Forcing the Unenforceable

While we should not forget the possibility of deportation that looms in the back of refused asylum seekers’ consciousness (Valenta 2012), this chapter is concerned with the less dramatic mechanisms deployed by the state to enforce the unenforceable. These strategies are important both because there are a number of effective ways of eluding deportation and because the state often seems to prefer to use less forceful means. As will be revealed, the funnel of expulsion is defined by denial of access to the most basic societal institutions: work, welfare, and health care.


Everyone wishing to participate in the Norwegian labour market must have a work permit. Those with citizenship and residence permits receive one automatically. Asylum seekers are eligible for provisional work permits for as long as their applications are being processed and as long as they provide a reliable identity. Someone who has lived in hiding may activate a work permit when appealing the rejection of his or her asylum application; however, the permit is lost once his or her legal remedies for asylum are exhausted (Vevstad and Brochmann 2010).

In Norway, exclusion from work is effective enough to define the life situation of most refused asylum seekers who come to the attention of researchers (Kjellberg and Rugeldal 2011; 0ien and Sonsterudbraten 2011; Valenta 2012; Fangen and Kjsrre 2013).[1] Still, some refused asylum seekers have jobs. Restaurants, auto repair shops, and cleaning companies are among the most likely businesses to employ irregular migrants, although we know little about their actions in this regard since this is not a properly researched area. Reports indicate that the payment irregular migrants receive is sometimes less than 10 per cent of ordinary wage rates (0ien and Sonsterudbraten 2011). On the other hand, there are also reports of employers who pay according to local tariffs (Kjellberg and Rugeldal 2011). Whatever the pay, workers do not receive benefits and rights, placing them in a vulnerable position.

According to the police, refused asylum seekers can be found in several sectors of the shadow economy and criminal activities, particularly in the drug trade and/or the sex trade (Sandberg and Pedersen 2011; Skilbrei 2013).[2] Their exclusion from legal income is not complete, as it is possible to find work both inside the ordinary labour market and in the black economy. However, these opportunities are limited, and dependent upon networks (Kjellberg and Rugeldal 2011). In this respect, the situation in Norway might differ from experiences in the rest of Europe and the United States (Anderson and Ruhs 2010), where irregular migrants and refused asylum seekers are, to a larger extent, tolerated in the labour market (Calavita 2005).

However, illegal earnings involve risks. If apprehended by the police for a crime, those working without a permit are likely to be deported. Thus, refused asylum seekers avoid areas known for illegal business (Valenta 2012). Illegal work is also risky, as authorities increasingly investigate the composition of the workforce. The Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority, which primarily targets health in workplaces, cooperates with other authorities including the police to monitor private businesses in their search for irregular migrants (Arsrapport 2011). In this cooperation, organizations providing welfare and aid play an important role channelling refused asylum seekers into the ‘funnel of expulsion’.

  • [1] However, it is possible that the research is designed in ways that are better at finding the peoplemost deprived of work and other means. Note that this research is concerned with ‘irregular migrants’,which is a more general category than refused asylum seekers.
  • [2] At the same time, some commentators highlight the resistance among irregular migrants tocommit crimes, to ‘be criminals’ (Kjellberg and Rugeldal 2011; 0ien 2011).
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