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Immigration drives Oslo’s growth

Oslo now ranks as the fastest-growing city in Europe, as Norway’s strong economy attracts thousands of new immigrants looking for work. While politicians grapple with the need to accommodate a rapidly growing population and tackle integration issues, many immigrants have already proven they’re well-integrated and offer badly needed skills.

Immigrants and ethnic Norwegians showed solidarity after last summer's terrorist attacks, carried out by a Norwegian who wanted to stop Norway's emergence as a multi-cultural society. Concerns persist that immigration is occurring too quickly, but policies are restrictive and the number of asylum seekers has declined. PHOTO: Views and News

Many are working as doctors, nurses, dentists, engineers, even teachers in a school system also struggling to keep up with demand. Newspaper Dagsavisen reported on Wednesday that Oslo will invest nearly NOK 25 billion (USD 4.5 billion) in school remodeling and new construction over the next 10 years. Of 63 projects, 16 involve completely new schools.

They’re needed to relieve overcrowding at existing schools, and to accommodate the additional 20,000 children expected to need space in a classroom. Modernization is also a priority. The days of chalkboards are fading, said one principal, with the emphasis now on electronic, interactive boards in every classroom.

Housing is another major need, as not only immigrants from other countries but also Norwegians from all over the country migrate towards the capital. Despite decades of political efforts to maintain population in outlying areas, many Norwegians are still drawn to Oslo either for work, schooling or simply lifestyle. With demand already sending housing prices to record-high levels, there’s a huge need for affordable housing, a challenge in high-cost Norway.

Immigrant percentages doubling
It’s the immigration from abroad, though, that’s fueling the biggest challenges and opportunities, given Norway’s need for various types of skilled and unskilled labour.  New figures released this week by state statistics bureau SSB indicate that immigrants and their first-generation children are expected to make up nearly half of the Norwegian capital’s population by 2040: 47 percent, compared to today’s level of 28 percent.

The neighbouring counties of Akershus and Østfold will also see a doubling of their immigrant population as will Rogaland County on the west coast, the traditional base for Norway’s growing oil and gas industry. Many expatriates and immigrants already live in the Stavanger area, for example, and their numbers are expected to grow.

For the nation as a whole, immigrants and their children will make up around 24 percent of Norway’s population by 2040, up from 12 percent at present. Today, according to SSB, there are 600,922 persons living in Norway who are either immigrants or children of two immigrants. That number is expected to rise to 1.54 million over the next 25 years.

Oslo's combination of fjord and surrounding hills, a strong economy and social welfare programs are among factors attracting immigrants from all over the world, despite high taxes and prices. PHOTO: Views and News

SSB divided immigrants and their children into three groups: Those from western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand; those from eastern European countries that belong to the European Union; and those from the rest of the world, including Asia, Africa and South America. Around 60 percent of Norway’s immigrants and their children who are born in Norway come from the third “rest of the world” group. That percentage is expected to decline by 2040, especially given current immigration from other countries hit by the euro and global finance crises.

Stian Berger Røsland, head of Oslo’s city government from the Conservative party (Høyre), told Dagsavisen that the population and immigration developments make Oslo a “richer” city and “show that we live in an international, global era.” Oslo, he noted, “has always been a city to which people move, and I think it would have been surprising if SSB hadn’t made these prediction.”

Other politicians, including Siv Jensen of the more conservative Progress Party, was far less positive. “The more immigrants who come, the more difficult it will be to integrate them,” Jensen claimed. She claims that Norway has been too attractive for too long to asylum seekers and immigrants, even though she also told students at an Oslo business school on Tuesday that Norway will need foreign labour to more efficiently build needed infrastructure improvements, and that tough times in Europe can mean opportunity for Norway.

Bano Singh, an Oslo dentist who’s originally from India, might calm Jensen’s fears. Singh came to Oslo to study in 1991 and had intended to move home to India, but she met her husband (also from India) at the University of Oslo, and they stayed. He’s now a neurologist at Norway’s main rehab hospital and they have two sons, both born in Norway. They seem happy in Oslo but travel frequently “home” to India and elsewhere and also have lived in the US and other countries. Singh told Dagsavisen that she thinks international moves are natural, and that Oslo has always been an international city, in her opinion.

Røsland said he can understand that some local residents are uneasy over the changing demographics in Oslo and elsewhere in the country. “At the same time, I think that ‘we have the population we have,'” he said. Even though the majority of new arrivals face difficulty finding jobs, especially until they learn Norwegian, Røsland seemed to welcome the new population trends, adding that “we need all the wise heads and skilled hands we can get.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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