All three Scandinavian nations are making the process of gaining citizenship more challenging for foreign-born residents. The governments of Denmark, Norway and Sweden have all made or are proposing changes to their respective citizenship laws this year.
All three counties now permit citizens to hold other citizenships, following a law change in Norway that entered into force in 2020. But the process by which someone can apply for Danish, Norwegian or Swedish citizenship varies considerably.
Controversial changes in Denmark
Denmark already has strict immigration laws but a cross-party parliamentary majority has agreed to a series of legislative changes to tighten requirements even more.
The measures will prevent people who have been sentenced for a crime from ever obtaining Danish citizenship, while people fined for a range of lesser crimes will have to wait six years before applying.
In addition to the residency requirement of up to nine years, citizenship applicants must now demonstrate a positive employment history. Anyone applying must have been in full-time employment (or self-employed equivalent) for 3.5 of the past four years.
The most controversial change is related to the process by which citizenship is granted. Pre-approved applications for Danish citizenships must be passed by a parliamentary majority vote. Previously, applicants were listed alphabetically in bulk twice a year. But now applicants will be organized by their nationality.
Critics say that categorizing applicants in this way makes it easy for parliament or individual parties to reject pre-approved citizenship applicants based purely on their country of origin.
Sweden proposes language requirements
The Swedish government is in the process of overhauling its migration law to build on the temporary laws introduced in response to the European refugee crisis. One of the biggest areas it will address is the lack of any requirement of Swedish language skills for both permanent residency and citizenship.
“Language is the key to work, but also the key to society,” said Swedish justice and migration minister Morgan Johansson, who announced the results of a government enquiry. It suggested new citizens should need to achieve A2 (according to the CEFR levels) for speaking and writing and B1 for reading and listening.
However, the proposal is still to go out for consultation with relevant authorities so it may be some time before any changes are confirmed. The language and citizenship tests must also be developed, but this may happen concurrently as language tests are set to be introduced for permanent residence in a separate process.
Norway wants new citizens to speak better Norwegian
Unlike Sweden, Norway already has language requirements in place for citizenship applicants. For most people, the required level of spoken Norwegian (A2) is lower than the required skill level (B1) in reading, writing and listening. The law change, set to be introduced in July 2021, will mean that new applicants must also achieve B1 level in spoken Norwegian.
Aside from the language requirements, most foreign citizens must have been living legally in Norway for seven years and pass a citizenship exam before they are able to apply for Norwegian citizenship.