05/2005: Trygve G. Nordby

Trygve G. Nordby
Directorate of Immigration,
Norwegian Ministry of Local Government
and Regional Development


Norway’s contribution to EU cooperation systems and
common policies on immigration and asylum


Ü Eurasylum Ltd: With an average annual inflow of approximately 15,000 asylum applicants and 25,000 legal migrants (many of whom are seasonal workers), Norway can be classified as a middle-range European country of immigration and asylum. However, while in 1970 only 17% of the immigrant population in Norway came from countries outside Western Europe and North America, by 2004 72% belonged to this category. Norway has traditionally been dependent on the import of highly-skilled migrant workers to compensate for severe skill shortages in various technological and oil industry sectors. Furthermore, while not an EU member state, Norway has actively facilitated cooperation with the EU candidate countries to help them adjust to the range of cooperation mechanisms on justice and home affairs in the EU. Norway has also applied the same transitional rules as the EU member states in relation to migration from the new EU member states, even if, in 2004, labour migration from these states appeared to have increased significantly. Can you briefly guide us through Norway’s overall policy priorities and programme responses in the field of migration and asylum today, including as regards migration management policies integrating criteria such as demographic and skill imbalances, and issues of integration into Norwegian society?

Ü Trygve G. Nordby: In Norway, the public debate on migration has tended to focus on asylum seekers, while important topics such as labour migration and family migration have been given less attention. The two major trends in Norway over the last two years have been a sharp decline in the number of asylum seekers, and increased labour immigration from the new EU member states following enlargement. Family reunion remains the largest source of permanent immigration to Norway. Against this background, the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration has made an effort to raise public awareness on the entire migration management picture, and to contribute to a more holistic understanding of migration in Norwegian society.

The Norwegian Government pursues two main policies on migration: regulated immigration and protection for refugees. When it comes to integration into Norwegian society, the aim is that each and everyone, irrespective of origin and gender, should have equal opportunities, rights and obligations to participate in society and use its resources.

Since EU enlargement, the Norwegian debate on migration has shifted somewhat towards a focus on labour migration. Norway faces the same demographic challenges as most European countries, where population is ageing rapidly. One of the ways to compensate for a declining domestic work force is, obviously, through immigration.

By European standards, Norway has very liberal regulations for skilled workers, even if the annual quota of 5,000 workers from countries outside the EU is far from filled. As the central administrative body dealing with immigration in Norway, the Immigration Department has made a point of examining possible ways to attract labour immigrants, should politicians decide that Norway should opt for such a solution. Amongst other things, we have commissioned a report from the Migration Policy Institute (Concepts for the Better Management of Migration to Norway), where several possible ways of attracting workers to Norway were reviewed. We are also working constantly on trimming our own procedures, and on improving our case processing time and customer services to meet the demands of employers and foreign workers.

In the field of refugee protection, the main policies in Norway over the last few years have aimed to protect the institution of asylum. After Norway became a part of the Schengen cooperation, the number of asylum seekers to Norway rose sharply. A considerable proportion of this increase consisted of persons with unfounded applications. Several measures were adopted to stem the influx of asylum seekers without a need for protection. This included faster case processing procedures (i.e. 48 hours for applicants whose claims are assumed to be unfounded), cuts in benefits for residents in reception centres, information campaigns in the countries of origin and removal of the right to live in a reception centre for people whose application has been finally rejected.

The above measures have resulted in a sharp decline in the number of asylum seekers over the last two years. To an extent, this is also part of a European trend, not least as a result of more effective Dublin procedures and the introduction of Eurodac. However, measures particular to Norway have also undoubtedly contributed to such a decline.

At the same time, the proportion of applicants who were granted permits increased from 29 to 40 percent in 2004 (not including applications processed through the Dublin procedure). This is testimony to the success of the above measures in reducing the influx of asylum seekers with unfounded applications while ensuring that protection is granted to those with a genuine claim.

The Norwegian Immigration Directorate has also revised its policy on granting Convention status to asylum seekers. The proportion of applicants who were granted Convention status has increased from less than one percent a few years ago, to 9 percent today. At the same time, in the Directorate’s publications, we have started to make a distinction between those who are granted subsidiary protection (14 percent) and those who are granted residence on humanitarian grounds (17 percent). By showing to the public that the problem with large numbers of asylum seekers with unfounded applications has been alleviated, and that a large proportion of asylum seekers are in need of protection, we believe we have contributed, largely, to securing public support for a continued commitment by the Norwegian authorities to refugee protection.

Integration issues have received increased public and political attention in Norway, as the number of immigrants has been rising significantly over the last ten years. One major event that occurred in 2004, which will have a considerable impact on Norwegian integration policies in the future, was the decision by the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development (KRD) to establish a new Directorate for Integration and Diversity, as from 1 January 2006. This decision aimed to strengthen Norway’s integration policy efforts, and their focus on long term integration. The new Directorate will be the expert body on integration and cultural diversity and will act as a coordinating entity in relation to other Directorates. The Directorate for Integration and Diversity will be under political control, and will work on strategies to develop an efficient multi-cultural society. Another important task for the Directorate will be to coordinate the implementation of integration policies and the policy for inclusion and diversity at the administrative level. An important challenge for the existing Immigration Directorate will be to maintain an integration and diversity perspective in its work on migration issues.

Ü Eurasylum Ltd: Norway’s relations with the EU are governed, mainly, by the Agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA). However, Norway also enjoys an association agreement to the Dublin II Regulation, which extends the rights and obligations of the Regulation to its territory, as regards in particular the implementation, application and development of the Schengen acquis. An Agreement between the European Community and the Republic of Iceland and the Kingdom of Norway concerning the criteria and mechanisms for establishing the State responsible for examining a request for asylum has also entered in force in 2001. Norway further participates in certain areas of EU cooperation related to Readmission Agreements and to the development of common standards for return practices, and it has been party to a co-operation agreement with Europol since June 2001. In its Plan of action with a focus on the EEA and the EU, the Norwegian government has pledged to give priority to European cooperation on immigration and refugee policy and to enhance the Norwegian public administration’s opportunities to promote Norwegian interests by contributing actively and constructively to EU efforts in the area of justice and home affairs, both through established cooperation bodies and informal contacts and networks in EU institutions and capitals. How would you define the current nature and reach of Norway’s participation in the EU decision-making processes related to immigration and asylum policy and legislation? To what extent and in what form and areas is Norway able to influence such processes? And, finally, how would you qualify Norway’s direct benefits from its growing involvement in the EU’s integrated systems and cooperation mechanisms on migration and asylum?

Ü Trygve G. Nordby: It is interesting that this question is brought up Only a few days ago the Norwegian Immigration Directorate organised its annual Spring Conference. This year’s topic was the EU’s Hague Programme and the establishment of a common EU immigration and asylum policy. The conference aimed, in particular, to discuss the implications of developments in this policy areas within the EU for Norwegian policy development.

Based on past experience, it is obvious that progress towards a common immigration and asylum policy within the EU will have a considerable impact on Norway. Since Norway is part of the common European territory established within the Schengen cooperation and Dublin II, policy changes within the EU affect us directly. When Norway started to implement the Schengen instruments in 2001, the number of asylum seekers increased, rapidly, to an all time high. The abolition of borders had contributed significantly to such a development. Conversely, Norwegian cooperation within the framework of the Eurodac fingerprints register and the Dublin Regulation has contributed, considerably, to a reduction in the influx of asylum seekers over the last two years. Such fluctuations in the numbers of asylum seekers show that the situation in Norway is influenced, directly, by developments within the EU.

Since it is obvious that Norway is affected directly by EU policy changes, it is indeed relevant to ask to what extent Norway is able to influence the decision making processes in the EU. Our ability to influence these processes is variable. The overall impression, however, is that relevant arguments put forward by Norway are usually heard and taken into consideration, even in areas in which Norway has not been assigned any formal role.

So, where do we have a direct influence then? Through the Schengen cooperation, Norway is involved directly in the decision-making processes related to issues covered by this agreement. We take part in relevant discussions in the different working groups and high level groups under the EU Council at the same level as the EU member states, even if, when it comes to the final vote in the Council, we are not represented.

With the on-going evolution towards the integration into EU law of topics currently under the Schengen Convention, however, Norway’s ability to influence processes that it considers important for its own policies will be reduced considerably. It has thus become crucial for us to be able to follow developments within different policy areas closely, and to use the means available to us to exert an influence.

What do we do when we are not part, directly, of the relevant processes? Norway has deployed considerable efforts to have a good representation in Brussels. In the Norwegian mission to the EU, we have a migration attach, whose job it is to get Norway’s positions across in the areas that matter to us. In addition, we cooperate closely with our Nordic neighbours, and use these long established structures to communicate our positions. As you know, the Nordic countries very often share the same understanding of things, including in the field of migration.

Norway’s increased involvement in the EU’s integrated systems and cooperation mechanisms on migration and asylum is thus of particular importance to us, since EU developments largely determine the levels of asylum inflows into Norway. With developments now planned under the Hague Programme, it will be even more important for Norway to monitor policy revisions in the EU closely, and to adopt any relevant changes. If it doesn’t, then Norway will run the risk of loosing its ability to manage, effectively, migration flows affecting its territory.

Ü Eurasylum Ltd: With over 195 km of land borders with the Russian Federation, it is often held that, in effect, Norway can be considered as hosting one of the EU’s external borders. This explains, in particular, the recent agreement enabling the participation of Norway in the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders. In recent years, Europol has increasingly pointed to the fact that Norway had become an integral part of a Northern route to Europe for human smuggling from Russia. In particular, there are indications that Norway has become a transit country for migrants attempting to enter the UK and there have been several cases of attempted smuggling of human beings by ferries from Norwegian ports. In order to combat illegal migration more effectively, the Norwegian Immigration Act was amended in July 2003, in order to strengthen, in particular, the level of sanctions against human smugglers. Furthermore, in their Plan of action with a focus on the EEA and the EU, the Norwegian authorities undertook to assess the possibilities for cooperation when matters related to justice and home affairs are incorporated into EU foreign policy (relations with third countries) or security policy (ESDP), and to make a more active effort to combat organised crime, in cooperation with the EU and within the Council of Europe, the OECD, the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF), the Baltic Sea Task Force and Interpol. How would you summarise Norway’s evolving efforts to contain growing illegal migration and human smuggling/trafficking activity and in which particular areas has cooperation with EU member states, and participation in relevant EU coordination mechanisms, become essential to such efforts?

Ü Trygve G. Nordby: As a Schengen cooperating partner, Norway’s border with the Russian Federation is indeed one of EU’s external borders in the North, just like Gibraltar and the coasts of Italy and Greece are the EU’s external borders in the South. Norway is a small and transparent society by European standards. The problem of illegal migration has been less severe than in large European countries like Germany, France, Spain and the United Kingdom. But with a growing immigrant population and free movement within the Schengen territory, illegal migration and illegal immigrants are becoming more of a challenge in Norway as well.

In answering your question about the fight against illegal migration, it might be helpful to start by looking at a basic general migration management model. All migration movements can be categorised at two levels: one describes the motive, the other is related to the method. The motive can be placed somewhere on a gliding scale from voluntary to forced, while the method is either legal or illegal. In my opinion, the aim of all migration management policies must be to contribute to a situation where migration is voluntary and legal, not forced and illegal.

Let us start with the situation in the migrants countries of origin. If the motive is forced, an emigrant will have economic, social and/or political reasons to leave the country. At this level, foreign policy measures such as development aid, trade and conflict resolution can contribute to reducing the flow of forced migration from a given country. The Hague Programme’s focus on partnership with countries of origin is aimed exactly at reducing the level of forced migration. As a non-member of the EU, Norway is not directly involved in this. It is obvious, however, that the success, or otherwise, of this effort will have an impact on migration flows to Norway as well.

If we move to the receiving countries, it is likely that the most effective measure against illegal migration would be to prevent employers from hiring illegal immigrants. Without direct economic rewards, the most important pull factor for economically motivated illegal migrants would be removed. Increased levels of sanction against employers, and more frequent controls from the police and labour inspection authorities, could contribute to making the hiring of illegal immigrants less attractive. Another, more politically controversial way of reducing illegal migration is, of course, to authorise increased levels of legal migration, or to legalise illegal immigrants already in the country (a measure that was recently adopted, for example, in Spain). The European Commission’s Green Paper on Labour Immigration recommends the adoption of more active labour immigration policies to meet future shortcomings on the European labour market. If adopted, these policies might also contribute to reducing illegal migration flows.

However, no matter how successful policies aimed at improving the conditions in countries of origin are, or how heavily receiving countries choose to penalise employers or to authorise increased labour migration, illegal migration flows will continue to pose a challenge to the richer part of the world in the foreseeable future. Against this background, cooperation with the EU is very important to Norway.

As a full member of the Schengen Cooperation, Norway is included in the EU’s efforts to control migratory flows to the European territory. Norwegian police plays a key role in cooperation activities related to border controls. The new EU border control agency to be established in Warsaw, in which Norway will be involved, will no doubt prove an important measure in the overall effort to tackle illegal migration. The same could be said about the development of new and more effective technical tools such as the use of biometric elements in passports and visas and the upcoming common Schengen visa database. Existing instruments such as the Eurodac fingerprints database and the Dublin Regulation certainly have a preventive effect on persons considering to misuse the asylum institution.

Another important area, in which Norway is actually proving to be ahead of the EU, is the removal of illegal immigrants. Unlike most other European countries, Norwegian police removes rejected asylum seekers and illegal migrants systematically from the national territory. With the Hague Programme, the EU is moving in the same direction, particularly through increased efforts to establish readmission agreements with countries of origin. Needless to say that the EU has a far stronger bargaining position in such matters than Norway. It will therefore be important for Norway to cooperate closely with the EU in this policy area too.