Passport blunder finally addressed

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More than 58,000 persons suddenly and wrongly were classified as Norwegian citizens many years ago and only now are state authorities addressing the major blunder. They don’t think, though, that passports have been misused.

A computerized citizenship blunder doesn't mean foreigners who left Norway between 1960 and 1975 can get passports, even though they were incorrectly classified as being Norwegian. PHOTO: Views and News

“I’m sorry that the case hasn’t had high priority,” state tax director Svein Kristensen told newspaper Aftenposten on Monday. “No one who has a right to a Norwegian passport has been or will be hurt by this, though, and no one who’s not entitled to a Norwegian passport will get one today.”

The blunder, reported by Aftenposten over the weekend, dates back to the time when the national register that keeps track of all Norwegian citizens and foreigners with residence permission, Folkeregister, was moved over to computer systems. Suddenly, all persons who had moved out of Norway between 1960 and 1975 were classified as Norwegian citizens.

In total, that involved 64,501 persons, only around 6,000 of whom actually were Norwegian citizens. The rest were foreign nationals who had been working or otherwise living in Norway during the 15-year period, but ended up leaving the country.

That means around 58,000 foreigners wound up as Norwegian citizens in the new computerized state files including the tax files, although none was made aware of it. Kristensen noted that “this applied to persons who left Norway anywhere from 37 to 52 years ago and who haven’t been registered as living in Norway since.” The fact that those who were incorrectly registered as being Norwegian weren’t told about it, apparently played into the state’s delay at correcting the mistake.

Some Moroccan guest workers must have found out about it, however, because they applied for Norwegian passports on the basis of their incorrect “Norwegian” classification at Folkeregister. Senior state attorney Lars N Aaby has worked with the case since 2007, when, reported Aftenposten, the state authorities themselves became aware of the incorrect classifications of emigrants in the 15 years until 1975.

Aaby told Aftenposten that authorities have been watching to see whether any other of the 58,000 foreigners incorrectly listed as being Norwegian might try to obtain a Norwegian passport. Norwegian embassies and consulates have been alerted and some, like the embassy in Morocco, have also warned state welfare agency NAV in case any foreigner mistakenly classified as a Norwegian tries to obtain benefits.

Asked whether the authorities have checked whether there’s been any abuse of passports, Aaby said “no, I don’t know if that’s possible, but any errors would be discovered upon a passport renewal.”

Officials at Folkeregisteret believe they’ve now solved the problem by listing all 64,501 persons affected as having “unknown nationality.” If any of them entitled to Norwegian citizenship then encounters trouble when renewing a legitimate passport, their individual classification will be changed.

“That can be taken care of quickly,” Aaby told Aftenposten. “One case involving a Norwegian in Berlin was solved within just a few hours.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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