Swedish citizenship reforms: Plan to introduce language tests for new Swedes

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Swedish citizenship reforms: Plan to introduce language tests for new Swedes
Should Swedish language skills be a requirement for citizenship? Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT

The Swedish government has launched an inquiry that will propose legislation to make Swedish language skills compulsory for citizenship.


Unlike many of its European neighbours, Sweden currently has no language or civics tests for people applying for citizenship. Instead, they need to have lived in Sweden legally for a certain length of time and shown good behaviour, which means that a criminal record or unpaid debts can affect applications.

But that could be about to change.

A government inquiry launched on Tuesday is set to investigate how the law could be changed to make it compulsory for applicants to pass a test in Swedish and civics in order to get citizenship.

When The Local quizzed the Swedish parties about this issue before the last general election, in our election guide for international residents in September 2018, both the Social Democrats and the Greens said they did not want to propose language tests for would-be citizens. The Centre party did not outright answer the question at the time, and the Liberal party said that yes, they did want language tests.

But the government inquiry is part of a cross-bloc deal between the ruling Social Democrat-Green coalition and the Centre and Liberal parties, whose support the former needed to form a government in January.

READ MORE: What does Sweden's government deal mean for internationals?

"Language is the gateway to jobs and getting established in society. Good opportunities to language teaching and education are a prerequisite for getting a foot on the labour market and in society at large. At the same time, it is important that the requirements are drawn up fairly, are legally safe and fulfil their purpose," said Social Democrat Justice Minister Morgan Johansson in a statement on Tuesday.

The inquiry is also to look into whether exceptions are needed for certain groups for whom passing a language test could be difficult, for example children, elderly, people with learning disabilities. The government instructions also mention other Nordic citizens as a possible exception to the rule.

When The Local surveyed our readers earlier this year, the majority of respondents felt that a language test would be a good step, with many highlighting the individual responsibility to adapt to Swedish society. However, there was a fairly even split, with others arguing that not all foreigners need to learn the native language and suggesting English should instead be accepted as a second language in Sweden.

Overall, most of the respondents at the time cautioned against a one-size-fits all policy when it comes to citizenship requirements. Several readers said that if changes were made to how citizenship is granted, it would be best to weigh different factors on a case-by-case basis, taking into account whether the individual had personal relationships or a job in Sweden.

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The inquiry is also set to propose new ways of making it harder for parents to renounce their children's Swedish citizenship, to protect children at risk of being taken abroad to marry against their will.

The final report is to be presented by May 1st, 2021, with the parts of the report dealing with the language and civics tests to be presented as early as October 15th, 2020.

What story that affects the lives of Sweden's international residents should we cover next? Email The Local to have your say.


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