Immigration can limit social mobility

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The numbers of unemployed immigrants and refugees have fallen sharply over the past three years in the Oslo area, and around the country as well. That’s good news for integration advocates, but another new study shows that immigration from low-income countries has also led to less work for Norwegians in lower social classes, hindering social mobility and even polarizing the immigration debate.

While less than 6,000 asylum seekers and refugees arrived in Norway last year year, nearly as many were deported. The Norwegian government has tightened both immigration and asylum policy in recent years, and it remains a matter of heated political debate. PHOTO: Politiets utlendingsenhet

Researchers at Norway’s Ragnar Frisch Centre for Economic Research charted 1.1 million people born in Norway between 1960 and 1980 to see how they’ve done in the job market. Their report examines how “exposure to immigration” over the past few decades has affected “natives’ relative prime age labor market outcomes ” based on their social class background. “Social class” was determined by parents’ earnings. Researchers found that the rich got richer in Norway, while the poor got poorer.

“Given the large inflow of immigrants from low-income countries to Norway since the early 1990s,” the report reads, “this can explain a considerable part of the relative decline in economic performance among natives with lower class background, and also rationalize the apparent polarization of sentiments toward immigration.”

Newspaper Aftenposten published details Thursday from the report, entitled “Immigration and Social Mobility.” It shows how relatively poor Norwegians from lower social classes often have found themselves competing against immigrants from low-wage countries for the same types of jobs. Increased immigration, the researchers conclude, has thus made it more difficult for Norwegians from poor backgrounds to find jobs, reducing their social mobility. Immigration from high-income countries, meanwhile, has “leveled” the “social gradient in natives’ labor market outcomes.”

The report, requested by Labour Minister Anniken Hauglie of Norway’s Conservative Party, shows that a wave of immigration from 1992 to 2016 weakened job opportunities for people in their 30s who were born in Norway and grew up in relatively poor families. Immigrants’ share of the population in Norway rose from 5 percent to 18 percent during the period.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg posed with asylum seekers in Northern Norway during the influx in 2015. Her conservative government, which includes the anti-immigration Progress Party, has since cracked down on refugee arrivals. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

The numbers of immigrants and asylum seekers coming to Norway has since slowed dramatically, not least because of tighter asylum and immigration policies imposed by the country’s conservative government coalition and by several EU countries. Only 2,654 asylum seekers arrived in Norway last year. That’s down by 900 people from the year before, reported immigration agency UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet) earlier this month, and way down from the roughly 31,000 who arrived during the migrant influx in 2015.

“It looks like asylum arrivals have stabilized at a considerably lower level than in the years before 2015” as well, UDI chief Frode Forfang told news bureau NTB. He said annual arrivals prior to 2015 ranged between 9,000 and 12,000 on average.

The immigration debate has certainly become more polarized in Norway. Immigration policy and asylum numbers are a major issue in recent negotiations to form a new conservative coalition government that would have a majority in Parliament. The Progress Party wants to keep asylum and immigrant numbers low, while the Liberals and Christian Democrats, along with several parties in opposition in Parliament, think Norway should take in far more asylum seekers.

In addition to the 2,654 asylum seekers who found their own way to Norway (765 of whom were fleeing persecution in Turkey), the government accepted 3,097 refugees through the UN in 2018. This year the government has agreed to take in just around 3,000 again, including 1,000 refugees from Syria, 900 from Congo and 500 from South Sudan.

Sylvi Listhaug, who earlier served as Norway’s justice minister and immigration minister, remains highly skeptical towards immigration and has been accused of polarizing the debate. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

The Progress Party still thinks that’s a lot, until Norway can integrate the thousands who have arrived. Progress’ outspoken immigration skeptic Sylvi Listhaug has even challenged numbers indicating that unemployment among immigrants has declined, claiming that it’s still high among “non-Western” immigrants. She labelled a recent report in newspaper Dagsavisen, which cited state statistics bureau SSB’s numbers showing how Oslo’s numbers of unemployed immigrants are down by more than 22 percent the last three years, as “misleading at best” and even “fake news.”

Listhaug, often accused of polarizing the debate in Norway, was in turn challenged by Tone Tellevik Dahl of the Labour Party, who’s in charge of work and integration issues in Oslo. Dahl claimed that not only had the actual number of unemployed immigrants fallen from 13,062 to 10,182 from 2015 to 2018, the unemployment rate among immigrants has fallen by around 30 percent, from 7.6 percent to 5.5 percent. “Even though the news doesn’t perhaps mesh with Listhaug’s picture of reality, Dagsavisen’s report is correct, and based on SSB’s numbers,” Dahl responded.

Listhaug is correct in noting that the immigrant unemployment rate in Norway remains three times that of natives’ (currently 5.9 percent and 1.7 percent respectively). While politicians like Dahl are encouraged by how more immigrants are getting into the work force, Listhaug may welcome the new report on how  immigration can contribute to social differences and pose challenges to unskilled or low-class natives.

The report details how immigrants from low-income countries who found jobs in Norway began to a large degree in work that earlier was dominated by low-class Norwegians. At the same time, employment of Norwegians born into the country’s poorest households fell 3.2 percentage points among those aged 33 to 36.

Senior researcher Knut Røed PHOTO: Frischsenteret

“We see that immigration can explain why the income of Norwegians who grew up in poor families has sunk in relation to other groups (where income has risen substantially),” Knut Røed of the Frisch Center told Aftenposten. He and his colleagues also believe that has contributed to more social differences within Norway’s overall population. Data shows that income differences between Norway’s poorest and the country’s middle class have increased 30 percent over the past 20 years.

It should be noted that Norway also experienced a boom within its oil industry during the past 30 years as well. It led to an economic boom that only tapered off in 2014, when oil prices collapsed. The economic boom-times may also have boosted the middle and upper classes in Norway far more than unskilled workers in Norway’s lower classes, asylum seekers or other immigrants, although the new report claims immigration has reduced social mobility and led to wider class differences.

Read the entire report, compiled and written by the Ragnar Frisch Centre for Economic Research and shared with the IZA Institute of Labour Economics in Germany, here. (external link) The Frisch center is an independent research foundation set up by the University of Oslo.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund