Dame Rita Bral

22 July 2006

Her Excellency Laurette Onkelinx
Vice-Prime Minister and Minister of Justice
Handelsstraat 78-80
1040 Brussel

Your Excellency,

Tomorrow once again I will have the pleasure of addressing the Belgian Community in the Bay Area, when we gather in celebration of the Belgian National Day. In preparing my remarks, I already anticipate the first and most urgent question: What is the status of our Dual Citizenship? The Belgian people have been asking me this same question in person, per email and by telephone, ever since Minister of Foreign Affairs, Louis Michel raised high hopes in 2002 with his declaration: Dual Nationality is a Right!

Belgian People do not want to give up their Belgian Nationality; circumstances in their lives coerce this difficult decision: pressure from an employer to keep a job they excel at; financial considerations; American hereditary tax laws; and many different personal reasons.

Whatever the cause, becoming a US citizen is always is a very difficult and painful decision I am told, and people who went through the process assure me that they still are and feel Belgian, that their culture and value system did not change. Others have been patiently waiting for many years and still carry the Belgian passport. Full of hope they ask "How much longer, Madame Bral?"

Belgians Abroad are the best Ambassadors. We spread the Belgian values of hospitality, friendliness, competence, know-how, work ethics combined with a love of life through our presence, in our work situation and at our homes. It does not make a difference if we are University professors, laboratory technicians, artists, computer engineers or gardeners. We provide a network of valuable contacts ready for our Goverment to capitalize upon.

I just took a call from Alain Kinet, City Gardener at San Francisco General Hospital. He was raised in a small town near Liege and has been working here for 30 years. The "Comfort Garden" he created at the hospital is now an inspiration for hospitals around the world. He needs to renew his passport. At the end of our conversation, he asked THE question, because in his own words: "I am proud to be a Belgian and I never want to give that up but I need this Dual Citizenship, Madame."

Our Government is providing budgets to brain-gain Belgian researchers back home and numerous Belgians will express their votes in absentee ballots in June next year.

Your Excellency, for all the Belgians Living Abroad, may we respectfully urge You take all necessary actions to speed up the process of legalizing this status? We are counting on You to make Dual Citizenship your legacy.

Rest assured that You will gratify and improve the lives of a lot of Belgians all over the world.

Most Sincerely,

Rita M. Bral

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