Norwegian immigration agency UDI seems to have been caught off-guard by a recent flood of citizenship applications. Norway finally began allowing dual citizenship on January 1st but the agency in charge hasn’t been able to keep up with the demand, clouding many long-time expatriates’ hopes of finally being able to vote in next year’s national election.
Foreign citizens in Norway with permanent resident status already have pretty much all the rights and obligations of Norwegian citizens except when it comes to voting. While they can vote in local elections, they’re banned from the so-called Stortingsvalg, the national elections that form Parliament (Stortinget) and the government.
Even legal residents not concerned with being able to vote often want Norwegian citizenship and the Norwegian passport they’d then be eligible to obtain, simply as a convenient means of identification. Foreigners legally residing in Norway with Norwegian spouses and Norwegian-born children may also want all family members to have the same citizenship credentials, especially when traveling abroad.
Norway had been among the few countries in the world to ban dual citizenship until last year. Now there are an estimated 60,000 people in Norway believed to qualify for citizenship (generally available after at least 10 years of legal residence in Norway) and who want full rights and privileges of being Norwegian without having to give up their citizenship from birth. Expats from the US and UK are particularly likely to seek Norwegian citizenship, for the access it can provide to other European Economic Area (EEA) and EU countries party to the Schengen agreement that allows free movement over borders.
In addition come thousands of native Norwegians living abroad who were forced to give up their Norwegian citizenship and Norwegian passports if and when they became citizens of the country where they were living. In many cases, Norwegian expats had to become local citizens in order to accept public-sector jobs. Now they’re also eligible to re-apply for the Norwegian citizenship that was taken away from them, often long ago.
Aware of the wave, but crashed when it did
UDI (Utlendings-direktoratet) has long been well-aware that Norway’s new allowance of dual citizenship would likely generate a wave of new citizenship applications. Many foreigners and “former Norwegians” started applying as soon as it became clear in 2018 that there was a majority in Parliament in favour of dual citizenship. UDI, however, actually and actively discouraged those newly eligible for citizenship from immediately applying, even after Parliament formally approved dual citizenship last year with the effective date from January 1, 2020. It was better, UDI wrote on its website last fall, to wait to apply until January because then the immigration agency would have a new, automated procedure in place to speed the application process.
The new automated application forms meant to streamline the process were supposed to be ready for use by mid-January, but UDI missed that deadline. Would-be applicants then received a message that the new system would be available in early February, but even then, it still didn’t work. The system kept crashing, and it wasn’t until February 11 that UDI could declare that it could finally be used. A total of 1,724 new automated forms were submitted on the first day, according to newspaper Aftenposten, more than UDI normally receives in a month.
“We had technical problems with the application forms last week,” UDI explained on its website, even offering a rare apology to frustrated would-be Norwegians: “We know that many had planned to apply on February 3 (when the system was finally due) and we apologize so much that you had to wait.”
Additional delays in scheduling appointments
There were also “technical problems” with UDI’s payment system for the upfront citizenship application fee for most adults of NOK 3,700 (USD 402, at current exchange rates) and it was still hanging up as late as this weekend. In at least one case (the undersigned’s), the payment page crashed while still showing the message (in Norwegian) that the applicant’s “application form was being processed, please wait…”
It was only after creating a new version of the page that the needed forms for credit card details popped up and could be used That was followed by a new message that “You have paid the fee” and that the applicant now “must deliver all (supporting) documents to the police.”
The new “automated” dual citizenship application, after all, is in fact just the first step in a process that also demands applicants to assemble a long list of documents and present them in person at their local police venue used for immigration matters (or Norwegian embassy or consulate for those abroad). That in turn requires getting an appointment through the police, but then its online scheduling system crashed as well. UDI had to issue another press release last week, updated on February 19, that “because of the new rules about dual citizenship, there are many applying right now. It can therefore take time before you get an appointment to deliver your application.”
Despite delivering an application electronically and paying the NOK, 3,700 fee, processing only begins after the police have verified the applicant and his or her documents in person. As of Sunday evening, the first available appointments in the Oslo Police District (Norway’s largest) aren’t until the second week of June. At Norway’s embassies and consulates abroad, it’s not even possible to set up an appointment yet. UDI promises to let “former Norwegians” know when they, too, will be able to use automated forms and schedule an appointment.
Test-taking also delayed
Documents needed, meanwhile, include verification of Norwegian language skills and knowledge of Norwegian life and society. In many cases, long-time permanent residents of Norway who are fluent in the language still must take at least one if not two tests to prove their proficiency in both, or explain in writing why that should’t be necessary.
That sets off yet another process at an additional cost of NOK 990 (nearly USD 100) just for the citizenship test needed to verify knowledge of Norwegian life and society, not language. That process involves other state agencies and led to a message Saturday afternoon that the earliest test dates currently aren’t available until late April. Test results and the necessary document to prove that an applicant passed the test arrive later.
Citizenship applicants also have to prove that they haven’t committed any crimes or have a police record, by obtaining what’s called a politiattest. It only takes around two weeks to get one, but they’re only good for three months. That means applicants should probably wait to apply for that until they’ve obtained an appointment with the police to officially hand in their applications, just to be sure the politiattest doesn’t expire in the meantime.
Citizenship applicants are also reminded to be sure their current permanent resident status is valid, and to renew it was usual. Foreigners from countries outside the EEA/EU must renew their resident status every other year, at the same police station that also handles the other immigration matters like citizenship.
UDI’s website provides estimated processing times for citizenship applications that it contends are continually updated. As of Sunday evening, UDI was estimating 12 months, meaning that if an applicant is finally able to successfully start the process in June, actual citizenship won’t be granted until June 2021. UDI revealed last week that all applications received before January 1 have been held for the past year without processing, but are now expected to be completed by April.
UDI also stated that introduction “before summer” of a new “automatic processing” system to handle all the new “automated application forms” now flowing in aims to reduce precessing time: “A data machine (some call it a robot) will use the information we have on you, and evaluate whether you can become a Norwegian citizen without a UDI officer handling your case,” wrote UDI last week. “If there’s no doubt that you fulfill the requirements to become Norwegian, your application will be handled automatically and you’ll get a quicker response.”
It can still take months to get a passport for those obtaining citizenship, throwing into question whether Norway’s new wave of citizen hopefuls will be able to vote in the next national election in September 2021. They may at least need some other form of identification as a Norwegian citizen when they turn up at their polling place.
UDI officials have called all the technical trouble and delays “very unfortunate,” telling newspaper Aftenposten last week that “we would have gladly been without them.” Kjetil Jacobsen, leader of UDI’s citizenship section, admitted that UDI also has no full overview over how many Norwegians there are who lost their citizenship and now want it back.
Several of them have expressed frustration over how they’ve seem to land at the end of the queue behind foreign citizens in Norway: “To be Norwegian or not Norwegian,” mused 73-year-old Atle Solheim, who lost his Norwegian passport when he was granted American citizenship while living in the US many years ago. “I try to be a bit global,” he told Aftenposten when it wrote last week about the trouble “former Norwegians” are having restoring their citizenship. “But it was a tough experience to be stripped of your birthright.” Foreigners in Norway who only now can apply for Norwegian citizenship without losing their “birthright” would surely agree.