Citizenship in Rwanda is governed by Organic Law No. 002/2021.OL of 16/07/2021 governing Rwandan nationality and by the 2003 Constitution as revised in 2015.
The constitution provides that “Every Rwandan has the right to Rwandan nationality”, and that “All persons of Rwandan origin and their descendants are, upon request, entitled to Rwandan nationality.” The 2021 nationality law, which replaced Organic Law No 30/2008 of 25/07/2008 relating to Rwandan nationality, restricts nationality “by origin” to people of Rwandan ancestry. It also states that every person must “apply for” nationality, in place of previous provisions for attribution of nationality at birth by operation of law.
A person eligible to “apply for” Rwandan nationality by origin must “be born to at least one Rwandan parent who is a Rwandan not through acquisition but by virtue of Rwandan ancestry”. This provision replaced the previous rule that a child was automatically attributed Rwandan nationality at birth if either parent was Rwandan, without distinction as to birth in or out of wedlock or the sex of the parent – or whether the parent held nationality by descent or by acquisition.
For those who are not Rwandan nationals “by origin”, there are eleven separate grounds for applying for or granting Rwandan nationality by acquisition: (1) birth on the territory; (2) foundling; (3) marriage; (4) adoption; (5) national interest; (6) special skills or talent; (7) substantial sustainable investments or activities; (8) residence in Rwanda; (9) honour; (10) being an immigrant; (11) statelessness.
Whereas the previous law provided for attribution of nationality to children born in the territory of unknown or stateless parents, or who could not acquire the nationality of one of their parents, and for abandoned infants to be presumed born in Rwanda, the 2021 law provides only that a child found in the territory of unknown parents may apply for nationality by acquisition.
A person born in Rwanda of parents who were legal residents at time of his or her birth may apply for nationality at majority. An adult may also apply for Rwandan nationality based on at least 15 years legal residence in Rwanda (an increase from the five years previously required), while a separate provision provides for a person to be able to apply for nationality on the grounds that he or she “immigrated to Rwanda for social, political or economic reasons” (or is the descendant of such a person) and has been resident at least 25 years, and has “lost connection to his or her country of origin”. The husband or wife of a Rwandan national may apply for nationality after five years of marriage. In all these cases additional conditions include good conduct, knowledge of Rwandan culture and traditions, sufficient means, and not posing a threat to national security.
While the 2021 law does not include the previous provision on attribution of nationality to children born in Rwanda who would otherwise be stateless, it introduces a new provision for acquisition of nationality on grounds of statelessness. Aside from the condition of statelessness, the only condition is that the person not be a threat to national security. In addition, the law provides for the grant of nationality on the basis of various forms of special contribution to Rwanda, subject to conditions of good conduct and not being a threat to national security.
Dual nationality has been allowed under the law in most circumstances in Rwanda since 2003.