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SWEDISH CITIZENSHIP

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

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

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

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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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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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