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Foreigners can't bank on Swedish ID

David Landes · 5 Mar 2008, 12:25

Published: 05 Mar 2008 12:25 GMT+01:00

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"I walk around every day with a sense of fear," said Dzmitry Fando, a Belorussian national and masters student at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH).

Despite having a valid Swedish residence permit, Fando has been repeatedly foiled in his attempts to obtain a Swedish ID card.

Currently, banks remain the only place non-Swedes can make an application for an official Swedish identity card. But as Fando recently discovered, even banks are somewhat arbitrary in their policies governing who gets one.

Despite being a customer of Nordea since arriving in Sweden last August, Fando was denied an ID card from a branch of the bank on two separate occasions.

Each time bank employees gave him a different reason for the rejection.

For his third attempt, he brought along Peter Brokking, an international programme coordinator from KTH, as instructed by Nordea personnel following his second visit.

Brokking, who has been working with international students for five years, found it odd that he needed to be physically present at the bank.

"It's really bizarre, since the ID card simply formalized information that already exists in other places," said Brokking.

Several other foreign students from KTH with accounts at Nordea came along as well, hoping for a solution to their identity card problems.

But despite Bokking's presence, the students were rebuffed once again.

This time, a new reason was given: the bank required foreigners to be accompanied by "a close relative" who can vouch for their identity—a difficult requirement for most foreign students to fulfill.

"It's strange that foreign students have no ability to get an ID card in Sweden unless they have their relatives with them," said Brokking.

Brokking was also troubled by the lack of consistency or transparency on the part of Nordea, mentioning that colleagues of his had secured identity cards for foreign students at other Nordea branches.

Fando can hardly contain his frustration over the fact that some of his fellow students were able to obtain ID cards while he has been left empty handed.

"I feel that Nordea has discriminated against me 100 percent," he said.

The Local spoke to one Nordea spokesperson who was initially unaware that the bank even had a role in issuing identity cards.

A second bank official later admitted that the students should have been issued identity cards and was sorry that they felt mistreated.

"We regret very much if anyone felt discriminated against," said Nordea spokesperson Lena Hoglund.

According to Hoglund, Nordea issues identity cards to non-Swedish bank customers with valid passports and Swedish residency permits, as long as they are accompanied by a representative from their school or workplace, and that person holds a valid Swedish ID.

"This is a sign that we need to do a better job communicating to our branch employees," she added.

The government is looking into the ID card issue, but any proposed changes are not likely to take effect until 2009.

This means several more months of hassles and embarrassment for foreign students who have come to Sweden seeking advanced degrees, only to find themselves treated like outsiders.

"I have to carry my passport with me everywhere I go. If I were to lose it, that would be a disaster for me as there is no Belorussian embassy here in Stockholm," explained Fando.

An identity card is required to carry out many daily activities in Swedish society, such as collecting packages from the post office, buying passes for public transportation, seeing a doctor, or even renting a film.

"At the post office or buying a train pass I am always asked for my ID, and every time I'm scared that my passport won't be accepted," he said.

Fando and his friends are by no means the first group of foreigners to face difficulties acquiring a Swedish ID.

As early as February 2007, problems were reported following a decision by Sweden's then main issuer of ID cards, Svensk Kassaservice, to bar anyone who is not a Swedish citizen or living with a Swedish citizen from being issued an ID card.

Story continues below…

As complaints mounted last summer, the government launched an inquiry led by Supreme Court justice Per Virdesten.

While acknowledge the important role of banks in issuing Swedish identity cards, the inquiry's findings also point out that banks don't make it easy for non-Swedes to get cards with the official mark of the Swedish Standards Institute, SIS.

"In practice, those who have not already gone through the process of obtaining an identity card in Sweden have little chance of getting a SIS-marked ID card, regardless of how long he or she has been a customer at the bank," said the report.

The report suggests that the state assert more influence over the issuing of identity cards, as the current system gives banks too much autonomy, leading to inconsistencies and a lack of transparency.

"Bank regulations aren't public, which makes it more difficult for individuals to know exactly what rules apply," said the report.

The results of the ID card inquiry are still under review by the Ministry of Equality and Gender Equity.

According to spokesperson Johan Eriksson, the ministry won't comment on the matter prior to March 23rd. He gave no indication of how long it would take for any new rules to be implemented.

In the meantime, the daily indignities faced by Fando and his fellow KTH students have caused some of them to second guess their decision to pursue a higher education in Sweden.

"When I got here I was seriously thinking about continuing to get a PhD, but I'm beginning to reconsider because I don't know if I'll ever be integrated into Swedish society," said Fando.

David Landes (david.landes@thelocal.se)

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