Debate rises over language training

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Immigrants and asylum seekers arriving in Norway are immediately urged to learn the language in order to get a job. Only some receive any public support for often-expensive language training, however, and now the government is under criticism for making more language demands.

Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre faced off against Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservatives in one of many debates leading up to municipal elections in September. Critics say new demands for language training may just be part of the election campaign, but improvements are needed. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre, who also leads the opposition in Parliament, lashed out at Prime Minister Erna Solberg this week over some proposed new demands. Solberg told newspaper VG that immigrants who don’t sufficiently learn the language in the current introductory courses must continue to go to Norwegian classes in order to keep receiving welfare payments.

Støre claims the threat of cuts in welfare payments won’t help the situation, for example, for marginalized women in immigrant homes. He told newspaper Dagsavisen that there’s already a provision in the law to cut welfare benefits for those “who don’t do all they can to support themselves.”

Støre also accused Solberg and her government for failing to improve the introduction programs in the Norwegian language, life and society. “She knows that many people go through the programs without learning Norwegian,” he told Dagsavisen, “but she isn’t doing much to make the programs better, so that those who come to Norway have a real opportunity to learn the language and join the workforce.”

Class hour cuts haven’t been restored
Jon Ole Martinsen, a senior adviser in the Norwegian Organizaton for Asylum Seekers (NOAS), supports all efforts to boost newcomers’ opportunities for work and integration. He noted, however, that the government cut Norwegian class hours from 250 to 175 in 2016, after a refugee influx in 2015 brought more than 30,000 asylum seekers to Norway.

Refugee arrivals are now down a record low levels, but the number of Norwegian class hours has not been restored. Martinsen also thinks Norway lacks programs for highly motivated immigrants, stressing that there’s little doubt how fluency in Norwegian greatly aids integration.

He also wants more language training for asylum seekers as soon as they arrive in Norway. “There’s actually a need for more Norwegian courses,” Martinsen told Dagsavisen. “My impression is that refugees who don’t have jobs really want jobs. They want to become part of society.” He can understand that the government puts demands on people seeking welfare assistance, “but we’re lacking early assistance.”

Targeting resources
Solberg didn’t respond to Støre’s criticism after one of their public debates heading into next month’s municipal elections. Ove Trellevik, a Member of Parliament from her Conservative Party, admitted that some sanctions on welfare payments already exist, and the government wants to stiffen them. He also specifically defended demands for learning Norwegian as critical for integration.

“We’re hurting ourselves if we don’t make demands,” Trellevik told Dagsavisen. As for the cuts that the Conservatives-led government made in language classes, he claimed they were made in an effort “to better use our resources.” There’s no point, he argues, teaching Norwegian to asylum seekers if their applications are ultimately rejected and they’re sent out of the country.

“Using great resources on people who won’t be settling in Norway is wrong,” he said. “We would rather use our resources for the quickest results. We want to use the most after people obtain permanent residence permission.” That process, however, can take many years, often leaving many idle in the meantime.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund