Jobless rate still high for immigrants

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Norway’s strong oil-fueled economy has kept the country’s unemployment rate low for years, but it’s still high for immigrants, especially those from Africa, South America and parts of Asia. The opposition Conservative Party thinks employment rules should be eased to allow for more temporary work contracts, to help immigrants get a foot in the door.

While the official national unemployment rate among the 5,017,500 persons living in Norway now stands at 3 percent, according to state statistics bureau SSB, the most recent figures show it’s 6.4 percent for immigrants from South America, 7.7 percent for those from Asia and fully 12.4 percent for immigrants from Africa.

Variations among employment levels are wide in relation to various nationalities and ethnic groups. The jobless rate among immigrants from EU countries in eastern Europe, for example, is 6.3 percent, compared to just 2.7 percent for immigrants from western EU countries. For those from the Nordic countries (Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland) it’s even less, at just 2.3 percent, while unemployment within the Norwegian workforce excluding immigrants is  a low 1.8 percent.

Norwegian employers prefer Norwegians
The statistics seem to support long-held beliefs that Norwegian employers prefer Norwegians, not least because of language issues, but unemployment among all immigrants did fall during the past year by nearly half-a-percentage point, to 6.1 percent. In 2009 it was 6.7 percent.

“The number is still very high, though,” Afshan Rafiq of the Conservative Party (Høyre) told newspaper Aftenposten. She objects to claims made by Norway’s left-center government in its state budget proposal last week, indicating that it’s now easier for immigrants to find work because 70 percent of new jobs are being filled by immigrants.

“That’s only true for immigrants from the European economic cooperation area,” Rafiq said. “In reality, many non-western immigrants still struggle to get jobs.”

She thinks it should be easier for employers to offer short-term or temporary work contracts to immigrants instead of the full-time permanent positions favoured in the law. “We know that employers hesitate to hire people from countries they haven’t had much experience with,” Rafiq told Aftenposten. “Under today’s rules, it’s difficult to fire people after they’ve been hired, so employers won’t take chances.”

Rafiq argues that short-term employment would benefit both sides: “If it goes well, the job seeker can get a permanent job. If it doesn’t, at least the job seeker has some experience to put on a CV.”

Government fends off criticism
Rafiq criticized the government for not doing enough to boost immigrant employment, and claimed the public sector also is slow to hire immigrants. Gina Lund, a state secretary from the Labour Party who works at the Labour Ministry, rejected the criticism.

“I think Rafiq needs to take a closer look at our budget proposal,” Lund told Aftenposten. “There you’ll find NOK 30 million in additional funding for job programs, with a goal of getting even more immigrants into the job market.”

Lund admitted the government wasn’t satisfied with the unemployment rates among immigrants, but says Norway still has demand for foreign labour and competence. She doesn’t think easing work rules will help, arguing that the weakest applicants instead risk being exploited by temporary contracts.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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