There is no doubt that many persons of Maltese background have had to wait a long time to obtain a Maltese passport for which they hankered for years if not generations.
While a passport is not really essential to prove citizenship, it is usually taken as its best indicator. Having a passport in your hand is something which can be flashed at an instant and generally goes unchallenged.
Some travellers owning a Maltese passport make sure that they take it with them whenever they leave the country where they live, together with their local passport indicating their country of residence, to avoid any re-entry visa problems when they return home. While sometimes this could cause confusion at customs, it generally works well.
There are three distinct categories of persons who look at a Maltese passport in different ways:
Firstly, there is a category of young persons born outside Malta, whose parents were born in Malta, who desire a Maltese passport largely as a ticket to Europe. This is by far the largest category of potential passport applicants. In Australia alone it is estimated that there are around 200,000 persons who would belong to this category. Obviously, not all of these will be applying for a Maltese passport. To date, the number of persons in this category who have applied is no more than a few thousands.
These persons are often very keen to have such a confirmation of their citizenship. Many are proud to obtain a Maltese passport, particularly since it may take several months’ wait before this is achieved.
Secondly, there is another category comprising persons who have all but lost Maltese citizenship, or perhaps more correctly, they were for years ignored and forgotten. I refer to those who left Malta several generations ago to settle in countries in North Africa and who have lost direct connection to Maltese lineage. Again the number of persons in this category is not known exactly, but in Australia for instance, there would be around 10,000 persons who belong to this category. No doubt there would be many more in France, UK, and other countries in Europe where these expatriates settled in the post-war period. This is a group of persons who craved for Maltese citizenship most acutely, and have appreciated the possibility of becoming reintegrated within Maltese society through the recent relaxation of evidence of proof required to obtain Maltese citizenship.
Both the above two categories have in common their great appreciation for having their Maltese citizenship confirmed through having a Maltese passport.
Thirdly, there is the category of persons born in Malta of Maltese parents whose citizenship was never in doubt. The majority of these persons left Malta in the 1950s and ’60s, and most of them have now reached retiring age. For a while it was not allowed to have dual citizenship, but now that these problems have been resolved, these persons are considered automatically to be Maltese, irrespective of how long they have been living overseas. Their right to a Maltese passport is not in question.
What is the significance of a Maltese passport to this category of persons? I have been asked this question on several occasions. Many of us go to Malta every few years and carry with us both our Maltese passport as well as a passport of our country of residence – this makes re-entry much smoother. In reality, we do not need the Maltese passport to visit Malta or Europe for several weeks, but we take it with us anyway as an extra bit of insurance and ease of entry into EU countries.
While a Maltese passport is not really essential, it is certainly a certificate that is proof of membership of the larger Maltese community of which we are proud.
Some travellers coming back from Malta complain that there should not be any distinction whatsoever between Maltese living in Malta and those living overseas. It has to be made clear, however, that residents have rights which are not applicable to non-resident Maltese citizens. This is an issue which can be very confusing to the average person and needs to be clarified so that expectations are appropriately set and not raised above what can be delivered.
It is to be hoped that this and similar issues will be tackled by the Ministerial Advisory Council meeting in Malta in September.