Tor Berger Jørgensen, the former bishop of Sør-Hålogaland in northern Norway, launched the campaign last week, arguing that breaking the law in this way was not about saving money, but about providing a livelihood to people “in a hopeless situation”.
The 71-year-old priest sent letters out to Christian organisations across Norway asking them to give jobs to those who could neither return to their home countries nor get residency in Norway. He told the newspaper he was “optimistic” that his call would be answered.
“There have been several positive responses from people who are now looking closely at what can be done,” he said. “I am quite optimistic that we can achieve something among church organizations and with church connections.”
Jørgensen made the call after reports that the IMI church, an evangelical church in Stavanger, had employed an Eritrean woman who had lived in Norway without a residency permit since 2011.
Immigration Minister Sylvi Listhaug has denounced the bishop's call as “irresponsible”.
“What he is in fact doing is creating false hopes for people who have to return to their homeland,” she said. “Individuals who have received a final rejection of their asylum application are obliged to return home.”
According to Norwegian law, employers who use foreign workers who do not have the right kind of residence permit risk fines or imprisonment.
Berger Jørgensen is well-known as a liberal within the Church of Norway, pushing for the church to allow gay marriage and gay priests, and in 2009 ordaining a woman priest who was unmarried and living with the father of her child.