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POLITICS

Sweden proposes language requirement for would-be citizens

People applying for Swedish citizenship should be required to show proof of Swedish language skills and understanding of the Swedish society, according to a new inquiry.

Sweden proposes language requirement for would-be citizens
Justice Minister Morgan Johansson, right, and former supreme administrative court justice Mari Andersson who led the inquiry. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Justice and Migration Minister Morgan Johansson presented details of an inquiry into the proposals on Wednesday morning.

“Language is the key to work, but also the key to society,” said Johansson as he outlined why the government thought it needed to find “a better balance between rights and responsibilities” for would-be citizens.

Foreign nationals applying to become Swedish would need proof of Swedish skills at A2 level for speaking and writing, the second lowest out of six levels on the Common European Framework of Reference, and B1 for reading and listening.

To take the test, it would cost 500 kronor ($60) for the section relating to civil society and 2,000 kronor for the language component.

Citizenship applicants could alternatively provide proof of passing Grade 9 in a Swedish high school, or a course at upper secondary school, or the highest level of the Swedish For Immigrants (SFI) course.

The language requirements would apply to people aged between 16 and 66 who apply for Swedish citizenship, but certain exceptions are proposed, including for people with certain disabilities or those who are from a vulnerable background – for example being stateless or illiterate – who can prove they have tried to reach the required knowledge level but been unsuccessful.

Citizens of other Nordic countries who live in Sweden would also be exempted, as they are subject to a different process and are only required to notify authorities, rather than apply, in order to receive citizenship.

The proposals were put together based on reviewing the processes in place in other European countries, of which only three including Sweden do not currently require a language test.

But the details aren't finalised yet. The next stage is to send the proposals out for consultation from relevant authorities, and they may be adapted depending on the responses received. Then a proposal would need to be passed by parliament and work to begin on putting together the tests.

“This is a reasonable proposal and we hope that it can be put into place as soon as possible, but of course this is a large organisational challenge,” said Johansson.

The government committed to investigating language tests for citizenship applicants in the cross-bloc deal struck with the Centre and Liberal parties, whose support the Social Democrat-Green coalition needed to form a government.

Separately, the government is looking into whether language skills should be required for permanent residence in Sweden.

Swedish vocabulary

citizenship – (ett) medborgarskap

language – (ett) språk

(government) inquiry – (en) utredning

requirement – (ett) krav

authority – (en) myndighet

Member comments

  1. I think this makes a lot of sense, but I would also add people who are refugees and stateless to the list – in fact, anyone wishing to live in Sweden. Every country should be for the benefit of its own people, first and foremost, and not a welcoming centre for anyone who just wishes to come and live in it. Also, the nation should be extremely strict about those who come from other countries, inasmuch as if the individual commits a felony, they should face deportation.

  2. Oh…I find this comment really upsetting!This seems to be a very strange and sad attitude….Why should every country only be for the benefit of its “own” people, first and foremost? (Who gets to decide who those people are?) How terribly sad to think of Sweden NOT being a welcoming centre for anyone who just wishes to come and live here!

  3. Hazel – you must live a long way from the immigrant ghettoes created by misguided politicians, perhaps in a world populated by unicorns and fairies? Cloudberry is absolutely correct – untrammelled migration has been a disaster for many European cities and towns. There are many maladjusted immigrants in Sweden, one report attributes 73% of murders, 70% of robberies and 73% of gang rape to them. Murders in Sweden have quadrupled due to excessive migration – do these figures mean anything to you, Hazel? Feel free to read the report here, it’s very disturbing:
    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12115-019-00436-8
    When are we going to say enough is enough?

  4. I agree with Hazel. I’ve lived 20+ years in increasingly multi-ethnic Gothenburg. With every year that passes it reminds me more and more comfortably of the multi-ethnic towns and cities where I grew up in England – London, Brighton, Leeds, Birmingham. Immigration saves a country from inbreeding and small-mindedness. It contributes verve, enterprise and ideas. As for Britfire’s *one* report, I note it comes from the Springer press. Trusting them om this subject is a bit like trusting The Daily Mail or the New York Post.

  5. John – did you bother to read the report? Would you bother if it was published by rags such as the Guardian or New York Times? Springer is the largest publishing house in Europe and the tone of the report is very balanced. As mentioned in my original post, my concern is with trends associated with an open-door immigration policy. Here’s a quote:

    This article is based on statistical material from the Crime Prevention Agency, using the same method as the agency in order to update the material to 2017. For the first time, the majority of those registered as crime suspects are foreign-born. The proportion of those with a foreign background increase from 18% between 1985 and 1989 to 33% between 2013 and 2017. During these two time intervals, the proportion of crime suspects with a foreign background went up from 31% to 58%.

    Can you see a trend here, John?

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

OPINION: Racism doesn’t get much more obvious than Sweden’s refugee bias

When you look at Sweden's reception of Ukrainian refugees, it's clear that what was good enough for poor Muslims from Syria, is not considered good enough for white Christians from Ukraine, notes Stockholm University Professor Christian Christensen.

OPINION: Racism doesn't get much more obvious than Sweden's refugee bias

As thousands of Ukrainian refugees began to arrive in Sweden following the invasion by Russia, the headline of a recent opinion piece by the leader of Sweden’s far-right, anti-immigrant Sweden Democrat party spoke volumes: ‘There is a Difference Between Refugees and “Refugees”’

For Åkesson and his nationalist supporters, Ukrainian refugees are “real” refugees. They are from ”a Christian country with a culture that is more closely related” to that of Sweden, while refugees who escaped Syria and Afghanistan were framed as being made up of millions of backward, poorly-educated “professional migrants” (his term) devoid of European values and sensibilities.

With this backdrop, recent comments posted on Twitter by a municipal council member in Sweden’s second-largest city, Gothenburg, provided a disturbing insight into how politicians, not only the far-right but on all sides of the political spectrum, use different sets of standards when considering Ukrainian and Syrian refugees. And how the vision of refugees held by the Swedish far-right has bled into the Swedish political mainstream.

On May 5, Daniel Bernmar, the group leader for the opposition Left Party in the Gothenburg municipal council, sent a series of tweets in which he detailed how fellow council members expressed dismay over the poor services and paltry benefits available to refugees arriving from Ukraine. While on the surface an egalitarian position, the irony, Bernmar pointed out, was that the levels of financial support and services about which they were complaining were set by the very same group of politicians…when the arriving refugees were predominantly Syrian.

In other words, what the local politicians considered to be acceptable support for Syrians was now considered unacceptable support for Ukrainians.

Bernmar detailed a number of the specific concerns expressed by his colleagues.

Members of anti-immigration Sweden Democrats complained that the small amount of spending money given to Ukrainian refugees meant that they could not even afford to take local buses. Why, they asked, had the policy of allowing refugees to ride for free been scrapped? Others asked how without access to public transport Ukrainian refugees could be expected to take their children to school or look for work? And, in perhaps the most Swedish of issues, municipal councilors expressed concern that Ukrainian parents could not send children under the age of three to state-subsidized daycare.

Bernmar noted that he had “never before heard these parties or people address the unacceptable social or economic situation for refugees.” He then addressed the elephant in the room. The dismay expressed by colleagues over conditions facing refugees – conditions the same politicians approved when refugees were Syrian – was unsurprising, he wrote, given that they, “did not previously apply to white, Christian Europeans.”

These revelations should come as no surprise. While seemingly at odds with Sweden’s reputation for openness and egalitarianism, the fact is that political parties at both ends of the Swedish political spectrum have adopted increasingly aggressive anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. Yet, when structural discrimination is presented in such a transparent fashion, it is still jarring.

At the most fundamental level, the case demonstrates how perceptions of the value of human life and human dignity are shaped by ethnicity, religion, and nationality. What was good enough for poor Muslims from Syria just isn’t good enough for white, European Christians. Racism and ethnocentrism don’t come much clearer than that.

But this revelation cuts even deeper and wider. And it applies to nations beyond Sweden’s borders, where immigrants and refugees struggle to construct new futures. What is evident from the comments made by the local politicians in Gothenburg is that they are fully aware of the impact of their policies on the everyday lives of refugees, how the ability to participate in the workforce, for example, is dependent upon basics such as transportation and childcare. That “integration” isn’t just a question of some mythological will, but of available material resources.

To remember that with Ukrainians, but forget it with Syrians, is cynicism of the highest order. It is to amplify the smear that there is a difference between refugees and “refugees.”

Listen to a discussion on Sweden and immigration on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

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