After years of hearing how hard it is for immigrants to succeed in Norway, a new study indicates that many are actually thriving in the country. The study by a researcher at the University of Oslo hasn’t been published yet, but is expected to show some surprising and encouraging results.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Tuesday that the study questioned 356 persons who have fled high unemployment and a dismal future in their home countries and moved to Norway. They’re among the roughly 39,000 so-called “job migrants” who were registered with Norwegian labour authorities last year.
The number of those coming from economically hard-hit countries in southern Europe has increased steadily in recent years, not least since the finance and euro crises hit in 2008. Last year, a total of 3,239 persons from Portugal, Italy, Spain and Greece registered with the Norwegian government’s relatively new “service center” for foreign workers.
Around half of those participating in the new study conducted by researcher Espen DH Olsen came from southern Europe. “The first careful conclusion is that many appear to be more than satisfied,” Olsen of Arena, the center for European research at the University of Oslo, told Aftenposten.
Shattering some myths
Olsen found that his research also shatters some myths about foreigners who find Norwegians to be cold, skeptical and unwelcoming. He said a large number of new arrivals in Norway encounter just the opposite. “Many immigrants are enthusiastic about the Norwegian lifestyle, and have a good impression of Norwegian culture and Norwegians in general,” Olsen said.
Among them is Victoria Hermosa, who moved from Spain to Norway with her husband and two children in 2012. She told Aftenposten that her engineer husband Pablo had lost two jobs in Spain, and the ongoing economic crisis made their future uncertain. So they packed eight suitcases and invested their savings in a new life in Norway.
After four months, Pablo got a job as a building engineer, they found an apartment and enrolled their children in a local day care center, where they have found good friends. The family was also “welcomed with open arms” in their new Oslo neighbourhood, Hermosa wrote in a commentary published in Aftenposten on Tuesday. Language challenges have so far kept her from finding work in her field of communications, but she’s studying Norwegian and has held two part-time jobs since arriving two years ago.
“To thrive in Norway you have to like the climate,” she said. “You can’t complain about the snow and the cold.” She also advises all aspiring immigrants to have a positive attitude and learn Norwegian, to also have a good command of English, enough savings to last four months and to study Norwegian work and cultural conditions before arriving.
Southern European advantage
Line Eldring of the research organization Fafo in Oslo, thinks Norwegians have sympathy for southern Europeans who come to Norway to work. She studies job migration from southern and eastern Europe, but stressed that she has no basis for determining whether “we are more hospitable towards Spaniards and other southern Europeans than folks from eastern Europe.” While the numbers of job migrants from southern Europe have soared, there are still far fewer coming from southern Europe than from eastern Europe. The single largest immigrant group in Norway has, for years, been from Poland.
Mencia Manso of the Spanish Embassy in Oslo told Aftenposten that she’s also heard of many Spaniards who settle successfully in Norway, but others have had tough experiences and had to travel home again after running out of money before finding work. That was also the case with a woman from Portugal who recently wrote about her own frustrating experience in Norway.
“There’s demand for engineers and nurses (in Norway), but language is often a barrier,” Manso said. “Spaniards feel welcome, but life in Norway isn’t especially easy for those who arrive unprepared.”
Frustrations remain, especially over language
Researcher Olsen also noted that his survey shows how many new arrivals also can become frustrated over their first meeting with state employment and welfare agency NAV. They often are overwhelmed by all the forms they must fill out, and they often receive confusing and contradictory messages from the authorities, he said.
Language remains the biggest problem, also for those with good English skills. “They don’t understand how important it still is to be able to speak and comprehend Norwegian in order to work here,” Olsen said.
Job migrants from Europe don’t qualify for subsidized Norwegian classes, “and they can be too expensive for many,” Olsen said. Hermosa, from Spain, said she also has found her lack of Norwegian expertise to be a major challenge. “But I’m working hard on it, and expect that I’ll soon find a proper job,” she said.