UPDATED: Norway’s immigration agency UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet) announced Tuesday that it was reversing its decision last month that an au pair from the Philippines had illegally moved into the home of Justice Minister Jøran Kallmyr. The decision had prompted her to fly home to the Philippines, but now she’s now been cleared to be an au pair in the Kallmyr family’s home after all.
UDI confirmed in its press release Tuesday that the au pair had broken UDI’s rules when she moved from her initial host family’s home to Kallmyr’s. The reason for her desire to move remains unclear.
Her violation is now being viewed as less serious than UDI first deemed it to be, however, and UDI has since learned that its initial rejection of her application to remain in Kallmyr’s home didn’t reach her “for some unknown reason,” and was returned to UDI after her deadline for appealing it had run out.
She had been made aware of UDI’s rejection of her application to stay with the Kallmyrs just a day before that deadline, during a meeting at the police unit UDI uses to carry out its decisions. She thus chose to quickly leave the country voluntarily rather than be deported and, she’d been warned, also be banned from many other countries in Europe and the European Economic Area.
UDI called its mistakenly sent rejection notice “an unfortunate circumstance” that added to its decision to review her case and reverse its initial decision. That means the young woman is now free to return to Norway and take part in the so-called “cultural exchange” program that justifies the au pair program but which also allows host families to obtain lost-cost domestic help.
Justice Minister Kallmyr, who was clearly relieved that UDI reversed its ruling on the case, told newspaper Aftenposten that he would pay for her return from the Philippines to Norway, so that she can re-assume her position as an au pair. “If UDI decides that they should pay for her trip, they can donate the money to a good cause instead,” Kallmyr said.
Justice minister avoided resignation calls
Her disputed position as an illegal au pair at the home of a Norwegian justice minister is what made her case national news. Calls had immediately gone out that Kallmyr, who just recently took over his post, should resign. That would have made Kallmyr the latest casualty of the embattled Progress Party, which has held the important ministerial post since it first won government power in 2013. While Progress’ first party fellow to hold the post lasted a few years, it’s since been filled by a succession of Progress Party politicians who have had to resign from it for various reasons.
Kallmyr, a lawyer, is among the few who actually have a professional legal background. He has blamed the entire au pair conflict on a “misunderstanding,” and had no intention of resigning voluntarily even after admitting that he should have been more aware of the immigration and au pair rules himself. UDI is also under the purview of his ministry, raising questions of conflicts of interest. Among those contending Kallmyr should resign was Mads Andenæs, a law professor at the University of Oslo. He told newspaper Dagbladet last month that Kallmyr couldn’t continue if he’d broken immigration law. Prime Minister Erna Solberg, however, said she still had faith in Kallmyr.
Au pair program remains controversial
Now Kallmyr has been vindicated along with his prospective au pair, amidst ongoing calls to scrap the au pair program altogether in Norway. It’s long been under criticism for being a cheap source of household help in Norway, while several au pairs have also suffered cases of exploitation and abuse in their host homes. Several cases have gone to court.
UDI stressed the role of “cultural exchange” in its decision and admitted it would “be difficult” to contend that “normal, daily contact with a (Norwegian) family does not amount to cultural exchange.” It stressed, though, that it remains important for police to continue to be able to monitor and control the whereabouts of au pairs, and approve moving in with families in advance.
“This case has shows that the regulations regarding change of host familes have been misinterpreted, and that information practices at external players (au pair agencies and support organizations, for example) have contributed to the lack of clarity,” UDI wrote. “Questions have also been raised whether UDI’s own information has been sufficiently explicit regarding changes of host family. That will be followed up.”
UDI has itself been criticized by, among others, officials at humanitarian organizations who try to help au pairs, especially in cases of exploitation and abuse. Kristin Velure Strøm, acting leader of the Caritas Au pair Center, argued in newspaper Aftenposten last week that it should be easier for au pair to change families.
“Instead of recirculating the same old arguments both for and against (the au pair program), we should talk about how we can improve it,” Strøm wrote. Clarifying UDI’s rules would, at the very least, be a good start.