The Republic of Cyprus has introduced significant amendments to the law that govern naturalisation of foreign nationals based on years of residence in Cyprus. These changes, published on December 19, 2023 in the Official Government Gazette, have immediate effect and have raised the bar by including additional criteria and requirements that have to be met by applicants prior to being eligible to apply for Cypriot citizenship.

Criteria for naturalisation

Under the provisions of the Amending Law 149(1)/2023 which amends the Civil Registry Law 0f 2002 (Law 141(I)/2002) a new article 111B has been added which clearly outlines the criteria that have to be met for a foreign national to be eligible to apply for the status of Cypriot citizen by virtue of naturalisation.

Foreign nationals who apply for Cypriot citizenship may qualify for naturalisation provided that they are adults of full mental capacity and cumulatively meet the following criteria:

  • Residency in the Republic

i) Applicants need to prove that they have been legally and continuously residing in the Republic for the period of the immediately preceding twelve months from the date of submission of their application for naturalisation:

Provided that, unlike the previous regime, periods of absence from the Republic not exceeding in total 90 days within the period provided for in this paragraph, this shall not interrupt the above-mentioned required 12-month period; and

ii) During the ten years immediately preceding the twelve-month period provided for, they were either lawfully resident in the Republic or were in the civil service of the Republic, or partly in the one and partly in the other, for periods which, taken together, are not less than seven years.

  • Good character

Applicants need to be of Good Character. It is understood that, elements tending to demonstrate good character include, but are not limited to, the following:

(i) They are law abiding and have not demonstrated by deeds or words a lack of conformity with the laws or contempt for the Republic of Cyprus;

(ii) They have not acted in a manner that constitutes acceptance of the illegal administration/ occupancy in areas not controlled by the Republic of Cyprus, do not hold any office related thereto, and do not possess, have unlawfully entered, caused damage to, or interfered with immovable property located in such areas which belongs to another lawful owner;

(iii) They have not in the course of any war conducted by the Republic engaged in any transaction and have not communicated with the enemy or engaged in the conduct of an operation or participated in any operation in such a manner as to have assisted the enemy;

(iv) They have not been sentenced in the Republic or abroad to imprisonment for a serious criminal offence, which carries a penalty of five years or more in prison or for another serious offence or for an offence involving dishonour or immoral acts;

(v) They are not wanted at pan-European level by Europol or at international level by INTERPOL for a serious criminal offence, which constitutes an offence in the Republic and carries a penalty of imprisonment of five years or more or for another serious offence or for an offence which is dishonorable or involves moral deceit;

(vi) They are not subject to a sanction regime and their name is not on a sanctions list;

(vii) There is no criminal case pending against them in the Republic or abroad for an offence punishable by imprisonment of three years or more;

(viii) They have not entered into the Republic of Cyprus through an illegal point of entry or entered or stayed in the Republic in violation of any prohibition, condition, restriction or reservation under the laws of the Republic in force from time to time; and

(ix) They do not constitute a danger to public order and public security of the Republic:

provided that, in the case of a conviction of a foreigner in another country, the conviction relates to an offence which also constitutes an offence in the Republic and which, as aforesaid, is punishable by imprisonment.

  • Language proficiency

Applicants need to have sufficient knowledge of the Greek language at the BI level, on the basis of the language proficiency certificates of that level specified in an Order of the Minister, which are issued upon submission of the foreigner to a written examination.

  • Knowledge of contemporary political and social reality in the Republic

Applicants need to have sufficient knowledge of basic elements of the contemporary political and social reality of the Republic, the procedure and method of evaluation of which are determined by a three-member evaluation committee, which is composed of representatives of the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Education, Sports and Youth and the Ministry of Justice.

  • Suitable accommodation and financial stability

Applicants need to have suitable accommodation and stable and regular financial resources sufficient for the maintenance of the individuals and their dependent family members and for this purpose the following shall be taken into account:

i) Income from full-time employment and/or income from other sources of a stable and lawful nature; and

ii) If they are or have been unemployed on a long-term basis during their stay in the Republic; and

iii) If, as a result of hardship or a difficult financial situation, they have received any financial assistance or financial benefit during their stay in the Republic.

  • Genuine intention to reside in the Republic

Applicants need to have a genuine intention to reside in the Republic if granted Cypriot Citizenship or to serve in the civil service of the Republic.

It is understood that residence for naturalization purposes means the physical presence of the foreigner in the Republic, on the basis of the immigration rules applicable on a case-by-case basis.

It is further understood that, in calculating the period of residence, the period during which the foreigner has resided in the Republic, as an asylum seeker or as a holder of international protection order or as a holder of a student permit, shall not be taken into account.

It is important to mention that the applicants need to meet all the above conditions and if one of conditions are not met this will lead to rejection of the application.

Furthermore, this law is implemented as of the day of its publication in the official gazette and has retrospective effect and, as a result, applications that are pending and are yet to be reviewed and which were submitted based on previous legislation will be reviewed in accordance with the Amending Law.

  • Highly skilled professionals

An exception has been made in the the provisions of the Amending Law 149(1)/2023 to provide for highly skilled professionals employed by companies of foreign interests designated by the Council of Ministers as part of the initiative to attract companies to operate and/or expand their activities in the Republic, to be able to be naturalized in a shorter period of time.

Specifically, In the case of foreigners who reside in the Republic for the purpose of highly skilled employment in companies of foreign interest and who have knowledge of the Greek language at A2 or BI level, the cumulative periods of time that they have to reside in Cyprus within the previous ten years of the twelve month period prior to their application are reduced and must not be less than four years if they possess an A2 certificate, or three years if they possess a B2 certificate, respectively, instead of seven years. The family members may also apply for naturalization simultaneously provided they meet the same criteria.

It is understood that periods of absence from the Republic not exceeding a total of 90 days per year shall not be counted as absence for the purposes of calculating the duration of residence and shall be included in the above periods.

Additionally, they will have to meet all the other criteria for naturalization mentioned above. Applications of highly skilled employees are fast tracked and will be reviewed within an 8-month maximum period.

It is evident that the Government has introduced additional safeguards in that the applicants must be physically present in Cyprus and thus have real ties to the island and speak the language and it has now become more demanding than before to meet the criteria needed in order to be eligible to become a Cypriot Citizen.

Becoming a Cypriot citizen is a privilege and the Cypriot government is granting this right to those who meet all criteria, have an impeccable record, speak the language and have real ties to the island. Furthermore, the government has introduced the criteria for naturalization of highly skilled employees working for companies of foreign interest in an attempt to draw talent to the island, attract qualified specialists in specific fields, and encourage such workers to remain on the island which should have a positive effect on the economy of Cyprus.

A shorter version of this article was first published on 21.01.2024 by FinancialMirror.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.