Norway’s Outdated Citizenship Legislation

The war in Syria, the threat of Islamic radicalisation, and fears that terrorists may recruit Norwegian citizens have sparked renewed debate about Norway’s citizenship legislation.

Meanwhile, another debate continues to be forgotten: We call for a reopening of the debate on dual citizenship, as Norway’s antiquated legislation is out of step with that of its Nordic neighbours. Both debates are important, and both should be addressed now. But these are two separate debates.

A U-turn in Denmark

This summer Denmark decided to permit dual citizenship. This means that Norway is the only Nordic country to persist in banning it. A broad political majority in Denmark voted to amend the country’s citizenship legislation. As a result, Danes who move to a different country can retain their Danish citizenship even if they apply for citizenship of their new country of residence. In addition, foreign citizens living in Denmark can apply for Danish citizenship while retaining their original citizenship. Compared to Norway and Sweden, Denmark’s legislation was previously the most conservative, but now the country has adopted a new policy. Why has Denmark made this U-turn?

The Danish minister of justice, Karen Hækkerup, said in a press release: ‘The legislation on dual citizenship is of great significance for many people, because it is largely concerned with national identity and belonging. In a globalised world, these things mean a great deal. Today many people choose to live in foreign countries, but retain strong attachments to their countries of origin. We should not force people to choose.’

Denmark has thus managed to separate the debate on dual citizenship from the debate on whether terror suspects who are Danish citizens should have their Danish passports revoked. Norway should learn from Denmark’s example when, as is to be hoped, we embark on a new debate about Norway’s legislation and politicians have the opportunity to revise the views adopted in 2005.

One-dimensional national attachments

The Danish reasoning in favour of dual citizenship contrasts strongly with the arguments advanced by Norwegian politicians during the parliamentary debate on citizenship legislation in 2005. Signe Øye (Labour) said, among other things: “…citizenship is an important symbol of belonging and loyalty to the Norwegian community, and for that reason the individual should have political obligations and rights in one nation state. We also believe that attachment to Norway may be weakened if a person has dual citizenship.”

Per Sandberg (Progress Party) linked citizenship to integration: “citizenship… is sufficiently valuable that greater demands should be imposed concerning duration of residency and meanwhile there should also be greater requirements for tests to show that a person is qualified to be granted residency in Norway and, not least, to attain citizenship. We believe that this would be a carrot that would also boost work to promote integration.”

As a result no significant amendments were made to the Norwegian legislation, and there was a broad political majority in favour of maintaining the ban on dual citizenship, despite the fact that more and more countries were allowing it. The arguments were characterised by the drawing of a connection between citizenship and the Norwegian community, with an underlying view that people’s national attachments are one-dimensional: either you are Norwegian (and you are a Norwegian citizen), or you are not Norwegian (and you are not a Norwegian citizen). However, this theory seems less and less in sync with reality, where more and more people, whether or not from immigrant backgrounds, are living their lives with attachments to more than one country.

What has Norway learned since 2005?

Nearly 10 years have elapsed since the new Citizenship Act was passed, and both politics and Norwegian society as a whole are now more strongly characterised by the diversity that has resulted from increased immigration to Norway during the last 50 years. There has been a growth in awareness and understanding about people’s links and attachments to more places and countries. Research conducted by PRIO shows that there is no clear relationship between what is seen as good or bad integration and ties to countries other than Norway. It is not the case that someone more transnational will be less integrated in Norway. On the contrary, it appears that the people who are the most active outside Norway’s borders, are often the very same people who are the most active in Norwegian society too. Attachments to two countries function very well in practice, but in Norway this situation cannot be formalised through the possession of two citizenships and two passports.

Analyses carried out by Statistics Norway also show other problems caused by the current legislation, where a growing group of immigrants from North America and Europe cannot participate in Norwegian politics by voting in general elections. These people on the whole do not choose to take up Norwegian citizenship at the cost of losing their original citizenship. This group of people is not at the forefront of Norwegian politicians’ concerns regarding integration. It is a fact, however, that most immigrants to Norway belong precisely to this group, and that a lack of participation by these people in Norwegian political processes should be taken seriously.

Will Norway continue to enforce single nationality?

In December 2013, Frode Forfang, the director general of the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration, described in an op-ed the challenges that Norway’s principle of single citizenship create in practice: More and more dispensations are being granted, where people who are granted Norwegian citizenship are nevertheless allowed to retain citizenship of their countries of origin. Some countries do not permit their citizens to renounce their citizenship, and exceptions are also made for countries that do not permit non-citizens to own real estate in the country in question. The principle of only allowing one citizenship is held in high regard by the law, but is being eroded in practice because as many as half of those who apply for Norwegian citizenship are being allowed to retain their original citizenship. The retention of legislation for reasons of principle, where it is impossible to implement that legislation in practice, does not contribute to respect for Norwegian citizenship. To the contrary, the practice weakens the inherent potential for citizenship to play a part in efforts to build a community of individuals who are citizens of the state: the basis of the citizenship institution itself. All the Nordic countries, with the exception of Norway, are agreed that this potential for community building is retained also when permitting dual citizenship.

This text was published in Norwegian 6 October 2014 in
Dagens Næringsliv: Avleggs statsborgerskapslov – full text in Norwegian here.

Translation from Norwegian: Fidotext

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