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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

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

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

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

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.

RECOMMENDED: What we know about Sweden's potential language tests for new citizens

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.

Member comments

  1. Sweden nowadays is shamelessly and overtly presenting its discriminatory linguistic model, just as other conservative European countries, in order to legitimize its expulsion of other non-Swedish groups. The fascination with linguisticism has its root in the desire to preserve white nationalism, whereas for the global market nowadays, English should suffice.

  2. Nah. Learning Swedish is a good way to show respect for our host country. It makes perfect sense that if someone wants citizenship, they should be willing to do what they can to integrate with their new home.

  3. Is this really learning Swedish the good way to show respect for the host country? There are many ways to use your human capitals to contribute to the society where you live in. Again, it’s the fascination with Swedish language and the prevalent discourse of integration that requires a deconstruction. Well, it also depends on your level of knowledge and understanding in order to deconstruct it.

  4. In a country where 90% of people speaks English, why Swedish language skills should come first instead of contribution to the society, with being able to speak Swedish, or doing the same thing with English only? Why a person on social welfare, who learns the language on the expense of same social welfare, should be more worthy of citizenship, just pure to the fact of being able to speak Swedish, rather than a person who speaks English only but PAYS and CONTRIBUTES to social welfare rather than consumes it?

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SWEDISH CITIZENSHIP

EXPLAINED: How are Sweden’s cities celebrating new citizens this year?

After two years of virtual celebrations, this year Sweden's cities will once again celebrate the new citizens with a ceremony. Here's what different cities have got planned.

EXPLAINED: How are Sweden's cities celebrating new citizens this year?

Under a 2015 law, all municipalities in Sweden are required to hold a ceremony to welcome new citizens. 

The ceremony is intended to convey to new Swedish citizens that their citizenship is “the most important legal link between the citizen and the state”, that citizenship brings “freedom, rights, and responsibilities”, and that citizenship is one of the grounds of folkstyrelsen, or “government by the peoplein Sweden, and stands for samhörighet, or “belonging” in Sweden. 

Municipalities are reimbursed for part of the cost of hosting the ceremonies. 

Stockholm

Stockholm is once again celebrating new citizens in a ceremony in the Stadshuset building. Around 1,300 of the 6,701 new citizens invited to the ceremony have said they will attend, and they have invited a total of 900 guests to accompany them. All citizens over the age of 18 are allowed to bring one guest and all under the age of 18 two guests. 

The 30-minute ceremony will start with a short musical concert, followed by a speech from the city’s mayor Anna König Jerlmyr and city council chair Cecilia Brinck. 

The ceremony will end with a rendition of Sweden’s national anthem, after which all invitees are invited for fika (coffee and a cinnamon bun) in the building’s Golden Hall or Gyllene sal. 

Only those who became citizens during 2021 are invited to the ceremony, as those who became citizens in 2020 and 2019 were celebrated with a digital ceremony. 

Gothenburg 

Gothenburg is pulling out all the stops, inviting 6,063 new citizens to a ceremony in the Slottsskogen park, on the grass in front of the Björngårdsvillan pavilion in the park. 

The ceremony will involve a performance by the multicultural Dream Orchestra, a group rendition of Sweden’s national anthem, a speech by Gothenburg’s mayor Axel Josefsson, and a concert by the Gothenburg symphony orchestra. 

Malmö 

Malmö has decided to hold a shorter ceremony in 2022 than those it held before the pandemic struck, with a two-hour ceremony outside in the city’s Stortorget Square which are part and parcel of the city’s larger National Day celebrations. 

Some 4,000 new citizens have been invited to the ceremony, but the organisers expect only a few hundred to attend. 

The event will start at 12am, and will start with a speech by Anneli Hultén, Governor of Skåne. The Malmöflickorna dance gymnastics group will march in holding Swedish flags, and a choir will perform. 

At 12.40, Carina Nilsson, chair of Malmö’s city council, will give a speech directly to the city’s new citizens. 

Only those who became citizens in 2021 are invited to the ceremony. Those who became citizens in 2020 were invited to a symbolic planting of flower bulbs at the Ribersborg beach on October 3rd to celebrate Malmö gaining its 350,000th resident. 

Uppsala 

Uppsala is holding a citizenship ceremony in the Uppsala Slott, the castle in the city centre, for everyone in the city who became a citizen in 2021.  Around 2,050 people have been invited, of whom 415 are children, and the city expects around 580 new citizens to attend the ceremony. 

Sweden’s Social Security minister Ardalan Shekarabi will give a speech, as will Eva Edwardsson, chair of the city council, Linda Eskilsson, chair of the city’s cultural committee, and Kholod Saghir, the editor of the freedom of expression organisation Svenska Pen. 

The city’s La Cappella women’s choir will perform. 

Västerås 

Våsterås is holding a ceremony for those who became citizens in 2021, with the chair of the municipality’s council, Anders Teljebäck, holding a speech, and a “flag parade” to the Djäkneberget park where the city is holding its National Day celebrations.

Södertälje 

Södertälje, the satellite town outside Stockholm, has decided to invite everyone who has become a citizen in 2019, 2020 or 2021 to a ceremony at the city’s Torekällberget open air museum and the Råby stage. 

They will get speeches from the mayor Boel Godner, and from the chair of the city council Peter Friström. 

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