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'Swedish citizenship must be respected and protected to a greater extent'

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
'Swedish citizenship must be respected and protected to a greater extent'
Sweden's migration minister, Maria Malmer Stenergard is convinced that foreigners will also benefit from tighter citizenship requirements. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

As Sweden's government launches its inquiry into tightening citizenship requirements, Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard tells The Local why she thinks its been too easy to become a Swede.


Of all the many proposals in the Tidö Agreement the government struck with the far-right Sweden Democrats, the one which arguably most upset foreigners was the pledge to increase the residency requirement for citizenship from five years to eight.

This Friday, nearly a year after the election, the government finally launched its inquiry into how to do this, with the inquiry titled "Tighter requirements for Swedish citizenship".

According to Sweden's Migration Minister, Maria Malmer Stenergard, it has long been too easy to become a citizen in Sweden, with only five years of residency in the country required, compared to eight years in Germany and nine in Denmark. 

"For this government, it is clear that the value of the Swedish citizenship must be respected and protected to a greater extent than it is today," Stenergard told The Local. "If you compare the requirements of Sweden to other comparable countries, then I would say that it is rather easy to become a citizen in Sweden." 

This did not mean, she said, that the government did not welcome foreigners who wanted to become citizens. 

"It is fantastic if citizens become more invested in Sweden and if they acquire the knowledge that we think should be necessary to become a citizen," she said. "Citizenship represents formal membership of Swedish society, and it is of great importance, both legally and symbolically." 

When The Local asked whether foreigners married to or living with a Swedish citizen would become eligible for citizenship after a shorter period of residency under the new rules, as they are today, she said that that was one of the many questions Kirsi Laakso Utvik, the judge leading the inquiry, would have to answer. 


It would also, she said, be up for Utvik to propose whether the new tighter citizenship requirements should apply retroactively to applications made before the requirements come into force if a decision has yet to be taken, or whether applications would be judged based on the requirements in force at the time they were made.

"The investigator will have to come up with a proposal on whether it should be the requirements that were in force when the application was filed, or whether it should be those in force at the time of the decision," she said. "This has a great impact for many people. I'm aware of that."   


She would also not be drawn on whether the proposal that applicants demonstrate "additional knowledge of Swedish society and Swedish culture" to be eligible for citizenship would mean a citizenship test like the notoriously difficult one prospective citizens must pass in Denmark. 

She pointed out that the government had already launched a proposal on bringing in requirements for language skills and knowledge of civil society for those applying for permanent residency

"In this new directive, we specify that we want the investigator to look into how there could be even tighter requirements when it comes to culture and Swedish society, but not regarding language," she said. "Of course there needs to be some sort of relationship between them. The requirements [on knowledge of civil society and Swedish culture] need to be harder for citizenship than for permanent residency." 


When the new government came into power, it pledged to bring about a "paradigm shift" in migration policy, something Stenergard said the government was on the way to achieving, despite its piecemeal, legalistic approach. 

"Every bit and piece that we have presented over this year constitutes a small part of this paradigm shift," she said. "And we are working on more changes, both legal changes and changes in how the authorities work. They are all needed to make this a paradigm shift, and I cannot point to one specific part that is more important than the others." 

In Denmark, when the centre-right Liberal Party was driving through a similar programme of tighter migration laws, the party's then Migration Minister, Inger Støjberg, sought to publicise her progress by celebrating the 50th new rule tightening immigration with a cake. 

"I have no plans for that," Stenergard said, adding that she was more interested in the concrete impact of migration measures than in publicising them.

"I am very results-oriented. I want to see results from these changes as soon as possible and I will keep working day and night in order to make that happen. That is what counts for me, not the number of laws that we have passed, but the changes they lead to." 


She said the government was acting out of conviction, not out of mere political expediency. 

"We are working methodically to create these huge changes that we are convinced are needed in order to have a lower influx and functioning integration, because we have such shortcomings and such a debt when it comes to integration in this country, and you can see it in almost all political areas of society." 

She acknowledged, however, that Denmark was in some ways a model. 

"We are looking a lot at what Denmark has done, and I think Denmark made changes that we in Sweden should have made many, many years ago," she said. "But my goal is to make sure that Sweden stays an open society, where the borders are open within the European Union." 


"I am convinced that if Sweden is to be able to keep helping people in the future, then the Swedish population needs to feel that we have control and that integration is working. I think that many feel that politics lost control [of migration] and that it has to be regained." 

When The Local informed her that several foreigners who responded to our recent survey had said Sweden had become a more hostile country for them since her government came into power, she rejected the charge. 

"I have great respect for what people feel, and I need to take this into account in my work, but I am 100 percent convinced that the work that we're doing now is creating a better place for foreigners in Sweden as well," she said. "I've met so many people who have migrated here who are thankful for what we're doing and who are very disturbed and and troubled by the high rate of crime in their neighbourhoods."

Even the foreigners who are directly affected by the tighter requirements for citizenship, would, she argued, benefit in the long run. 

"We really feel that people have a greater chance of becoming part of Swedish society if we put demands on them," she said. "I am convinced that these changes that we are making regarding citizenship are important to create better integration. When people know what is expected of them, they can relate to that and start working towards reaching these goals and becoming citizens. I think that will also make them more integrated and more proud to be Swedish." 


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