Foreigners to be issued Swedish ID – from 2009

Foreigners living in Sweden who are unable to get Swedish ID cards should have cards issued by the police, a government inquiry has proposed. But the new system will not be up and running until January 2009, meaning people who currently do not have ID will have to wait another year.

Many foreign citizens living in Sweden were effectively barred from getting Swedish ID cards in January. Svensk Kassaservice, a state-owned company and one of the largest ID card issuers, declared that only Swedish citizens or close relatives of Swedish citizens would be issued with the cards. The company cited fears that its ID cards could be used in cases of identity fraud.

Now, a government inquiry headed by Supreme Court Justice Per Virdesten, has proposed that people legally resident in Sweden should have cards issued by the police. The state needs to take greater responsibility for issuing ID, the inquiry said.

“The state should have a responsibility to provide an ID card to everyone over 16 who is registered as living in Sweden,” according to the report.

The report listed the problems caused by the rules. It pointed to a Thai woman, living legally in Sweden with a Swedish man, who was unable to collect her wages without an ID card. She opened a bank account with the ICA supermarket chain, but was unable to retrieve her bank card from the post office as the clerk demanded she produce Swedish ID to retrieve the package.

The inquiry also described the case of a Lithuanian doctor who moved to Sweden and was issued a licence to practice medicine but was refused an ID card. His sister, who had lived in Sweden for several years, was not accepted as a guarantor of his identity.

The inquiry considered other agencies, including the tax authority and the Migration Board, as potential ID issuers. Virdesten told The Local that the police were the obvious agency to issue the cards.

“The police today issue ID cards for Swedish citizens, so they have the infrastructure. The banks only issue cards for people with accounts, and Svensk Kassaservice is to be shut down,” he said.

People applying for an ID card under the new rules should face more flexible rules than at present. In the future, foreign passports that meet certain security criteria, particularly EU passports, should be accepted as proof of identity for those applying for ID cards.

Other people’s applications should be treated on a case by case basis, the report said. The new regime could allow employers to vouch for people applying for ID. The final rules for issuing the cards would be drawn up by the police, the report said.

Police are reluctant to take on the responsibility to issue ID cards, Virdesten said, but could be forced to accept the job:

“The police don’t want to have this task, but I want them to do it and I think they will accept it if the government gives it to them.”

The new police-issued cards will be available to Swedes and foreigners. The inquiry said it would not be appropriate to have a form of ID that would immediately identify the bearer as a foreign citizen. Banks will retain the right to issue ID cards.

Police already issue National Identity Cards to Swedish citizens. These are designed to be used as travel documents within most of the EU. Foreigners will not be eligible for this form of ID-card under the new rules.

Meanwhile, the report underlined that companies and government agencies could be obliged to accept EU passports as ID. It pointed to an investigation by the European Commission into the case of a German man living in Sweden whose German passport was not accepted as ID when he applied to take the Swedish driving test. Sweden claims it is necessary to demand Swedish ID in order to fulfill strict security requirements. The Commission is expected to report on its conclusions later.

The Virdesten inquiry was set up after the issue was raised in parliament. Liberal Member of Parliament Fredrik Malm called a debate on the issue following a series of articles in The Local.

Virdesten’s report is only advisory; it will be up to Integration Minister Nyamko Sabuni to put its advice into effect. Her spokesman Johan Eriksson told The Local on Monday that the minister was “reading the report now and will give a response later.”