Immigrants over-qualified at work

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A professor at the University of Bergen says she’s not surprised by a new study showing that 26 percent of workers in Norway with immigrant background are over-qualified for the jobs they have. She suspects discrimination is behind the figures.

“There seems to be a pattern that immigrants more often than ethnic Norwegian employees find themselves in jobs for which they are over-qualified,” Professor Gro Mjeldheim Sandal told newspaper Aftenposten over the weekend. This occurs despite a low unemployment rate in Norway and efforts to recruit so-called “global talent” to Norway, to offset a shortage of, for example, qualified engineers and medical personnel.

The suspected discrimination can apply to immigrants from anywhere in the world, from Asia to North America, and often is linked to alleged lack of what Sandal called “formal competence.” Lack of proficiency in the Norwegian language is also often a stumbling block when immigrants seek work in Norway.

The study (external link), by the European Commission’s research unit Eurostat, showed that the rate of immigrants deemed over-qualified for their jobs in relation to their education and work experience was more than double the rate for native Norwegians. Only 11 percent of ethnic Norwegians were considered over-qualified.

In Europe as a whole, 34 percent of persons who have emigrated from other parts of the world were considered over-qualified, compared to 19 percent of “native” Europeans. While the overall numbers were higher, the difference between immigrants’ and natives’ employment situation was greater in Norway.

Sandal attributed some of the difference to “uncertainty” on the part of Norwegian employers, who hesitate to hire foreigners and even opt for a less-qualified native when given a choice. Simply the presence of a non-Norwegian name can exclude persons from being called in for job interviews, Sandal noted, with that problem applying to both immigrants and persons born in Norway but with foreign names from foreign parents.

Corresponding figures for the two other Scandinavian countries showed three out of 10 immigrants over-qualified for the jobs they held in Sweden, compared to only 10 percent of native Swedes. In Denmark, 24 percent of immigrants were over-qualified compared to 14 percent of ethnic Danes.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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  • itisnoteasy

    Simply put, if you don’t speak Norwegian you don’t have a hope of finding work in Norway (top level or really in demand jobs excepted).

    I am an English Master Craftsman and have applied for dozens of jobs as a caretaker (vaktmester?) and not even been called in for interview.

    Every single job advert I see, asks for Norwegian spoken and written. Sure I have taken a course and understand lots of words, but to ‘work’ in the language. I am years away.

    With limited Norwegian, can you imagine what it would be like “sorry, what was that again” and “could you repeat that really slowly for me please”, or worse still “sorry, I thought you said paint it blue!”

    *laughing*, in a technical job like mine, not ‘fully’ understanding every word, would lead to so many mistakes that you would be lucky to last out the month before getting fired.

    Still, lovely place, even if it is wickedly expensive to just exist here!

  • luis …..ojea

    I can say as spanish,I did not receive bad treatment or racism from norwegians,but they look at me at… different way,I know I should speak some norwegian,anyway,even speaking norwegian, I think we are here just for the jobs that they do not want.

    • makbryan

      looking at you differently because you’re from a different country, culture, and ethnicity is certainly what I would call racist, or at the least xenophobic.

  • Paweł Maciejewski

    The best are offers posted in English where (among others) excellent knowledge of the Norwegian language is required… Rediculous.

  • Gibcdi

    I’ve seen various advertisements where they say ” Norsk som morsmål” or “Norsk med etnisk norsk uttale”- in other words Norwegian as a mother toungue or Norwegian with an ethnic norwegian pronounciation. This seems like ethnic discrimination by any other term and is a standard that is WAY too difficult to acheive as an immigrant, even if you have mastered the vocabulary and language.

    Many Norwegians cant master English without an accent even though they start learning it from age 6. I’m sure a toilet scrubber or a supermarket shelf-stocker does not need a good pronounciation or great Norwegian and since -with the exception of the very old people- everyone speaks and understands English.

    The perfectly accented Norwegian becomes even more ridiculous, particularly in light of the fact that they have mutually unintelligible accents within the mother toungue (Listen to any person from Oslo complain about accents the Trondere or the Sognefjordane)

    • ‘This seems like ethnic discrimination by any other term and is a standard that is WAY too difficult to acheive as an immigrant, even if you have mastered the vocabulary and language.’

      I don’t think it’s too difficult for an immigrant to speak perfect Norwegian, I can’t and never will but I do know several people, English, New Zealand and Dutch who can all speak Norwegioan so perfectly with local dialects that a Norwegian wouldn’t be able to pick them as not being born here, these three all have excellent well paid jobs, so do I and my Norwegian is terrible.

      • Gibcdi

        I am likewise employed but statistics clearly show that others do experience discrimination. Perhaps not you and your immediate circle of white westerners. Bravi for you all. Take a moment and reflect upon the good luck fortuna has cast upon you, permitting you to have your solepcistic world view.

        • aquacalc

          “…permitting you to have your solipsistic world view.”
          But yours is, uh, the *correct* worldview?

          Look it: Each of us lives within our own bubble, but from what I’ve seen of Norway, Fortune smiles on quite a high percentage of the people there, including immigrants who are not “white Westerners”.

  • Sunniva1001

    Sandel had better get a grip on reality. Sadly, most Norwegians never stray out of their well-worn cow paths to and from the hytte…except to Spainish villages where eveeryone speaks norwegian. Norway is a racist and xenophobic country and doesn’t even know it. That’s because it is perfect. I have lived here 11 years..speak norsk and have 2 Phds as does a friend from Russia. Both of us are innvandrer (“invaders”) but could we find a job after our second PhD from Norway…hell no. All the hiring at universities is done from within and the elaborate bureaucratic rules are easily circumvented. I applaud Sandel for looking into the matter, but would she hire me? Not likely.

    • aquacalc

      “Norway is a racist and xenophobic country and doesn’t even know it.”
      I regret your frustration, but that seems much too harsh of an assessment.

      To some readily perceptible degree, this same accusation can be leveled at **any** of the countries in which I’ve lived or had extended stays. More in, say, Japan or Kenya, and less in, say, Canada or the US. But it’s always there.

      I think it is simply human nature — even if not “politically correct” — to favor one’s countrymen to foreigners; and all the more in smaller countries. (It even is found within a country’s distinct regions: Someone moving from New England to the US South, or from Napoli to Milano, faces the same sort of challenges.)

      Anyone who immigrates to any country on the planet needs to understand this and factor it into their decision.

      • Sunniva1001

        Funny you should mention Japan because I lived there. The Japanese have a saying there that if a nail is not the same height as its neighbor than one simply must pound it down. Slik som “jenta loven” synes jeg. I do not particularize my assessments of racism and xenophobia; I say much worse things about my own country – the USA. And, I have no problem with a country favoring its own citizens over others – to a point and without lies or circumvention.

        The problem in Norway is that “social justice” is a concept left to bureaucratic politics and most Norwegians think “it’s being taken care of” at that level without opening their eyes to the reality around them. When I grew up in the Midwest, home to many Norwegian immigrants, we had a special word for American-Norwegians. It is not important what the word was, but that it implied a lack of social skills. To date, after living on the same street for 10 years, I have not once been invited into anyone’s home for coffee. Friendly greetings after 5 years, sure, but coffee? Norway is still a tribal society faced with impending globalization, like it or not. And “integrering” is, in most cases, a myth. I may be from another valley but I am still ahuman being.

    • You could always drive a taxi!

      • Sunniva1001

        Funny you should say that…I have papers to drive a taxi like so many other overqualified immigrants in Norway which is where this conversation all began. Norway is just so perfect.

      • NorwayExpat123

        A taxi driver that bought a home in Oslo 5 years ago is much better off financially than most highly-educated young professionals trying to get into the market today. My point is, it doesn’t really matter how skilled you are or how hard you work, the biggest factor affecting your quality of life in Norway is when you bought your home. The housing market here is the definition of a pyramid scheme. Moreover, I heard that taxi drivers make 400,000 to 500,000 per year, not sure if that’s true. In a professional position requiring a Master’s degree and 5-10 years experience, you will only make 20-40% more than that, of which a large portion will go to taxes. If I had skipped university, come straight to Oslo, drove a taxi (a nice Mercedes) for a few years and bought a home with a 100% loan, I would be so rich right now… Let that be a lesson to you kids!

        • The housing bubble is sure to pop sometime soon, my wife and I have seen our property double in value over 5 years. 400-500,000 a year sounds about right, but you’ll make a lot more if you own your own cab and license, most immigrant taxi drivers drive for someone else, they don’t own the car, they rent it.

    • Sam

      Go south to Stavanger, it’s full of loud speaking drunken nouveaux-riches who look down the rest of Norway! Otherwise hate the game but don’t hate the players..!!

      • Sunniva1001

        I don’t “hate” the players but I don’t see a lot of discussion on this topic either. It just isn’t as interesting as a i-pod but will eventually eat away at the good that is here in Norway. Young people could – in general – care less about politics. Credit cards are what we care about. But check out the attitudes of the children of immigrants in social surveys – both qualitative and quantitative results. Be prepared for an eye-opener.

        Distrust, even pure unadultereated hatred of immigrants, is on the rise here.
        My impression is that Norway, like so many other European countries, is resorting – more and more – to a scapegoating mentality. Call me paranoid, but is it 1933 all over again? East Europeans are routinely blamed for theft and crime and Roma are blamed for everything. GLBT people are targeted in many countries. Is this all accidental?

        • Sam

          Dude! you need to get your facts right! Norway is the first country in the world to legislate a law to protect LGBT!
          Here, read it yourself ! :
          However I do agree with you on issues related to immigrants, scapegoat mentality and racial profiling..but then again you come from the States, need I to say you know these practices better than me? Trayvon Martin case as an eloquent example!
          We tende to forget to that Norway is still a small country with a small population and not fully experienced with mass migration like the States for example..Norwegians still have that constant fear of foreigners..part of it is probably due to nazi German invasion nightmare and the other part can be attributed to the way they have been educated and raised.. (to be cont.)

          • Sunniva1001

            Yes, and I applaud Norway for that….that is why I said “some” European countries. (Think of Hungary, russia, etc. ) Norway was also a leader in giving the right to vote to women after Finland. And yes, racial profiling is is rampant in the US. (It makes me really happy to hear you know about Trayvon.)

            Again, my main point – side from complaining – is that I wish Norway would use the human resources it has. Think of how much better it could be?

  • sissi

    Have you (English native speakers in particular) noticed that you are, in fact, taking it as obvious for people to speak a foreign language in their homeland just so that it would be a language that you understand or even have as a native language?! I currently live in Germany and, of course, the language requirement unavoidable here, although most Germans, too, speak decent English. It does make me frustrated at times but if you want to be here, you need to (at least up to some extent) play by their rules. What I find a lot more absurd than having German skills as a requirement is that practically all the English-speaking jobs are for native speakers only, even in cases where it really isn’t that important (and any native English idiot could get the job just because of being born ‘into the right language’!). In most cases people just have no idea how much harder it is to be worth anything on the job market if you happen to come from a small and “useless” country with a small and “useless” language and your field of interest is very language-related. And of course, the only people in my language class who have a real job (not as a cleaner or kitchen porter) are native English speakers – accidental, eh?