The Norwegian government, under pressure from EU authorities and legal experts, is reversing controversial new rules that have restricted entry of people arriving from Great Britain and prevented thousands of expatriates who’ve been living and working in Norway from re-entering the country. The rules have caused distress and financial hardship for at least 2,100 citizens from 38 countries who’ve already been turned away at the border and sent back to their home countries, even though they have jobs and homes in Norway.
Justice Minister Monica Mæland offered no apologies for subjecting even EU nationals, who have a right to live in Norway, to undue trauma over the past several months. She confirmed, however, in a press release late Wednesday night that foreign citizens resident in Norway will no longer have to prove that they’re listed in Norway’s national folkeregister. From May 21, documentation of the legal definitions of residency already used by both Norwegian tax authorities and state employment and welfare agency NAV will suffice.
“We have decided to adjust the rules for entry into Norway for foreigners who live in Norway,” Mæland stated in the press release. Foreign citizens will still need to present documentation that they live in Norway, however, and that they are returning from a temporary stay abroad. Mæland said that her ministry is working on “new criteria” and will provide more detailed guidelines by May 21.
The “adjustment” to which Mæland referred comes after the European Free Trade Association’s Surveillance Agency (ESA) has been raising questions about the legality of Norway’s strict entry rules that were imposed in late January, allegedly to help control imported Corona infection. Several lawyers have also charged that they violate Norway’s trade deal with the EU, which obligates Norway to honour the EU’s and European Economic Area (EEA)’s regulations allowing the free flow of people, goods and services across borders.
‘Deported like criminals’
The “adjustment” also comes after a string of recent stories in Norwegian media about how expats from Poland and Lithuania, for example, with jobs in Norway were shocked to be denied re-entry to Norway after short trips home, mostly to visit family. One young woman whose mother had suddenly died in Poland had traveled back to Poland to attend the funeral, only to be denied entry when she landed back in Oslo.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported earlier on Wednesday on the case of two men from Poland employed by a firm in Sande who’d made a short trip back to Poland. They were initially sent to a quarantine hotel in Tønsberg after their flight landed at Torp Airport in Sandefjord on April 30. Nine days later, just before their 10-day quarantine was due to end, they were put into a police car and driven directly to the stairs leading up to a departing flight back to Poland.
“We were deported like criminals,” one of the men told Aftenposten. Their employer calls the episode an example of “abuse of power” by Norwegian authorities. “These are people who contribute to our country with badly needed labour skills, and they pay their tax to Norway like everyone else,” the owner of the plumbing firm where they’ve worked since last year told Aftenposten.
Expats in Norway have already been viewed as among the most vulnerable during the Corona crisis.
May be owed compensation
An assistant professor at the University of Oslo, Stian Øby Johansen, told Aftenposten that the controversial rules Mæland is now reversing have amounted to illegal discrimination of European citizens. He suggested that the Norwegian government may also be held liable for economic losses suffered by those deported, and may have to pay compensation.
Several lawyers in Oslo agree, suggesting that compensation claims against the state loom. One lawyer who sought information about how justice ministry staff evaluated the legal basis for their rules was denied access to what the ministry called “internal documents. Ministry officials also declined to comment on the criticism against them, but told Aftenposten that changes in the rules regarding who’s viewed as legal residents of Norway were “under evaluation.”
No more hotel quarantine after arrival from the UK
Changes were also announced Wednesday night in controversial 10-day hotel quarantine requirements for people arriving in Norway from Great Britain and all other non-EU/Schengen countries. The quarantine rules have angered many, not least top Norwegian athletes like the Ingebrigtsen brothers, who feared they’d have to drop an important track and field competition in England later this month that would have contributed to qualifying them for the upcoming Olympics.
Mæland announced Wednesday night that travelers who’ve been in Great Britain as of noon on Thursday May 13 will now be subject to the same quarantine rules that apply to other arrivals frm the European Economic- and Schengen areas. They can once again be able to quarantine at home instead of in a hotel.
Mæland claimed the change was made because “we have a good overview of the infection situation in Great Britain, which is now among the better in Europe.” Trade Minister Iselin Nybø added that Great Britain is also “a central trading partner” and that Norwegian business needs workers from the country. “It’s therefore important that Great Britain is in the same category as other EU/EEA countries,” Nybø said.
Still no apologies
Mæland did not mention all the complaints that have been lodged and the pressure she’s been under, also from Norway’s national athletics federation which sent a letter to the ministry asking for the rules to be changed.
Mæland offered no apologies for all the anguish the hotel quarantine rules and have caused, either, or for all the unnecessary confusion and complications. It was made worse on the ministry’s own website Wednesday night, when conflicting press releases were published side by side and available, at least initially, only in Norwegian even though the rules affect non-Norwegians. “This page not available in English,” read the message to anyone trying to find a translation.
Mæland has earlier claimed that all the Corona-related regulations issued by her ministry have been “clearly communicated.” Thousands of expats in Norway are likely to disagree.