‘Corona messed up my life’: Why foreigners in Norway are under strain

'Corona messed up my life': Why foreigners in Norway are under strain
Many of the foreigners working for the SATS gym chain were laid-off. Photo: SATS
The economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic is tougher on foreigners in Norway. We spoke to some people who have fallen (or nearly fallen) through the various holes in the system.

Many foreigners were not eligible for unemployment benefits if laid off or furloughed. 

Skilled workers who have come from outside the EEA to work in Norway are currently not entitled to unemployment benefits if they are laid off, something which has put as many as 13,000 skilled workers under enormous pressure during the pandemic. 

Many of these workers have paid taxes for years, but risked seeing no benefit if suddenly laid off. 

“I fear I will lose everything I have and end up in financial chaos,” Maria Florencia Becherini, a cruise industry executive from Argentina, told NRK in April.  It will be tough to find the same type of job in this market as well. I can't to anything but pray to the higher powers now!”.

Norway's parliament last Friday, however, agreed to temporarily change the rules, making foreign skilled workers eligible retroactively for time unemployed between May 4th and October 31st. 

Because these specialist skilled workers have been granted their visa in connection with a specific job, under section 6-1 of Norway's immigration regulations, if they are laid off, they have not been considered jobseekers by Nav, and have no right to unemployment benefit.

Not eligible for NAV because earnings too low

Silvana (not her real name) arrived in April 2019, and got a job in a bar. But the bar owner fell behind on paying her salary and then went bankrupt when the coronavirus lockdown was imposed.

Even though, she would have met the income threshold to be eligible for unemployment benefit if she had received her full salary, without the missing element, she fell short.  

She is married to a Norwegian, who also got laid off, but is being paid unemployment benefits. She is not eligible for free Norwegian classes, and without speaking Norwegian it is hard to get a job. She now has four months to get one, or she could be forced to leave the country. 

Deon, from Australia, had had a difficult arrival in Norway before coronavirus. He went through the three month training to be cabin crew for Norwegian Air Shuttle only to be told at the end by the company's security clearance consultant that he would need a Norwegian passport, because he had not been living in Norway for five years (he'd been here four years and five months). 

Since October, he had been working at SATS, doing fitness classes, and when all the gym chain's staff were permitert [laid off] at the end of March, NAV told him he had not earned enough to receive payments. 

“I got nothing. Zero. Thank God for my husband I’d be on the street otherwise,” he complains. 

NAV and UD are overwhelmed it cannot handle tricky cases, and foreigners are not prioritised. 

Alex, from the US, was laid off temporarily but full time just a month after arriving in Norway in February. He was laid off so early that he hadn't even had time to get a BankID, making accessing his unemployment benefit, which was anyway paid by a third country, impossible. 
 
While his company agreed to step in to help him and other new hires in the same situation, the long backlog at the immigration services means that he still has no BankID. 
 
He made his appointment in November, only to have it cancelled in April, and he's still waiting. 
 
“I think there's a very serious flaw in the system that people who are newly arrived haven't yet got into the digital system yet and therefore cannot access the social services.” 
 
Even today, if NAV sends him an email, all he gets is a notification tell him to log in to the system with the BankID he still doesn't have, forcing him to sit on the phone for more than an hour to get a NAV employee to read him the email. 
 

Risk of losing right to visa or residency permit 

For Holly Rose Bennett, like many other foreigners living in Norway, the coronavirus pandemic has from the start raised a question mark over whether she'll be able to stay living with her Norwegian partner in Oslo. 

She and her Norwegian partner believed that if he had been laid-off, he would have been unable to take unemployment benefits from the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV).  
 
He believed that a condition of the family reunification visa was that he must declare that he has not received NAV payments in the previous 12 months. 
 
Instead of renewing her family reunification visa when it expires in September, Holly is planning to apply for Permanent Residency.
 
If she had been laid off and forced to apply for NAV, however, she felt she would be unable to apply for permanent residency herself. As a requirement for applying is that you have not taken NAV payments in the preceding 12 months.
 
It's not clear that either were right however, as dagpenger issued by NAV seems to be counted as legitimate income for the purposes of family reunion or permanent residency, and is not counted as sosialhjelp financial assistance for the purposes of residency applications. 

READ ALSO: You've lot your job in Norway due to coronavirus. Now what?

“My partner came really close to being permitert [furloughed]: 80 percent of people in his department were laid off,” she said. “We had a rather stressful morning waiting for that axe to fall.” 

Thankfully, however, both of them have so far kept their jobs.

But now she still has the problem of the enormous nine-month backlog in processing permanent residency applications at UDI, where she expects her file to go.  

 
We plan to add different scenarios to this article, so If you face an issue not covered please email me at [email protected]
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