Inclusion or conflicts of loyalty? 15 years of dual citizenship in Finland

By Päivi Johanna Neuvonen (University of Helsinki), GLOBALCIT collaborator

Finland accepted multiple citizenship with a broad consensus across the political parties in 2003 (Nationality Act 2003/359). Finnish citizens can now acquire citizenship of another country without losing their status as Finnish citizens. Similarly, naturalised Finnish citizens can be citizens of another country or countries. The impetus behind this legislation was the drive to attract high-skilled workers to Finland and to assist the reintegration of a large number of Finns who had migrated to Sweden in search of employment in the 1960s and only reluctantly renounced their Finnish citizenship over the years. More recently, the focus on the integrative potential of dual citizenship has ceded ground to the argument that dual citizens may be prone to insoluble conflicts of loyalty. Both perspectives on multiple citizenship were articulated in the Government’s Proposal for the 2003 Nationality Act, but multiple citizenship was primarily seen as a tool for inclusion and integration.

The Finnish dual citizenship controversy

Just as the historical and geographical factors played an important role in introducing the concept of multiple citizenship to Finnish citizenship law, they also seem to play a central role in its ongoing contestation. Out of the official population of 5,513,130, there were 117,024 persons with Finnish dual citizenship permanently resident in Finland at the end of 2017. The total number of dual citizens had grown by 11 per cent from the previous year. The largest group consisted of 30,088 Finnish-Russian dual citizens, while the second largest group included 7,759 Finnish-Swedish dual citizens. These numbers mirror the ongoing debate on dual citizenship; namely, much of the public discussion has focused on the position and treatment of Finnish-Russian dual citizens.

It is important to note that these questions did not form any major concern when multiple citizenship was accepted in 2003. On the contrary, it was not until the autumn of 2014 that the issue of dual citizenship reached public consciousness when President of the Republic highlighted the need for a comparative review of multiple citizenship and its conditions in different countries. This request came around the same time as Russia introduced new legislation on the compulsory registration of foreign citizenships and the Ukraine crisis had intensified in the spring and summer of 2014. However, the official documents do not single out any group of dual citizens but refer to the position of dual citizens in general.

There were no major legislative changes adopted before the issue of dual citizenship reemerged as a controversial issue three years later. In January 2017, the Finnish public service broadcasting company (YLE) published a news item suggesting that the defence forces were restricting Finnish-Russian dual citizens’ access both to employment in the armed forces and to certain forms of training during the general conscription. These claims were backed up by the fact that, in one of the Eastern brigades of the armed forces, a training officer had mistakenly announced that dual citizens could not participate in unmanned aerial vehicles (UVA) training. Few days later, the main Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat reported that the Foreign Ministry had revoked a job offer to a dual Finnish-Russian citizen by reference to the Ministry’s internal practice.

The treatment of dual citizens was quickly framed as a question of the rule of law because categorical unequal treatment of dual citizens by public authorities would have been in conflict with the existing legislation and citizens’ equal treatment before law under Section 6 of the Constitution of Finland. For instance, the Finnish Non-Discrimination Ombudsman highlighted in February 2017 that, although citizens’ differential treatment may sometimes be justified, such justifications must stem from the specific nature of the task in question and must be defined by law.

The Defence Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, and the General Staff systematically rejected the claims that there were in existence any discriminatory guidelines on the treatment of dual citizens. The armed forces also launched an investigation into whether dual citizens had been discriminated on grounds of citizenship. Since then, the National Bureau of Investigation has asked the Prosecutor General to bring charges in two cases concerning an instruction to restrict a dual Finnish-Russian citizen’s access to sensitive medical information as a military doctor during the conscription and a recruitment agency’s decision not to offer a job in a military canteen to a Finnish-Russian dual citizen. The employment discrimination case is still pending, but other charges were dropped by the Prosecutor.

Recent legislative developments on dual citizenship in Finland

Finland treats all dual Finnish citizens as Finnish citizens both in Finland and abroad. The core concern in the dual citizenship controversy is that other countries can simultaneously treat dual citizens as their own citizens only. For instance, from the perspective of Russian citizenship law, dual citizens are treated only as citizens of the Russian Federation under Section 6(1) of the Federal Law on Citizenship of the Russian Federation and the possession of dual citizenship will not free the person from the obligations attached to the Russian citizenship under Section 62(2) of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, unless otherwise stipulated by federal law or an international agreement concluded by the Russian Federation.

The controversy over dual citizenship comes to the fore when Finnish authorities recruit people for different security-sensitive posts. In this context, the main legal question is whether categorical exclusions of dual citizens from certain security-sensitive positions could be viewed as lawful and/or effective, or whether the possible conflicts of loyalty should be solved by means of individual assessment and background security checks during the recruitment process.

This is an area of law where the Finnish legal system has already witnessed a recent set of amendments to the State Civil Servantsʼ Act (948/2017), the Security Clearance Act (949/2017), the Act on National Defense University (950/2017), the Act on the Governance of the Border Guard (951/2017), and the Act on Police University College (952/2017). These amendments, which came into force in January 2018, introduced a heightened scrutiny of international connections as part of the individual security clearance in recruitment and training for certain security sensitive positions. The applicant’s citizenship can be a relevant factor in such scrutiny. But the Ministry of Justice’s Board of Assessment Criteria has emphasised that a citizenship of another democratic country should not alone be regarded as decisive.

A parallel legislative drafting process concerns dual citizens’ access to professional military positions in Finland. Although the Defence Minister attested in his responses to media that dual citizens had been treated lawfully in the armed forces, he introduced a plan to launch an initiative for new legislation that would prevent dual citizens from taking up professional military positions in the future.

The Interior Ministry stated in September 2018 that it would not take forward the plan to ban dual citizens from military positions in the Finnish Border Guard. The Ministry highlighted that recruitment should be based on the agency’s confirmed security guidelines, rather than on the categorical exclusion of dual citizens. However, the Defence Ministry soon announced that it would proceed with its plan to ban dual citizens from official military positions in the armed forces (with the possibility of exemption) and that the Ministry is also drafting legislation which would place more weight on national security in the regulation of real property transactions in Finland.


The diverging approaches to the dual citizenship controversy may reflect the fact that the present Coalition Government consists of three parties, which presumably hold different views on citizens’ rights, national security, and foreign policy – all of which are relevant variables in the present dual citizenship controversy. However, it is unlikely that the dual citizenship controversy would altogether vanish from the sight of the Finnish legislature after the 2019 parliamentary elections.

From a comparative perspective, it can be pondered whether the recognition of dual citizenship should be mutual. Although such approach might ease the fear of conflicts of loyalty in some cases, selective access to dual citizenship would challenge the inclusive objectives of the 2003 Nationality Act and would disadvantage some groups of Finnish citizens more than others. It therefore seems important to look for solutions in which individual assessment and security checks prevail over exclusions and differential treatment on grounds of nationality/citizenship when possible.

Note: the featured image of this blogpost was originally published by Bobo Boom and is a picture of Alfredo Jaar’s installation, One million Finnish passports, at the Kiasma Museum, Helsinki.