The Directorate of Immigration (UDI) is the central agency in the Norwegian immigration administration. The UDI implements and helps to develop the government’s immigration and refugee policy. Its Director General, Frode Forfang, raises the question whether changing the rules on dual citizenship would actually create a problem for Norway.
Would it be a problem if Norway allowed dual citizenship? What then are the disadvantages? The issue raises both personal and practical questions.
“It might be worth the effort to reconsider the regulations. A more flexible approach could also help ensure that those foreigners who have relocated to Norway for good establish the solid connection to our country that a citizenship entails.” –Frode Forfang
Norwegian law prohibits dual citizenship in principle.
Nevertheless, this has never been an unwavering principle. The government-appointed committee that in 2000 delivered a report on new citizens recommended that the law should not prevent double citizenship. Out of the committee’s five members, only one defended the principle of single citizenship. But when Parliament passed the new citizens’ act in 2005, all parties, with the exception of the Socialist Left Party, got behind this act.
Contrary to Europe
In Europe the trend is moving in the opposite direction. More and more countries accept dual citizenship.
Historically, the main argument against this was the frequency of wars in Europe. If two countries were at war, where did the loyalty lie if someone had citizenship in both countries? And what about military service? Could you get called in by both countries?
But these are issues with decreasing relevance, which also helps explain the change in attitude in many European countries.
The regulations on dual citizenship don’t only impact foreigners living in Norway. They also affect Norwegians who move to other countries, for example because of marriage. If a Norwegian living in the United States applies and gets approved for American citizenship, he or she will automatically lose their Norwegian citizenship. It’s not an easy choice to make.
Even though the law doesn’t allow for dual citizenship in principle, there are many exceptions to the rule. The law states that you don’t need to be released from your original citizenship if this creates legal or practical obstacles, or if it can be seen as an unreasonable demand. In some countries it is not possible to be released from your citizenship, and in these cases the Norwegian authorities will approve dual citizenship.
Exceptions can also be made if it is disproportionately expensive or complicated for someone to get released from the original citizenship. In some countries people will lose the right to own land, or the right of inheritance. In such cases, exceptions to the rule will apply and dual citizenship can be granted.
In reality, the exceptions to the rule are so numerous that nearly half of those who apply get to keep their original citizenship. Whether you get to keep it depends, first and foremost, on which country you originate from. Most immigrants want to keep their original passport when they apply for Norwegian citizenship, and many are not willing to give it up, if it comes down to a choice. In this regard, there is a significant difference between western countries and the rest of the world. Those who originate from a country where citizenship bestows a number of rights, like freedom to travel, will not likely give that up in order to become Norwegian. But people from the third world will almost always want to become Norwegian, even if they have to give up their original passport. If you look at the list of who received a Norwegian passport in 2012, it is topped by people from Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan. Poland is much further down the list, in spite of the fact that Poles constitute much the largest immigration group in Norway, following EU expansion in 2004.
Problem for Norway?
It is understandable that many immigrants think it is problematic that they can’t get a Norwegian passport while keeping their original citizenship. But could it also be a problem for Norway that these people choose not to become Norwegian for this very reason?
Without a Norwegian citizenship, a person is not eligible to vote in elections. Nor is it always possible to freely choose a career, as some professions demand citizenship, for example the police. One has also to assume that becoming a citizen doesn’t only affect certain practical aspects of daily life, but also the sense of belonging to a society. Is it therefore a good thing that many people living in our country, and who have every intention of staying, can’t become citizens?
One aspect with perhaps limited importance is the fact that UDI spends a lot of administrative resources reviewing all the possible exceptions from the rule on dual citizenship. But it remains a fact that today’s system is a consuming challenge to handle.
Since the regulations on dual citizenship already have a number of exceptions, which means that it really isn’t a principle at all but rather a rule with many different outcomes, it might be worth the effort to reconsider the regulations. A more flexible approach could also help ensure that those foreigners who have relocated to Norway for good establish the solid connection to our country that a citizenship entails.
This text was first published in Norwegian at NRK Ytring in December 2013.
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