Immigration to Norway at a Glance

An important question, then, is how one should understand the phrase ‘the entire population’. Norway has historically been a relatively homogenous country with a tradition of emigration rather than immigration. In troubled times, Norwegians have flocked to other shores in search of a better life. In 1920, Chicago, Illinois housed the third largest Norwegian population in the world, after the capital city of Kristiania (renamed Oslo in 1925) and Bergen on the country’s western coast.[1] This all changed in the 1960s, when Norway, thanks to a deliberate gastarbeiter policy, saw the beginning of a new era of immigration from countries like India, Pakistan, and Vietnam (Brochman and Hagelund, 2010). Since the early 1970s, Norway has, together with its Scandinavian sibling societies (albeit to different degrees), become natural laboratories for students of rapid population change. The situation has lasted to this day, a general stop on labour migration since 1975


notwithstanding. These days, 13 per cent of the population (around 655,000 out of about five million) are counted as immigrants by the national official statistics agency Statistics Norway (SSB), meaning that they either have migrated from another country themselves, or have two parents who have done so.[2] The population of Oslo is the most extreme case with 23 per cent of Oslo residents listed as immigrants or children of immigrants following SSB’s definition. Oslo has always been a city with an east-west divide, symbolically marked by the Akerselva River crossing the city north to south. Today, the river divides the population along ethnic as well as class lines. The population on the eastern side is more ethnically diverse, has a shorter average life-expectancy, and reports lower income. People living there are also more often unemployed, on welfare, have more serious health problems, and so on (Barstad and Skardhamar 2006).

In the early days of what is sometimes referred to as ‘new immigration’, the newcomers, in principle, had most of the same rights to welfare benefits as the general population (Brochman and Hagelund 2010). At the same time, it soon became clear that the earlier assumption—that migrants would stay for a time, work hard, wait for conditions in their homeland to improve, and then return voluntarily—was inaccurate. The early immigrants did not leave. Furthermore, they brought their families. The official end to the labour migration schemes in 1975 was followed by an unparalleled influx of people to the country.

In Norway, the period near the end of the 1960s has been called the ‘the social democratic society’s happy moment’ (Sejersted 2005). Equal opportunities in life seemed to have become more than a lofty ideal. The egalitarian welfare state’s safety net was finally wide enough to catch all who fell, and strong enough to carry them. It was a time of unparalleled optimism. It could not last. By the late 1980s, criticism had mounted and the political climate shifted. The 1987 parliamentary election saw the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, FrP), until then a marginal rightwing political party based on the struggle for a general tax reduction, soar to 12 per cent of the votes largely because of its new-found vocal immigration scepticism— not bad in an election system where seven or eight different political parties typically make it into parliament. The Progress Party explicitly campaigned for the removal of welfare benefits from non-citizens, a standpoint that was universally shunned by the other parties at the time, but which was to gain a strong political momentum subsequently. In fact, the 1987 Progress Party campaign material in many ways reads like a fairly accurate description of what has become political doxa 25 years on. According to Brochman and Hagelund (2010), 1975 should instead be understood as the beginning of a selective and exclusive immigration policy that is still in effect. The aim was (and is) to limit unskilled labour migration from developing countries, and facilitate the recruitment of the skilled labour force needed by, for example, the burgeoning oil industry. Refugee and family migration has also contributed to net migration in the period since 1975.

Norway must be understood within a wider European context. The country decided to remain outside the European Union on two occasions. In both referenda (in 1972 and 1994) opposition to joining the European Union won by a narrow margin (Brekke 2011). Although not a full member, Norway cooperates closely with the European Union, both on informal and formal levels. Arguably (and frustrating both for supporters of the Union and those who oppose it), one might say that Norway enjoys a hybrid position between full membership and so-called third country status. As a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), Norway is part of the European Economic Area (EEA). It is a signatory to both Dublin Conventions and has agreed to implement the EU Returns Directive.[3] Norway is also, importantly, part of the Schengen area, making the Norwegian land border with Russia an EU/Schengen outer border. The association agreement making Norway part of the Schengen cooperation makes Norway equally responsible for the effective deployment of the various compensatory measures deemed necessary to reduce the negative effects of the free movement of persons within the Union. Nevertheless, after the 2004 and 2007 EU expansions eastward, the country has, like most other Western European countries (Boswell and Geddes 2011), seen increased EU migration, even though the 1975 general labour migration stop has never been formally lifted.

Immigration is an issue perpetually on or near the top of the political agenda. The proportion of the population which thinks that immigrants contribute positively to society is decreasing, while the proportion which feels that it should be more difficult to get citizenship is increasing (Blom 2009). Progress Party politicians publicly claim that the sitting Labour Party-dominated coalition government will ‘tear the country apart’ with their lenient policies.[4] Internet debate forums are filled with reactions on reactions on reactions, many reiterating a frustrated sense of living in a country once pure, but now slipping into impurity—a world view that was at least part of the causal complex leading to the horrors of the terrorist attack in Oslo and at Utoya on 22 July 2011. A recurring question in such debates is whether immigrants are ‘more criminal’ than the ‘true Norwegian population’. Whatever the answer is to that question,[5] the dangerous ‘criminal immigrant’ certainly is an important figure in political and media discourses (Cere et al 2013).

Today, foreigners, asylum seekers, and third country nationals have become and are increasingly becoming important foci of state and supra-state control and administration (Aas 2007a, 2007b; cf Weber and Bowling 2008). The result is well known and not particular to Norway or indeed to Scandinavia. The state has to cultivate a form of double vision: more sophisticated systems of control and exclusion for some, alongside more open borders and a higher degree of mobility for others (Bosworth 2008). Increased labour migration from EU countries means stricter border control for third country nationals. A massive transnational apparatus has been and is developing for this purpose. The systems for evaluation, classification, and either integration or exclusion of the queue of outsiders at our doorsteps are becoming more and more advanced. At the same time, an estimated 18,000 irregular migrants (Zhang 2008) are denied anything more than the most basic welfare provisions (Johansen, Chapter 14 in this volume). Even providing emergency medical aid for this group has been controversial, but recent court decisions seem to confirm that giving such aid at least is not a crime.

To sum up so far: the neo-liberal ‘rolling in of the social state’ described by Wacquant (2009) and others has not (yet) happened in Norway. The welfare state is still going strong; it is, perhaps, stronger and more multi-faceted than ever. This is not to say that neo-liberal influences do not exist. There is a new focus on incentives schemes and the collection and implementation of new forms of power/knowledge. But these developments also have long histories and have existed since before the welfare state came into being in the modern sense. At the same time, Norway is part of Europe, and the world. The generous welfare state has been and is constantly being challenged by the arrival of non-members in larger and larger numbers. How can generosity and ambition be reconciled with the need to spread resources over a wider and wider field?

  • [1] According to the Norwegian Centre for Emigrants
  • [2] See .
  • [3] Directive 2008/115/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008on common standards and procedures in Member States for returning illegally staying third-countrynationals.
  • [4] See .
  • [5] Studies indicate that non-Western immigrants are disproportionally represented in the crimestatistics. If allowance is made for demographical differences in the two populations, however, most ofthe difference disappears (cf Gundersen etal 2000; Skardhamar 2006). How the remaining dispro-portionality should be interpreted is controversial. One possibility is that it is the result of the specificcontrol culture and its resulting ‘police gaze’ (Finstad 2000; Sollund 2006).
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >