Dual citizenship momentum grows

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Momentum is building in Norway to finally end the country’s ban on dual citizenship, with two activists working hard to convince state politicians that it promotes democracy and integration. Immigration Minister Sylvi Listhaug is non-committal, saying only that her ministry is currently “evaluating” the issue.

Cecilie Myhre (left) and Donna Fox are spearheading a campaign to overturn Norway's ban on dual citizenship. They claim "huge momentum" is building as they await a government evaluation of the issue this fall. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

Cecilie Myhre (left) and Donna Fox are spearheading a campaign to overturn Norway’s ban on dual citizenship. They claim “huge momentum” is building as they await a government evaluation of the issue this fall. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

“It’s too early to say,” Listhaug said Thursday, what her ministry will recommend to the Parliament, which formally asked the government to evaluate dual citizenship through a so-called utredning (evaluation report) expected later this year.

“We are now working on the evaluation, following up on what the Parliament decided,” Listhaug said. She claimed she is “both in favour and not in favour” and thus has not taken any position yet.

Listhaug’s party, the conservative and immigration-skeptical Progress Party, has traditionally opposed dual citizenship, claiming that “if you live in Norway, you don’t have any need” for citizenship other than Norwegian. For thousands of foreign residents in Norway and Norwegians both in Norway and abroad, the issue is far from that simple.

Cecilie Myhre and Donna Fox are among them, and have launched what they call a “non-politically associated grassroots lobby movement” that’s making itself heard. Their strategy involves a political and public awareness lobbying campaign using factors that worked for a similar successful effort in Denmark, known for its own strict immigration regulations but which recently approved dual citizenship itself.

The lobbying effort to allow dual citizenship in Norway is reporting brisk traffic to its website. ILLUSTRATION: Ja! til dobbelt statsborgerskap

The lobbying effort to allow dual citizenship in Norway is reporting brisk traffic to its website. ILLUSTRATION: Ja! til dobbelt statsborgerskap

Called Ja! til dobbelt statsborgerskap (Yes! to dual citizenship), Myhre and Fox convey their message via the website statsborgerskap.info (external link, in Norwegian). It compiles news, facts, arguments and articles about dual citizenship, offering a wealth of case studies showing how difficult a lack of dual citizenship can be for many people with personal and professional ties to countries other than the one where they live, in an increasingly mobile and globalized world.

While foreign nationals with permanent residence status in Norway are often viewed as those most interested in obtaining dual citizenship, Norwegians born and reared in Norway can be affected as well. In one case, Norwegian doctor Geir Frivold felt compelled to complain to King Harald V after he lost his Norwegian citizenship because he needed American citizenship in order to retain his staff position as a leading cardiologist at the University of California Los Angeles. US officials had no problem with him holding dual citizenship, but in order to comply with strict Norwegian rules, he had to forfeit his Norwegian citizenship when he obtained American citizenship. He wants it back.

Myhre, who identifies herself as “previously Norwegian” as well, found herself in what she calls an “absurd” situation because of Norway’s ban on dual citizenship. Born and reared in Norway, she grew up in a family that has lived in Asker, west of Oslo, for five generations. She studied in Australia, however, where she met her spouse and eventually was offered a public sector job that required Australian citizenship. Both the couple’s children are born in Australia but the family moved home to Norway two years ago, where Myhre now only has residence status on the basis of her spouse’s dual British-Australian citizenship. It was Myhre’s job in Norway that fulfilled the Norwegian immigration law’s financial support requirement for the family, but since she’d had to relinquish Norwegian citizenship when she obtained Australian, she’s now only able to live in the country of her birth by virtue of her spouse’s British passport that thus entitles the couple to residence permission under EU/European Economic Area regulations.

Sylvi Listhaug, Norway's government minister in charge of immigration and integration issues, said on Thursday that it was "too early" to say what the government will recommend on the dual citizenship issue, but she's aware of the growing demands that it finally be allowed. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

Sylvi Listhaug, Norway’s government minister in charge of immigration and integration issues, said on Thursday that it was “too early” to say what the government will recommend on the dual citizenship issue, but she’s aware of the growing demands that it finally be allowed. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

Norway remains the only Nordic country that still forbids dual citizenship, although loopholes in the law also mean that exceptions flourish. The “random and arbitrary” manner in which regulations are interpreted and exceptions made has led to charges that the law is practised unfairly.

Political support is growing to change that, with the Liberal, Greens and Socialist Left parties all supporting dual citizenship. The youth group for the Conservative Party (Unge Høyre) also favours dual citizenship and its parent favours it when those qualifying for Norwegian citizenship can’t for various reasons give up their original citizenship. The Center Party also now favours dual citizenship in certain situations and is evaluating the issue further.

So is Labour, which has been opposed to dual citizenship on the grounds of potential loyalty conflicts but now sees arguments in favour because of integration issues. Researchers contend that citizenship greatly enhances feelings of belonging in a country, while the voting rights it yields promotes democracy. “Isn’t full democratic participation the best integration tool?” asks Fox of Ja! til dobbelt statsborgerskap.

Fox stresses that dual citizenship isn’t just about “making it easier to become Norwegian, it’s about making sure the law offers equal opportunities for everyone to have a legal tie to two countries where citizenship requirements are fulfilled.”

Fox claims there’s “huge momentun” behind the dual citizenship issue at present, following hearings last winter and the call for a government evaluation. She and the other active volunteers in their lobbying group have won support from the Norwegian Bar Association (Advokatforening), Law Professor Andreas Føllesdal at the University of Oslo, researchers at PRIO and the international organization Norwegians Worldwide. “The ban on dual citizenship is wrong and should be removed,” states Føllesdal on the website, while the PRIO researchers claim the arguments against dual citizenship “are so weak that you can wonder whether they’re really about an unfounded and unspoken fear of the unknown.”

Fox and Myhre are now urging Norway’s political parties to make dual citizenship part of their party programs. “We’re not going away,” said Fox, noting that the group is now anxiously awaiting the findings of Listhaug’s ministry. An adviser to Listhaug said they might not be ready until New Year, but they’re aware of the interest in the issue.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund