Immigrant penalized for trying to learn Norwegian

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Jordan Daniel Groves from New Zealand thought he was doing what the Norwegian authorities expected of him: Going to Norwegian classes to learn the local language. Instead, he wound up being penalized when his “student” status prevented him from collecting unemployment benefits.

Groves is among the thousands of immigrants in Norway who’ve been urged, if not downright ordered, by the authorities to take classes in the Norwegian language. Although many foreigners can get by in Norway with English or even some other foreign languages, it’s believed that lack of Norwegian comprehension prevents full integration and hinders entry into the local job market. A new directive means that immigrants will soon have to pass written and oral language tests in order to qualify for citizenship.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported over the weekend that in Groves’ case, following the government’s directive proved costly.

Studying? ‘No benefits’

Groves arrived in Sandefjord, Norway three years ago with his Norwegian sweetheart. They soon became parents and Groves eventually landed a job as a cook in a local Italian restaurant. Before long he’d been hired by a larger restaurant in Oslo, but late last year he was laid off along with others as the financial crisis set in.

A few months earlier, though, he’d started taking Norwegian classes in Oslo. He thought he was doing the right thing, but when he applied for unemployment benefits from the state agency known as NAV, he was told he didn’t qualify, because he was considered a student.

It’s a paradox that didn’t escape Groves: While immigrants are urged to learn Norwegian to make it easier to find jobs, the very state agency charged with helping people find jobs and administering unemployment benefits held his Norwegian classes against him. And since he’s from outside Europe, he doesn’t qualify for the rights and privileges accorded guest workers from France or Poland or other European countries.

“It’s difficult to swallow that I’m being penalized by NAV for following the directive to take Norwegian classes,” Groves told Aftenposten . It seemed like one state agency was contradicting another. He filed an appeal, which was rejected.

‘Convoluted’

NAV officials say current regulations are clear: Persons who are studying can’t receive unemployment benefits. Some exceptions can be made, but apparently not in Groves’ case.

Politicians from the left and right were quick to blast NAV’s “convoluted” interpretation of the rules and called for new rules making it mandatory for immigrants receiving benefits to attend Norwegian classes. Bureaucrats within the government ministry responsible for NAV can expect some new regulatory proposals soon.