Soviet nationality and citizenship law controlled who was considered a citizen of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and by extension, each of the Republics of the Soviet Union, during that country's existence. The nationality laws were only in rough form from about 1913 to 1923, taking more definite form in 1924. There were several major changes in the nationality law, especially in 1931, 1938, and 1978. Soviet law originally expanded the bounds of jus sanguinis and citizenship by residence more than was common among European countries, before tending to gradually retract from that over time. Soviet citizenship law was also used as a political tool to expand the number of Soviet citizens globally, increase military conscription pools, and punish dissenters or even entire ethnic groups.

Early situation on citizenship

After the Russian Revolution, between 1917 and 1923, citizenship and nationality questions were subject to the control of various bodies in the "numerous independent and semi-independent republics and regions."[1]

Earlier leaders did not focus on nationality law, because they believed that an ongoing worldwide Communist revolution would eventually join all person on the world into one larger Communist citizenship.[1]

The 1918 constitution of the Russian SFSR did not draw a clear distinction between citizens and non-citizens, instead simply extending rights of Russian citizens to non-citizens within the Russian Republic.[1]

While residents of the Russian Empire were initially welcomed by the government to return, after the Russian Civil War, the Bolshevik party leadership engaged in mass denaturalization of Russians who had left.[2]

The 1923 USSR constitution established a single uniform USSR citizenship for all citizens of the SSRs.[1]

It was not until October 29, 1924 that the first comprehensive citizenship laws or regulations came into effect in the USSR, making it difficult to determine citizenship status until then.[1]

The first comprehensive Soviet law on citizenship, in 1924, established USSR citizenship, status of foreigners, citizenship at birth, citizenship effect on children of their parents, and naturalization.[1] A 1930 revision modified a few details.[1] It also greatly expanded the power to denaturalize citizens.[2]

First comprehensive laws

The "Statute on Citizenship of the Union of the S.S.R. of April 22, 1931" laid out Soviet laws on citizenship.[3][1]

All citizens of the USSR were also citizens of an SSR, and all citizens of the SSRs were also citizens of the USSR.[3]

Citizenship in the individual SSRs "formally existed but had no practical or political consequences" because it was subsumed into USSR citizenship.[4] Experts believes that SSR citizenship was largely non-existent.[4]

All persons in the USSR were citizens unless proved to be a citizen of a foreign state.[3][1] The rule avoids statelessness, and also "subject[s] every one who cannot prove his foreign citizenship to the strict surveillance to which all citizens are subjected."[1] It also had the effect of building the potential pool of military recruits for conscription.[2]

Any person born of a parent who was a citizen of the USSR was also a citizen of the USSR,[3] which extended the principle of the previous imperial regime.[1] This practice continued through Stalin's 1938 "On USSR Citizenship" law, in order to broaden the number of Soviet citizens.[2]

This includes children born outside wedlock.[1] No process of renunciation was given for those living inside the USSR.[1]

Marriage to a USSR citizen did not automatically confer citizenship,[3] which was seen as a break from European bourgeois customs.[2] The citizenship of a child under 14 generally changes with the citizenship of the parents, either to or away from USSR citizenship,[3] but did not do so automatically if the parents' citizenships differed, which was also seen as a break from European custom.[2]

A Soviet citizenship act number 198 was enacted on August 19, 1938, consisting of only eight articles instead of its predecessor's 29 articles.[5][6]

It was originally designed to replace all earlier Soviet citizenship regulations and laws, until that provision was removed, as it was too terse to provide substantial guidance, so that only conflicting earlier provisions were replaced.[6][2] The 1938 law no longer stated that all persons in Soviet territory were presumed to be citizens.[2] It created officially stateless persons who did not have Soviet citizenship and could not prove other citizenship.[2] The 1931 act was repealed in 1939.

Practical application

Details of naturalization in the 1931 law were deliberately kept vague, so as to provide full power to administrative authorizes to decide upon who might be admitted to citizenship.[1]

In general, Soviet citizenship law was very inclusive in theory.[7]

There were no official requirements for residency; knowledge of language, history, constitution, or political system; minimum income; or the like.[7][3] All that was required was an application and renunciation of other citizenships, and specifying of a particular SSR citizenship.[7]

In the period leading up to the 1938 law, the Soviet political system made strong use of deprivation of citizenship and reinstatement as instrument of discipline and sanction.[2] Entire groups or categories were stripped of citizenship or the rights of citizenship.[2]

1940s regional citizenship laws

In the 1940s a variety of decrees concerning USSR citizenship for persons from specific areas and regions were enacted, including:[5]

In February 1947, the USSR prohibited marriage between citizens of the USSR and aliens, but repealed that law in November 1953.[5] In March 1948, the USSR laid out procedures for Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian nationals living in Latin America to acquire Soviet citizenship.[5]

A 1954 citizenship decree that reinstated the 1931 citizenship regulations changed the outlines of who was a Soviet citizen by stating that all persons who have "long resided" in Soviet territory were Soviet citizens, including those persons who had been denied citizenship.[6]

Late changes

Changes to the USSR's citizenship laws were also enacted by 1977 constitution and the December 1, 1978 law on citizenship.[8]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Sandifer, Durward V. (October 1936). "Soviet Citizenship". The American Journal of International Law. 30 (4): 614–631. doi:10.2307/2191124. JSTOR 2191124. S2CID 246003387.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Alexopolous, Golfo (Summer 2006). "Soviet Citizenship, More or Less: Rights, Emotions, and States of Civic Belonging". Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History. 7 (3): 487–528. doi:10.1353/kri.2006.0030. S2CID 144846348.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Taracouzio, Timothy Andrew (1935). The Soviet union and international law; a study based on the legislation, treaties and foreign relations of the Union of socialist soviet republics. Macmillan. pp. 379–382.
  4. ^ a b Shevel, Oxana (April 2013). "Country Report: Ukraine" (PDF). European University Institute. pp. 3–4. Retrieved March 20, 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d "Laws Concerning Nationality" (PDF). United Nations Legislative Series. United Nations. 1954. pp. xiv–xv. Retrieved 12 April 2023.
  6. ^ a b c Ginsburgs, George (1983). The Citizenship Law of the USSR. Springer Science+Business. pp. 11–14, 37, 71–72. ISBN 978-94-015-1184-1.
  7. ^ a b c Makaryan, Shushanik (March 30, 2006). "Trends in Citizenship Policies of the 15 Former Soviet Union Republics: Conforming the World Culture or Following National Identity?" (PDF). University of California, Irvine School of Social Sciences. pp. 3–4. S2CID 31169767. Retrieved March 20, 2019.
  8. ^ Plender, Richard (1988). International Migration Law. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. ISBN 978-90-247-3604-1.