But the issue of dual citizenship has seen the organisation increasingly act as an interest group, says its general secretary.
“We’ve been around 110 years now, so it’s natural enough to change in a way that keeps you relevant,” Hanne K. Aaberg, general secretary of Norwegians Worldwide (Nordmanns Forbundet), told The Local.
The organisation, which was founded in 1907, has primarily focused throughout its history on promoting Norwegian culture and values abroad, but has engaged itself increasingly in what it sees as “an issue that must be taken seriously,” Aaberg said.
An anniversary meeting to be held next week by Norwegians Worldwide will set out to further bring the issue into the public consciousness, with talks by both expat Norwegians and long-term Norway-based foreign residents.
“First and foremost it will actually be a celebration of our 110 years as an organisation. But we have chosen to focus on an issue that touches many of our members – the many Norwegians that live and work abroad,” the general secretary said.
“This is a tangible way to show that we value them,” she added.
It is just as important for foreign nationals living in Norway to engage in the debate as it is for Norwegians in other countries, says Aaberg.
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“One of our speakers is a British citizen who has lived here for 56 years. Of course she is engaged in Norwegian society, but still feels British to an extent and would find it difficult to give up her passport. We have chosen representatives of both situations to give talks at the event. It is important that everyone is engaged,” she said.
Norwegians living abroad currently stand to lose their Norwegian passports – and thereby the right to live and work in Norway – if they take up a second citizenship.
But not taking up citizenships in countries of residence can potentially cause problems in areas such as work permits and rights to education in those countries.
In March this year, Norway’s Conservative (Høyre) party, the largest party in the governing coalition, voted at its annual conference in favour of a proposal to allow dual citizenship in the country.
The opposition Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet) has so far not taken a definite stance on the issue, citing that it wants to see a justice department review first.
While the populist co-governing Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet) also voted in support of the law change at its conference, it delayed putting the issue to parliament until after Norway’s September 11th general election.
Aaberg says that the issues of terrorism and immigration are often associated with dual citizenship, but that this was a misconception which should not derail the debate, and that a change in the law on double citizenship will provide consistency and clarity.
Norwegian law does in fact already contain several loopholes which allow foreign nationals to obtain dual citizenship – but citizens of Western countries are very rarely able to obtain citizenship this way.
“Of all the people that became Norwegian last year, around 50-60 percent kept their original citizenship. But it’s almost arbitrary who is and who isn’t able to do this,” Aaberg said.