Justice minister had an illegal au pair

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News broke in Oslo late Wednesday afternoon that presented an ultimate irony: An au pair living in the home of Norway’s new justice minister from the conservative Progress Party, which champions restrictive immigration law, was sent back to the Philippines after immigration agency UDI claimed she’d been working illegally for the minister’s family since August of last year.

Jøran Kallmyr just took over as justice minister two months ago. Now another storm has blown up around him, his post and Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s government after Kallmyr illegally had an au pair working in his home since last August. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Newspaper Aftenposten reported, just as many Norwegians were taking off for a four-day holiday weekend, that Justice Minister Jøran Kallmyr violated the laws his own government has helped create and must enforce.

“It can be that I have evaluated the regulations incorrectly,” Kallmyr admitted to Aftenposten. As justice minister he’s also in charge of immigration law, which is among the most important political issues for his party.

That makes the situation especially difficult, and embarrassing, for Kallmyr, a Progress Party veteran who just took over the justice minister’s post two months ago. He succeeded another Progress Party politician, Tor Mikkel Wara, who felt compelled to resign after his wife was charged by police for allegedly fabricating threats against Wara and their family. Wara in turn had taken over for the Progress Party’s Sylvi Listhaug just a year earlier, after she lost the confidence of the Parliament.

Now the party, and Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s conservative government coalition, has another credibility problem on its hands. Kallmyr’s family took in the au pair from the Philippines in August of last year, when Kallmyr took a break from politics and was working as an attorney in private practice.

Norway’s au pair system, which is supposed to serve as a cultural exchange program, has been criticized for years as instead being mostly a cheap source of household help for affluent Norwegian families. Kallmyr and his wife have four children and also work full time.

Jøran Kallmyr is the Progress Party’s seventh justice minister in six years. Speculation was rising over whether Prime Minister Erna Solberg would finally demand that her Conservative Party take over political control of the ministry that also is in charge of immigration and preparedness. PHOTO: Justisdepartementet

The young woman from the Philippines moved in to Kallmyr’s home after earlier being an au pair for another Norwegian family. According to the regulations, she can’t work for a new family before obtaining permission from the justice ministry’s police division that handles immigration cases. She was also supposed to have delivered a new contract from Kallmyr’s family.

It wasn’t until October 12 that she delivered an application to extend her au pair position. “It’s now been made clear to me that it’s perhaps not right to move in before you’ve conferred with the police,” Kallmyr said.. “I should of course have double-checked that. I didn’t do that, and I accept criticism for that.”

An attorney for the now-deported au pair, Ingvild Boe Hornburg, however, said her client was shocked over how she was handled by the immigration agency UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet). Hornburg claimed UDI also warned her that she’d be ineligible to enter the entire Schengen area of Europe, as a result of her illegal au pair tenure in Kallmyr’s home. Hornburg doesn’t believe UDI has any reason for ordering her expulsion from most of the European continent.

Hadia Tajik, a Member of Parliament and deputy leader of the opposition Labour Party, said, meanwhile, that it “didn’t look good” when the minister “responsible for seeing that Norwegian laws and regulations are followed didn’t follow the rules himself in this concrete case.” Tajik, a lawyer herself, added that it doesn’t matter that the au pair moved into Kallmyr’s home last year, before he became justice minister: “It must be reasonable to expect that people given responsibility for Norway’s laws and regulations follow those laws and regulations themselves.”

‘Scrap the au pair system’
Tajik and other politicians issued new calls to phase out the au pair program. “The system is very easy to exploit,” Tajik told NRK. “There are women who say that they’ve been used as underpaid domestic servants, instead of being part of a cultural exchange program which was the whole point for having the system.”

The Socialist Left party (SV) also wants to end the au pair system, and said this latest case involving Norway’s justice minister should be the final nail in its coffin. “The au pair system clears the way for exploitation and illegalities,” Karin Andersen, a Member of Parliament for SV, told NRK. “Few young women are as vulnerable as an au pair.”

Kallmyr told Aftenposten that he informed the prime minister’s office on May 10 that his family’s au pair’s application to work in his home had been rejected and that she had been given just one day to leave the country. She did not appeal the immigration agency’s verdict and left the country as requested.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg told Aftenposten that she still has confidence in Kallmyr as justice minister: “Jøran Kallmyr accepts criticism that he had relied on information from the au pair agency, as to what the rules are.”

For Progress Party leader Siv Jensen, who also serves as finance minister, it’s the latest in a long series of personnel problems with her party’s government ministers and some elected MPs. She said she wasn’t informed of Kallmyr’s au pair violation until this week.

“Jøran Kallmyr informed me about this case yesterday,” Jensen told state broadcaster NRK. “I have great understanding that it’s demanding to have four small children with two parents in full-time jobs, but it’s of course important that regulations are followed.”

Kallmyr told Aftenposten that he would now ask that his impartiallity  be evaluated regarding all aspects of the au pair system.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund