The number of foreign citizens who thought they had legal residence in Norway but recently have been turned away at the border has soared to 2,100 just in the past few weeks. They’re all victims of how the Norwegian government suddenly changed its legal definition of residence in connection with Corona-related border control issues.
The government has been under criticism for failing to better control imported infection, so-called importsmitte. That led to a crackdown in recent months that has all but closed borders to everyone other than Norwegian citizens and expats with permanent residence status that’s listed in the public register (folkeregister). The definition of legal residence changed and is now different from the one that’s long been used by Norwegian tax authorities and state welfare agency NAV, which include legal expats not listed in the folkeregister and lacking a personnummer (literally, a personal number similar to a Social Security number in the US) but holding a so-called “D-nummer” instead that registers them for work purposes.
Justice Minister Monica Mæland has insisted that the new definition was “well-communicated,” but others strongly disagree. More than 2,000 residents unwittingly traveled out of Norway in recent months for various, mostly family-related reasons, only to be denied re-entry when they’ve landed back “home” in Norway. Most of them are citizens of EU or countries that, like Norway, are part of the European Economic Area (EEA) and thus allowed free transit over borders with the right to live and work in any other EU/EEA country.
Most of those turned away at the border, even though they have homes, jobs and often partners or family in Norway, come from Poland, Sweden, Lithuania and Romania, followed by citizens of Latvia and Estonia. Some citizens of Great Britain and Denmark have also been among those turned away.
Various legal challenges are pending but Mæland remains firm and unsympathetic to those denied re-entry. “This of course has great consequences for EEA residents who are accustomed to traveling back and forth (between their work in Norway and homes abroad),” Mæland told state broadcaster NRK on Monday. “But the rules are clearly communicated and we expect, of course, that everyone who commutes in and out of the country has read the rules.”