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

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What we know about Sweden's potential language tests for new citizens
Sweden is thinking of introducing language tests for would-be citizens. Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT

Sweden is looking into tougher hurdles for citizenship. But what does that mean and when would it be introduced?


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What are Sweden's current citizenship requirements?

Unlike many of its European neighbours, Sweden has no language or civics tests for people applying for citizenship. Instead, they need to have met criteria including living in Sweden legally for a certain length of time (five years, or three years if you have been living with a Swedish partner for at least two years), and having "conducted oneself well in Sweden", which means that a criminal record or unpaid debts can affect applications. You can read more about how to become a Swedish citizen here

And how could this change?

The government on October 29th announced it was launching an inquiry looking into ways of changing the legislation to introduce language and civics tests as a condition for gaining Swedish citizenship.

It is not yet clear how these tests would look – that's what the inquiry is for.

The inquiry will also look into whether some groups would be exempted from the requirements, for example children, the elderly or people with learning disabilities. Exceptions could potentially also be made for other Nordic citizens – some of the Scandinavian languages are similar and for example a Dane or Norwegian may be able to make themselves understood in their own native tongue without speaking Swedish.

Who made the decision?

The move 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.

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.

Swedish for Immigrants classes are free for people legally residing in Sweden. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

Why are they doing this?

Concerns have been raised about integration and unemployment among immigrants in Sweden, and Social Democrat Justice Minister Morgan Johansson said this was part of the reason. "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," he said in a statement.

How do people feel about this?

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.

You can read a full report here

Overall, most of the respondents at the time cautioned against a one-size-fits all policy. 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.

We would be happy to hear from more of you, so please feel free to email [email protected] if you are interested in writing an opinion piece for The Local or would like our editorial team to hear your ideas.

Is there anything else that's changing?

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. It is also to look at ways of making it harder for young immigrants with a serious criminal record to become citizens.

The final report is to be presented to the government by May 1st, 2021, with the part relating to the language and civics test presented as early at October 15th, 2020. It would then be in the hands of the government whether or not to act on the report or when to do it, and perhaps propose a legal bill to parliament. So there is no confirmed date at the moment for when the reforms, if they go ahead, would come into force.

What is not changing?

The government's instructions specifically say that the inquiry must not propose any changes to Sweden's constitution. This means that there will be no proposals to make it possible to withdraw citizenship for people with dual nationality, something the more right-wing Moderates and Sweden Democrats have called for.

"That rules out the perhaps most urgent citizenship issue, which is that Sweden does not have the ability to revoke citizenship, for example for people who have fought for Isis and have committed terror crimes," Gunnar Strömmer, party secretary for the conservative Moderate party, told Swedish news agency TT.

How many people have become new citizens this year?

Sweden has granted 33,567 new citizenships between January and October this year, with the vast majority (22,383) given to Syrians, followed by people from Afghanistan (2,991) and the United Kingdom (2,894).

Last year a total of 61,312 people became Swedish citizens.


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