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CONVENTION 2000 - Part Five

Following a weekend of social events and visits to several Maltese sites, the fifth day of the Convention took place on Monday 31st January at the Emigrants’ Commission Castille Palace, Valletta.

The Weekend was spent in taking a break from the weeklong discussions. On Saturday most of the delegates went to Gozo where various historical sites and churches were visited. The sunny weather favoured the day’s activities and everyone regarded the trip as a pleasant educational tour.

On Sunday the delegates were invited to St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta where Holy Mass was celebrated with the Archbishop of Malta Mgr Joseph Mercieca and other clergy.

Fifth Session – Citizenship and Bilateral Agreements:The topics were:

  • The Changing Process of acquiring Maltese citizenship over the years
  • Pensions
  • Scholarships and Cultural Exchanges for Maltese abroad

The Keynote speakers were Mr Joe Treby Ward, Citizenship and Expatriate Affairs, and Mr Edward Gatt, Social Security Department. Both speakers are Directors at the Foreign office in Malta.

Other delegate speakers were:

Mr Clemente Zammit - Australia
Mr Lawrence Dimech - Australia
Mr Milo Vassallo - Canada
Rev Victor Camilleri OFM - U.K.

Mr Joe Treby Ward gave his expert knowledge on the development of law concerning citizenship over the years. He defined the term citizenship as a legal bond of relationship which places mutual rights between an individual and a State. The laws on citizenship are aimed at protecting those rights and to ensure that the bond between citizen and State is upheld intact. In our case we shall, therefore try to trace what various Maltese governments have done to keep "alive" and effective that specific legal relationship, especially with Maltese migrants.

When Malta signed the act of Independence from the United Kingdom on 21st September 1964, a new Constitution came into force, which delineated amongst other things what constitutes a Maltese citizen by law. A person became a citizen of Malta if he or she was born in Malta or was born to a Maltese citizen abroad. This also meant that all Maltese emigrants who were born in Malta had ceased to remain British citizens and by default became citizens of Malta. However, there were instances, such as in the case of Maltese women married to non-Maltese citizens, when these ceased to be citizens of Malta as a result of such emigration.

 

In 1965 the first Maltese Citizenship Act provided that any person of full age and capacity who emigrated from Malta or would have become a Maltese citizen by birth, but ceased to be such citizen, could apply for registration as a Maltese citizen. Further legislation on Maltese citizenship was enacted in subsequent years to facilitate the acquisition of Maltese citizenship by those who had lost their claim as Maltese citizens. Some relevant sections in the Constitution of Malta were amended in 1974 and 1989 with particular attention on the Maltese migrants who wished to return to Malta to take up permanent residence, and to introduce the right of Dual Citizenship Legislation to Maltese emigrants who had acquired a foreign citizenship while residing abroad. A further significant amendment was that any children born to Maltese women after 1st August 1989 could claim Maltese citizenship through the mother.

The move towards the situation as it stands today began in 1998 with the White Paper on Amendments to the Citizenship and Immigration Laws, and afterwards those published on 13th August 1999. The Maltese migrants welcomed dual citizenship because they were able to re-acquire Maltese citizenship while retaining that of the host country of residence. But until then, only persons born in Malta could hold dual nationality. The new law would entitle the children who were born outside Malta and one of whose parents is Maltese to also claim dual citizenship. Until then those children would have had to choose which citizenship they preferred to hold at the age of eighteen years. Those who had renounced a foreign nationality in order to become Maltese citizens would now be allowed to hold dual citizenship.

 

It so happened that these amendments were placed before Parliament and discussed during the week of the Convention. As can be seen, therefore, both Maltese migrants and their children have been well catered for in the proposed citizenship legislation.

Mr Edward Gatt spoke on "Bilateral Agreements on Social Security". He began by comparing the fact that while nationality made way for dual nationality, bilateral relations gave way to multinational relations in the form of multilateral agreements. The phenomenon of migration had existed since the days of the nomads, and today the scale has risen worldwide to resemble an influx of large groups of people migrating not only from one country to another but within continents. Since the Second World War people became more mobile due to their urge to work abroad for a better livelihood. Social insurance schemes were developed over the past century by many States to establish security and stability to people in their territory and to restrict the scope of the scheme to their nationals. International co-ordination is necessary to ensure that social security entitlements built up in one’s own country are not lost when residing in another country.

The first recorded agreement between two States occurred on 15th April 1904 with the Franco-Italian Convention, which dealt with industrial accidents, pension funds and unemployment insurance. From this agreement, international co-ordination in the field of social security has advanced considerably. Today the principles of international co-ordination are well established among many nations by means of bilateral and multilateral conventions with an aim to link different social security systems together. In this way the foreigners and migrant workers would benefit through a permanent social protection that is offered by the host country of their residence.

 

In enhancing reciprocity among them, different States seek to solve social security problems by adopting the underlying principles of bilateral agreements that provide:

  • Equal treatment with same rights and obligations
  • The application of laws to render a migrant eligible to social security protection
  • Aggregation of insurance periods through which a person qualifies for social security benefits upon completion of the qualifying period (e.g. pensionable age); and
  • Payment of benefits abroad, which entitles a person to receive benefits at the chosen place of residence.

The Social Security System in Malta was introduced in 1921. Like in other countries, payments of pensions are governed by the Contributory and the Non Contributory Schemes. This therefore makes it possible for the Maltese Government to negotiate agreements with other countries where Maltese migrants reside. Reciprocal agreements have been signed with the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. Through these agreements, these countries are able to pay Maltese citizens certain benefits such as Retirement, Invalidity or Widows Pension. However, each of these countries has its own criteria and conditions of allocating the amount of benefits afforded to the claimants.

Mr Clemente Zammit is the Consul General for Malta in Victoria, Australia. He exposed the signing of an agreement between the Ministers for social Security of Malta and Canberra on 15 August 1990 with the stated intention of co-ordinating the two countries’ social security schemes to provide coverage for people who move between them. By that Agreement, the Australian law provided pension benefits to people of old age, invalidity, wives and widows. Following a breakdown in the computer systems in 1999, a number of these benefits were phased out, leaving only the first two in operation. Therefore, while originally the Agreement between Malta and Australia was particularly important for wives and widows, it was afterwards partially withdrawn by the Australian Government to the detriment of many Maltese women living in that country. To many, this change of policy was regarded as a breach of the Maltese-Australian Agreement, and today efforts are made to restore its full implementation.

Mr Lawrence Dimech related on the process of campaigning that led to the making of Australian citizens from the Maltese migrant community within the principles of dual nationality. In July 1974 a collective voice of Maltese people under the umbrella of several community organisations, signed a petition to the Australian Government which read:

The Maltese in Australia request that the Constitution be altered in such a way as to allow them to become Australian citizens without forfeiting their Maltese citizenship.

Since 1948 the Australian law stipulated that any person who acquires the nationality of a foreign country should cease to be an Australian citizen. This, of course, left many Maltese in a dilemma, since they would have liked to become Australian citizens while remaining Maltese. To this day this problem is not fully resolved. However, the proposed dual nationality legislation in Malta has somehow bridged the barrier to the extent that, in fulfilling the legal requirements, a person is deemed not to have ceased to be a citizen of Malta. This is different from saying that the person acquired Maltese citizenship. It will not, therefore, contravene the law of Australia. Again, the Maltese law will grant citizenship of Malta to all persons of Maltese descent. Mr Dimech ended by observing that Malta enhances its assets through its people, whether living in Malta or scattered around the world. As he has put it, these people with Maltese blood in their veins are the product of Malta itself, and all those who possess skills of any kind are the pride of our country.

Mr Clemente Zammit made a further presentation by evaluating the long-term strategic links between Educational Institutions and Discreet Community Groups such as Maltese. He referred to an extravaganza performance by a Maltese cultural group called Harmonic 65 in a University auditorium in the presence of the University authorities. It was a complete programme that came together under an institutional partnership between the Universities of Victoria (Australia) and Malta with the support of Professor Maurice Cauchi. Since 1989 liaison was established between the two institutions through student exchange, faculty teaching exchange, joint sponsorships of professional activities, visiting fellowships, joint publications, and joint research activities. This venture has been seen as a giant step forward towards an acceptance by the host community in Australia that its Maltese residents possess outstanding talents and capability to uplift their reputation, which was previously low and rather degrading.

Since the highly applauded event by the Maltese, Victoria University’s partnership with the Maltese community has been distinguished both by its strength and diversity. It also served to break down the barriers that were preventing Maltese-background students from reaching their full potential in education. Encouraged by the results of that university performance, the Maltese community is embracing an attitude towards maintaining the Maltese culture, taking pride in its own heritage and fostering the learning of the mother tongue. Mr Zammit ended by urging against complacency since there is still a lot to be done to raise the social and cultural standards of the Maltese-Australian community.

Fr Victor J Camilleri OFM spoke on the "Bilateral Agreements between Malta and the United Kingdom". He felt that such co-ordination could only be resulted if a reasonably good relationship exists between the two nations. There have been three phases in the development of agreements with Great Britain. In the Early Years since 1958 the agreement on National Insurance was signed followed by that concerning the Civil Dockyard, this no longer applies today. There were other agreements that are now obsolete.

With the Changing Climates following Malta Independence in 1964 a series of Agreements were signed which concerned Inheritance of International Rights and Obligations, Luqa Airfield, and the Air Services agreement was signed. All of these three agreements are still in operation today. Also, agreements were signed on the Use of Military Facilities until the British military presence in Malta lasted.

Further Agreements ensued and which dealt with:

Health Care Convention, Public Officers Pension, Investment Promotion, Development of Friendly Relations and Co-operation, British Council English Language Resource Centre, Participation of Maltese Students at University of Sussex, Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion, Social Security Agreement. Pending Issues include the Fight Against the Illicit Trafficking in Drugs and Organised Crime, Air Services, and Customs’ Administrative Assistance Malta/UK.

 

Malta and Europe

Today the main item at the multilateral political level is Malta’s bid for membership in the European Union (EU).

Health Care

The present situation remains that medical treatment is not fully available in Malta as yet for all kinds of illnesses. And with tourism still high on the economic agenda there are many who travel between Malta and the UK. The main agreement provisions are:

  • Bilateral health/accidents treatment: Free medical treatment for accidental injuries or illness sustained while on holiday or business is available in Malta and the UK, all expenses paid by the two respective Governments.
  • Maltese Sponsored Patients: The Maltese Government sends patients for treatment and operations abroad, mainly to the UK

In his conclusions Fr Camilleri suggested that:

  • Existing provisions, whilst mostly adequate, require continual monitoring and development
  • As European Union accession nears, arrangements between Malta and EU need to be further integrated; historical integration between Malta and United Kingdom will help in preparing for EU membership
  • No amount of bilateral agreements can remove the loneliness, alienation and culture shock of emigration and immigration. Pastoral care of both social and religious nature is needed to alleviate some of the stress. Gradual adaptation to change (e.g. hometown-like) is better than a radical jolt.

In the evening a courtesy visit was paid to the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Dr. Alfred Sant, M.Sc., MBA. DBA (Harvard), M P.

 

Afterwards all delegates attended a Reception hosted by the Voice of the Mediterranean at the Carlson Suite, Radisson SAS, Bay Point Resort, St Julian’s. 

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