Swedes ‘forced to become Norwegian’
February 9, 2011
As many as 28,000 Swedes working in Norway could be affected by new rules designed to avoid identity fraud, but which may mean some Swedes lose certain rights and benefits in their home country.
The new rules, described by some as forcing people to become Norwegians, will require Swedes and other foreigners working in Norway to personally appear at tax offices in order to receive a tax card. From now on, those who have been in the country more than six months must register themselves on the Norwegian population register (folkeregisteret), while foreigners earlier could avoid this by obtaining a temporary social security code known as a “D-number” at local banks.
Through these changes, Swedes will find themselves effectively transferred from the Swedish welfare system to the Norwegian one, and may lose many of their benefits in their home country, even if they do not plan on being in Norway for a long period. It is already clear that they risk losing the right to drive cars with Swedish license plates in Norway, travel home for medical treatment or vote in next year’s local elections. Opponents believe the changes may see Norway lose many key workers in the health care, hotel, restaurant and other industries, because of the large numbers of Swedes working in Norway.
‘Clumsy’ new rules
International auditing firm Ernst and Young is among those in Norway that have reacted publicly to the news, calling the new rules “clumsy.” Speaking to Aftenposten, a spokesperson said that “people in Sweden are anxious to work in Norway. This policy does not seem thought through.” They added that “if a Swede lives in Norway and becomes sick, he cannot travel home to Sweden for treatment and continue to receive sickness allowance” under the changes. A partner at the firm, Johan A Killengreen, also believes that the regulations could constitute a breach of the Nordic convention on population registration.
Top Swedish politicians are also reacting on behalf of their fellow citizens, with the Swedish foreign ministry calling the new rules “a big problem” and Swedish Foreign Minister Ewa Björling taking contact with her Norwegian counterpart.
The proposals come after a number of cases of false identity and use of false “D-numbers.” Some 500 cases have been discovered by tax authorities over the last three years alone. But Killengreen and his colleagues fear that the regulations could in fact cause yet more work for tax collectors – Norwegian authorities look at the overall wealth of a person when taxing them, meaning that assets back home in Sweden could apply to the tax assessment process. Ernst and Young suspect that much time will be taken up in disputes over such claims.
Seasonal workers unaffected
A representative of the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (Næringslivets Hovedorganisasjon, NHO) told Aftenposten that they “have not received alarming feedback from member businesses so far,” but that they would monitor the changes closely. They did note that the alterations, which largely apply after six months, were unlikely to affect those working in Norway on a seasonal basis, as many Swedes do during holidays.
Arne Slettebøe of the Federation of Norwegian Construction Industries (Byggenæringens Landsforening, BNL) expressed some concern, though, over the practical implications of the new rules for the industry, which he says is “dependent” on 8,000 Swedish workers.