Highly educated immigrants who move to Norway tend to earn less than Norwegians with the same level of learning, because they often end up in jobs not relevant to their degrees. Statistics Norway (Statistisk sentralbyrå, SSB) surveyed almost 140,000 immigrants and found many earn less due to their age, language barriers, or because their qualifications are undervalued or not recognized in Norway.
SSB had registered a growing number of workers with “unspecified” education, in line with increasing immigration into Norway reported newspaper Aftenposten. This made it difficult to develop wage statistics across different levels of education. SSB contacted 218,000 immigrants between 2011 and 2012 and received 139,000 responses, helping them to re-categorize those workers from “unspecified” to their correct tier of education.
The survey found a marked difference in salary between immigrants and Norwegians with the same educations. SSB found that on average, immigrants with higher education earned just over two thirds of the salary Norwegian employees received. High school graduates earned just under NOK 10,000 (USD 1,600) a month more if they were ethnic Norwegian, university graduates who’d studied for up until four years earned about NOK 15,000 more per month, and Norwegians with more than four years of higher education earned about NOK 20,000 more than equally educated immigrants.
In the industrial sector, a more than 30 percent difference in earnings between Norwegians and immigrants with more than four years of university education equated to NOK 245,000 per year. An almost 30 percent wage difference between locals and foreigners with four years of university education equated to NOK 180,000 annually. At the high school graduate level, the 20 percent difference meant a 95,000 pay gap. SSB estimated similar numbers in the construction industry and a slightly smaller gap in retail trade. In finance and public services immigrants and Norwegians with similar education earned roughly the same, reported Aftenposten.
Age, language, undervalued qualifications
SSB found several reasons for the difference. High immigration over the past 10 years means foreign workers are generally found in younger age brackets. “Immigrants therefore have less experience within Norwegian companies, and because of their age can also have less experience overall,” said researcher Ådne Cappelen.
Many immigrants’ higher education is either not approved in Norway, or if it is recognized it’s not valued as highly as a local degree. “Therefore they must take jobs with lower pay than usual for graduates with similar education,” said Cappelen.
Language is another critical factor, Indian immigrant Vijay Prabhugaonkar told Aftenposten. He had two masters degrees and several years of experience in trade, business and administration when he came to Norway in 2003. He got a job in production, which had nothing to do with his education, and did a Norwegian masters degree in economics.
He believes most immigrants struggle to get work relevant to their education because it takes a long time to learn Norwegian to a professional standard. “And when you finally get a position where you can use your education, your colleagues with the same education have had more relevant experience, meaning they earn more,” he said.
Somalian immigrant Ismail Abdirahman Yusuf came to Norway with a bachelor degree in IT and several years work experience. He now has a good IT job, and said most foreign workers are happy just to get a job in their field, relevant to their education and work experience. “Then you’re not thinking as much about wages,” he explained.