Corona cuts into population growth

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Immigration to Norway fell 27 percent last year, a decline the state statistics bureau SSB (Statistics Norway) has branded as “historic.” It hasn’t been so low in 17 years, and SSB officials link it firmly to Corona-related restrictions.

Stricter border control has been part of Norway’s response to the Corona pandemic, and likely among factors believed to have cut deeply into immigration. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Joakim Salmelid

The sharp drop in immigration during 2020 also contributed to the lowest level of overall population growth in Norway since 2001. SSB is calling it an “immigration slump” that can have serious consequences: Outlying districts often rely on immigrants to help keep them populated, while the arrival of mostly young immigrants and asylum seekers has also helped lower the overall ageing of Norwegian society.

That’s why SSB was all but sounding alarms over the recent trend of declining immigration on national radio Tuesday, shortly after its population report for 2020 was released. “Relative to population size, Norway has not experienced such a low growth rate since 1990,” wrote SSB in its report.

Fewer births, too
Norway’s total population stood at 5,391,369 on January 1. Net population growth amounted to just 23,800, mostly because immigration didn’t help offset the difference between births and deaths to a large enough degree. SSB noted that Norway’s birth rate has also been declining for several years. There were 1,500 fewer births in 2020 than in 2019, according to SSB.

Immigration has been steadily declining since 2012, SSB noted, despite the refugee influx in 2015 and all the would-be asylum seekers currently stuck in squalid camps in southeastern Europe. The Norwegian government has maintained strict immigration and asylum policy, especially since the anti-immigration Progress Party gained government power along with the Conservatives in 2013. Progress left the government in January of last year, but continues to call for strict limits on immigration and wants to keep out refugees, too.

Immigration dove after Corona crackdown last March
It was last year’s Corona crisis, though, that led to the new major slump. Travel restrictions that eventually led to border closures cut off the flow, and only 599 immigrants were registered in Norway in April. That was down from 4,389 in January. Immigration picked up again in the summer, but remained much lower than it had been on average from 2017 to 2019.

A total of 38,100 immigrants were registered in 2020, compared to the roughly 52,200-58,200 registered in the three preceding years.

SSB also noted that Norway’s population “aged further in 2020.” As of January 1, there were 11,000 fewer people living in Norway under the age of 20 than there’d been the year before. At the same time, the number of people aged 67 and over rose by 22,000. This is a trend that particularly worries most top politicians and was singled out by the government in its latest report on economic perspectives and prospects. The numbers of people working as opposed to retired are rapidly declining, and likely to strain Norway’s social welfare services in the future.

There was one seemingly bright spot in the annual population report that also was somewhat surprising given the pandemic: SSB reported 73 fewer deaths in Norway in 2020 than in 2019, “so the total death count does not seem to have been significantly influenced by the pandemic,” SSB wrote.

To see the full report with accompanying graphs, click here.

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund