Immigrants face tough new rules

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Norway’s conservative government coalition moved forward on Tuesday with the introduction of tough new immigration rules, especially aimed at asylum seekers. Sylvi Listhaug, the new minister in charge of immigration and integration, confirmed that Norway looks set to have among the strictest asylum policies in Europe.

Norway's new Immigration and Integration Minister Sylvi Listhaug didn't waste any time introducing a long list of strict new rules aimed at making it much tougher to settle in Norway. PHOTO: Justisdepartementet

Norway’s new Immigration and Integration Minister Sylvi Listhaug didn’t waste any time introducing a long list of strict new rules aimed at making it much tougher to settle in Norway. PHOTO: Justisdepartementet

Listhaug launched the proposed rules at a press conference in Oslo, and they reflect a compromise reached between the government coalition, its two support parties in Parliament and the opposition Labour and Center parties. That means the rules are likely to be approved after going through the obligatory hearing process that will end February 9. After that, they’ll be acted on in Parliament.

The new rules follow up on efforts launched earlier this autumn to curb the influx of asylum seekers into Norway, which hit around 31,000 this year, according to the latest figures from immigration agency UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet). That set an all-time record, and refugee arrivals are expected to pick up again when the weather improves at the end of winter.

“UDI says that between 10,000 and 100,000 asylum seekers can come to Norway next year,” Listhaug said. “If we get anywhere near the latter number, it will have enormous consequences for our welfare state.”

‘No drastic cuts needed’
Several researchers disagree, claiming during the Christmas weekend that Nordic welfare systems can absorb the influx although they will be put under pressure. “Both Norway and the other Nordic countries have extremely strong welfare systems that can tolerate quite a large stream of asylum seekers without a need for any drastic cuts,” Anne-Britt Djuve of research institute Fafo told news bureau NTB. Swedish economist and migration researcher Joakim Ruist agreed, saying that the numbers of refugee arrivals aren’t so high that they will force major changes in the welfare system.

Listhaug and Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservative Party nonetheless don’t want to risk jeopardizing Norway’s welfare state at a time of economic downturn, rising unemployment and ever-rising numbers of retirees demanding pension benefits. The Conservatives proposed their own tougher new rules just before the Christmas holidays and they were largely in line with what Listhaug’s party has advocated for years.

Listhaug thus put forth 40 concrete changes in existing laws and regulations, from increasing the waiting period for permanent residence approval from three to five years, to using new methods of confirming asylum seekers’ identities, allowing police to retain fingerprint data for 10 years instead of five and  imposing means of more quickly deporting refugees whose applications for asylum were rejected.

Listhaug and the government are also keen to cut welfare benefits accorded to asylum seekers, redefine what constitutes a need for protection and make it much more difficult for those granted asylum to bring family members to Norway as well. Now refugees will have to document up to four years of income or higher education, and thus the ability to support both themselves and additional family members, before any relatives will be allowed to join them in Norway.

Controversial instructions
Listhaug also wants to be able to instruct immigration authorities to withdraw residence permission in Norway if peace returns to refugees’ homelands, and they no longer need protection. That’s a controversial proposal, sure to spark opposition during the hearing process because of the uncertainty it would pose for people simply trying to regain stability in their lives.

Immigrants will also need to prove they have adequate Norwegian language skills and knowledge of Norwegian society before they’ll be eligible for permanent residence, much less citizenship. “We want to put in place demands for permanent residence, because we believe those who come to Norway and want to live here must show strong willingness to actually integrate themselves in Norwegian society,” Listhaug told newspaper VG. “We believe it must have consequences if people don’t want to integrate themselves.”

Others claim that integration works both ways, and that Norwegians must also take on responsibility for reaching out to new arrivals and including them in Norwegian society. The ever-smiling Listhaug’s 150-pages of stricter rules and regulations are likely to face at least some opposition in Parliament, but she’s undaunted.

“Yes, we can come to have asylum politicies that are among the strictest in Europe,” Listhaug told NTB on Tuesday. “And its absolutely necessary if we’re to receive, settle and integrate those who come here.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

  • frenk

    Why was she not so ‘tough’ on the farmers…..they’ve been damaging Norwegian society for decades?

    • JMNORDIC

      Because farmers are lazy Norwegians and here this is something to be proud of.

      • inquisitor

        I have never seen a lazy farmer and I am surrounded by them. In fact, they work around the clock and are far more busy than most other workers.

        • JMNORDIC

          I fully respect your point of view. But what about farmers that ask all the time for subsidies from the State or heavy taxations on farm imports goods. In my modest opinion that is not the way to became more competitives. The worst of all is that the tax-payer pays at the end not only for that subsidies but also for higher prices in farm products, domestically produced or imported. Is this or not a sort of lazyness?

          • inquisitor

            I appreciate your most respectful reply.
            I am a foreigner here, so I cannot fully explain to you my opinion on the matter as natives seem to know more about the culture in this regard. But I can tell you what I have seen and what I hear from my farmer neighbors and associates. They work very hard and long hours and certainly do not live luxurious lifestyles as a result of their labors. I do need to converse with them more about the issue of subsidies. But they have said to me that the high cost can first be laid at the feet of the few food company monopolies. I will post here in the future as I learn more.

            • frenk

              Because of the way farming is regulated….and the protectionist policies in place….foreign supermarkets will not enter Norway. Without any serious competition… norwegian supermarkets can charge what they like. Norwegian society is essentially ‘trapped’ subsidizing mediocrity…… and this will continue until farming is de-regulated….and the protectionist policies are removed…..then you will see how many continue to farm….

          • frenk

            We know all the facts surrounding this issue. The majority of Norwegian farmers are doing little or no farming…but are collecting very generous subsidies…

    • Bob

      Norwegian farmers can vote. Refugees fleeing for their lives can not.

  • Fos Latrit

    This is a good start but I have to wonder why they are even discussing weather or not the welfare system can absorb so many people. In Norway is welfare supposed to simply give as many people as possible a free ride? Or is it supposed to temporarily help those truly in need, with an aim to help them be self-sufficient as soon as possible?