of 1952, respectively. Operation of this Act came to end in 1962.

Sirima-Shatri Pact and Indo Ceylon Agreement (implementation) Act No 14 of 1967.

The number of Indians who freely entered Ceylon under the British rule including of those who entered illicitly and merged with locals together with the natural increase amounted to a couple of Hundred Thousands. This national problem was the course for concern for every successive government and discussions were held intermittently with the Indian Government with a view to finding a solution. As a result of a discussion held in 1964 with Sri Lal Bahadur Shastri the Prime Minister of India and Madam Sirimavo R.D. Bandaranaike the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka it was possible to arrive at a historic solution. According to the Indo-Ceylon convention which is known as Sirima-Shatri Pact signed on 30th october 1964 , the number of stateless persons in Sri Lanka was estimated as 975,000 with the natural increase as at 30.10.1964. A bi-lateral agreement was entered into grant Sri Lankan Citizenship to 300,000 persons and Indian Citizenship to 525,000 persons.  Balance 150000 was equally divided among both countries by the agreement signed in 1974 between Srimathi Indira Gandhi the Prime Minister of India and Madam Sirimavo R.D. Bandaranayke the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka.   Likewise the above numbers were altered as 375000 for Sri Lanka and 675000 for India.  Action was taken to give effect to the Indo Ceylon Agreement (implementation) Act No 14 of 1967. Department for Registration of Persons of Indian origin was established to implement the provisions of above Act and it was affiliated with the Department of Immigration & Emigration. The Controller of Immigration and Emigration was appointed as the Commissioner for Registration of Persons of Indian Origin, in addition to the duties assigned to him. Even though India agreed to grant Indian citizenship for 6, 00,000 persons, only 5, 06,000 persons applied for Indian Citizenship. Therefore, Sri Lanka accepted to grant Sri Lankan citizenship to the balance 94,000 persons, by enacting the Grant of Citizenship to the Stateless Persons Act No 05of 1986. Likewise agreed numbers of granting citizenship in both countries were changed as 5, 06,000 persons for India, and 4, 69,000 persons for Sri Lanka.  And 2,36,000 persons were granted Sri Lankan Citizenship by registration, out of the amount agreed to grant Sri Lankan Citizenship under the afore mentioned  Act by the year 1988. (total number of persons granted with citizenship by registration was 343985 up to 1988 including the offspring of above 2,36,000  persons)

Grant of Citizenship to Stateless Persons (Special Provisions) Act No 39 of 1988

2, 36,000 persons with their natural increase, out of above mentioned 4, 69,000 persons were granted with Sri Lankan  citizenship  by the year 1988 and  it was scheduled to be granted Sri Lankan Citizenship to 233,000 persons and their  descendants further. Since necessity of expediting the functions was aroused, the Grant of Citizenship to Stateless Persons (Special Provisions) Act No.39 of 1988 was enacted to grant Sri Lankan Citizenship to the balance 2, 33,000 persons and their natural increase. Persons of Indian Origin, who have applied for Sri Lankan Citizenship under the provisions of indo Ceylon Agreement – 1964, but unable to obtain it up to 1988, were conferred with the status of citizen of Sri Lanka by operation of law with effect from the date of commencement (1988-11-11) of this Act. In terms of this Act, it is not compulsory to obtain  a citizenship confirmation certificate for the persons who are entitled to obtain citizenship and as per the section 04 of this Act, such a person, if required, may obtain a certificate of confirmation of his citizenship after making an application to the Commissioner. Accordingly, 43,788 certificates of confirmation of Citizenship have been issued as at 31.12.2017.

This Act was amended once, to make provision to enable persons who were permanent residents of Sri Lanka with Indian origin since 30 th October 1964 and their descendents who were compelled to leave Sri Lanka due to reasons beyond their control and are presently residing in India, to have the status of citizen of Sri Lanka with effect from the date of commencement of the principal enactment by the Amendment Act No 05 of 2009. Aim of this amendment Act was to ensure the citizenship entitlement of persons of Indian origin living as refugees in India for a long time due to the ethnic conflict of Sri Lanka.

Grant of Citizenship to Persons of Indian Origin Act No 35 of 2003

According to Sirima-Shatri Pact and subsequent decisions taken related to such Pact, 3, 42,000 persons out of above mentioned 5, 06,000 persons were repatriated to India, with their natural increase, after granting Indian Citizenship, up to year 1992. (total number of repatriated persons was 425093 up to 1992/12/31 including the offspring of above 342000 persons) 6* The balance 1,64,000 persons and their natural increase could not repatriated to India due to certain problems such as trafficking and sheltering in Tamil Nadu aroused with the ethnic conflict of Sri Lanka started in 1983. Some of them were not granted with Indian Citizenship, some were granted and issued with Indian travel documents, but continued to reside in Sri Lanka. Grant of Citizenship to Persons of Indian Origin Act No 35 of 2003 was enacted to grant Sri Lankan citizenship to them. The status of citizen of Sri Lanka was conferred on 1,64,000 persons and their natural increase by operation of law with effect from the date of commencement (2003-11-11) of this Act.  Accordingly, 585  certificates of confirmation of Citizenship have been issued as at 31.12.2017.

Provided however, the grant of the status of a citizen of Sri Lanka to a permanent resident, who on the date of coming into operation of this Act, holds an Indian Passport or other similar document, shall be effective only on his forwarding to the Commissioner a declaration in the special form of declaration set out in the Schedule, stating his intention to voluntarily acquire citizenship of Sri Lanka, and upon such declaration being acknowledged by the Commissioner in writing. In this Act, 'Commissioner' means the Commissioner for the Registration of Persons of Indian Origin. The Commissioner issued 73,933 acknowledgement letters issued to permanent residents who hold Indian passports or a similar document as at 31.12.2017.

This Act was amended once, to make provision to enable persons who were permanent residents of Sri Lanka with Indian Origin since 30 th October 1964 and their descendents and are presently residing in India, to have the status of citizen of Sri Lanka with effect from the date of commencement of the principal enactments by the Amendment Act No 06 of 2009.

With the enactment of this Act, long term existed problem on citizenship of Indian Origin Persons of Sri Lanka was solved and concluded.

Significant differences of Act No 39 of 1988 & Act No 35 of 2003 when compare with previous enactments on citizenship

  • In all previous enactments, a person has to apply for citizenship and it has to be granted under the law, by registration. It was completely different in these two enactments. The status of Sri Lanka citizenship was conferred on all eligible persons of Indian origin who have not obtained Sri Lanka citizenship under the previous enactments. They need not to apply for it, but got it effortlessly.
  • Further, there was no requirement to have a citizenship certificate to prove their citizenship. It was ordered to accept an affidavit as prima facie evidence of status of citizenship of such a person, for any purpose under section 4 of both Acts.

Grant of Citizenship to Chinese Origin Persons act no 38 of 2008

Even after the conclusion of the citizenship problem of the Indian origin persons, there was small number of persons of Chinese origin, living in Sri Lanka as stateless. Most of them or their parents have immigrated to Sri Lanka during the Second World War period, before independence. Therefore this law was enacted to grant them with Sri Lanka citizenship by registration with effect from 31 October 2008. This act was in force for a period of five years from that date. So it was terminated on 30 October 2013. Any Person who was entitled for Sri Lankan citizenship under this law, was required to forward his applications to the controller of immigration and emigration. After scrutinizing the application the controller  transmitted  it to the minister for approval. After the approval was granted, applicant had to make or subscribe the oath or affirmation as required by the act, and he was deem to be a citizen of Sri Lanka from that date.  At the moment effective period of the Act has been expired, 94 persons including two minors (children) were granted with Sri Lanka citizenship by registration under this act up to 2013/10/30 which was the expiry date of the Act.

With the enactment of this law, stateless problem of Sri Lanka was solved and came to a conclusion.

Sources of information.

1* immigrants & emigrants Act no 20 of 1948, title page.

2*. Ceylon migration manual 1958, page 5.

3* immigrants & emigrants regulations no 63, 1956

4* section 24 of Indian and Pakistani Residents Citizenship Act No 3 of 1949.

5* page 45 of Sri Lanka migration control manual 1993.

6* administration report for the year 1992 of controller of immigration & emigration and commissioner for the registration of Indian origin persons appendix 11.


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CONTACT US

  • Dep. of Immigration and Emigration
  • "Suhurupaya", Sri Subhuthipura Road,
  • Battaramulla.
  • +94 011 5329 000
  • +94 011 2885 358
  • controller@Immigration.gov.lk
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