Hundreds denied citizenship because of poor Norwegian language skills

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Nearly 350 foreigners living in Oslo and Akershus alone have been denied citizenship or permanent residence permission in Norway because they’re not good enough at speaking, reading or writing Norwegian.

State broadcaster NRK reported Monday how the figures show one of the first tests of a new law approved two years ago, that requires foreigners between the ages of 18 and 55 to have undergone at least 300 hours of Norwegian classes or otherwise document good Norwegian language skills before they’ll be granted citizenship (statsborgerskap). Those seeking permanent residence permission (known as permanent oppholdstillatelse, earlier as bosettingsstillatelse, in Norway) must also document language skills if they’re aged 16 to 55.

Several language students at the Rosenhof adult education center in Oslo, one of the schools offering Norwegian for foreigners, told NRK that they think it’s fine that Norway demands language competence before allowing foreigners to settle in Norway. “I think it’s a good rule,” said one student, Shella de Leon-Slette. “Then you have to learn Norwegian.”

Fellow student Muna Samir A-Khafaji agreed, calling the law “an advantage for us immigrants also. It’s important to learn Norwegian in order to get a good job.”

Not that easy
Critics of the law, however, say it can be especially tough for new immigrants or refugees who had little formal education before arriving in Norway, or perhaps even are illiterate. For them, it can take a long time to learn enough Norwegian to meet the language requirements.

The law can also cause problems for relatively affluent immigrants, especially from English-speaking countries, who aren’t offered any language assistance or resettlement programs and have a hard time gaining a spot in courses offering Norwegian for foreigners (norsk for utlendinger). Waiting lists have grown long in recent years, and many adult language education programs have been known to have trouble meeting demand.

Foreigners in Norway also often experience that Norwegians start speaking English to them when they hear a foreign accent, making it difficult or at least discouraging for the foreigner to try speaking his or her fledgling Norwegian, and thereby losing motivation to learn or use Norwegian. Finally, there are those who simply aren’t good at languages, think they can get along in Norway with English and, whether because of laziness or fear of humiliation, never do grasp Norwegian despite years in the country.

‘Not surprised’ by rejection rate
Christine Wiberg Poulsson of immigration agency UDI (Utlendtingsdirektoratet) told NRK that she’s not surprised so many applications for citizenship and permanent residence permits have been rejected lately. Since the law took effect in late 2008, “it’s not unnatural that it takes time before folks become aware of the requirements. Our impression also is that people think they fulfill the demands, even though they don’t when we see their documentation.”

Those rejected can file an appeal or simply try to fulfill the requirements at a later time of application.

Tone Amdahl of Rosenhof thinks language demands should be even stricter than they already are. “I think it’s right that (the authorities) set demands, but it should be more for hours,” Amdahl told NRK, adding that 300 hours of language instruction isn’t enough in many cases.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund