New immigration rules may be eased

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Justice Ministry officials are promising to at least “adjust” tough new immigration rules that have made it increasingly difficult for foreign spouses of Norwegian citizens to obtain residence and working permission in Norway. Even immigration agency UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet) thinks the new rules are too strict, and has recommended changes.

“We have received UDI’s reports on the unforeseen effects (of the rules), and we’re working on following them up,” State Secretary Pål Lønseth in the Justice Ministry told newspaper Aftenposten over the weekend.  “They won’t be liberalized, but there can be adjustments.”

Lønseth said the ministry had planned to adjust the rules by the end of last year, but the plans were delayed because of “capacity problems.” He added that “we will be finished before the summer.” Justice Ministry offices were destroyed and several staff members killed in last summer’s bombing of government headquarters, by a Norwegian who has claimed he was trying to halt Norway’s emergence as a multi-cultural society.

Income requirements often hard to meet
The immigration rules now under review went into effect in January 2010 and imposed new income requirements on Norwegian citizens who want to live with their foreign spouse in Norway. The Norwegian spouse now must prove annual earnings of at least NOK 230,000 (around USD 40,000) in the year both before and after applying for residence permission for a foreign spouse.

There earlier were no such specific income requirements. The idea, according to Lønseth from the Labour Party, was to hinder forced marriages that often involve foreign brides and to help ensure that immigrants coming to Norway won’t become a burden on the public sector.

The rules appear to have backfired on authorities in many cases, though, preventing immigration of skilled labour and resourceful people whom politicians have claimed are needed in Norway. UDI admits the rules also have made life unreasonably difficult for Norwegians who fell in love and married a non-Norwegian, often while living abroad themselves, and then wanted to move home to Norway with their new spouse and, in some cases, their children.

Cases and complaints in the media
Aftenposten featured several cases where, for example, the husband of a Norwegian woman who has obtained a well-paying job with Statoil in Norway was denied residence and working permission in Norway because she had stayed home with their youngest child during the year before they moved from his native country, New Zealand. Even though she now has income from Statoil, and he’s a carpenter by trade with a job offer in Norway, UDI had to turn down their application for what’s officially called “family reunification” because she failed to meet the new income requirements prior to their move.

In other cases, men from the US and Peru have been denied residence in Norway because their wives were students and failed to meet income requirements and, in one case, is ill. Income from sick leave or workers’ compensation can’t be included, they were told. In another case, a British woman who married a Norwegian man now working in a permanent job in the Oslo area was denied residence because he hadn’t earned enough money while they were still living in London to meet income requirements.

“It has become apparent that the stricter rules also apply to Norwegians, and that’s why we’re seeing so many cases in the media,” UDI director Ida Børresen told Aftenposten. She admitted that applicants can be “punished” for not working before moving to Norway, and that “it’s not enough” to have children who do qualify for Norwegian passports. “I can understand that the rules can seem strict and cold, be we have to follow the rules written by the politicians,” Børresen said.

Statistics show how the new rules have dramatically cut immigration in cases of “family reunification.” Aftenposten reported that UDI approved 18,112 cases in 2009, the year before the rules went into effect. In 2010, approvals were cut by half, to around 9,900. Last year, around 30 percent of all applications were rejected.

Heavy workload
Meanwhile, UDI continues to struggle with a heavy caseload despite efforts to improve efficiency and cut the time it takes for immigration applications to be processed. UDI now has around 26,000 cases under evaluation, including 4,200 asylum applications, 6,000 family reunification applications and 10,000 applications for citizenship.

Many applicants have had to wait for more than a year before receiving a decision on their cases. Børresen confirmed that “we have a lot of work to do,” while State Secretary Gina Lund of the Labour Ministry claimed at a meeting involving many foreign workers last week that efforts continued to provide UDI with more resources to streamline the immigration process.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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