In a letter sent to media across Norway, the group said that the Norwegian justice minister Monica Mæland had used “misleading rhetoric” in interviews with Norwegian media, giving a false picture that the new rules solved the problem for couples separated by border controls.
The new rules, which took effect on June 15th, state that “anyone who has been granted a residence permit on the basis of family immigration can travel to Norway” — regardless of whether the family member in Norway is a Norwegian citizen, EEA citizen or from countries outside the EEA”.
But in their letter, the Facebook group, “We with family or a beloved abroad during Covid-19 2020“, said that the changes in practice helped relatively few couples and families, with Norwegian citizens with fiancé(e)s or spouses in the US, Canada, Australia and other visa-free, non-EU countries all unable to reunite.
This is because:
- Many application centres abroad are currently closed and are not accepting new residence permit applications
- Applying for a residence permit currently takes months to process
- Most of those who already have residence permits also need a visa, and most visa application centres are closed.
When the group's has 1,561 members were polled, of the 272 who responded, only 11 said they had been helped by the changes.
Atle Johansen, the IT consultant behind the letter, said that he hoped to “put the pressure back on the policy makers”.
“They lifted some of the restrictions today and they may feel that they can take a step back,” he said.
“We don't think what they've passed is good enough, because what we've seen it's only a very small group that can be reunited.”
Johansen was in the middle of moving back to Norway with his American wife after five years working in the US when the lockdown was imposed.
“Two weeks before we were going to travel the borders closed and that's when the whole process started,” he remembers. “At the beginning we were OK with it. It made sense. But now it's turned very political.”
He said that it was people from visa-free countries such as the US that had been caught out.
“People from visa-free countries outside the EU were hoping to submit their application from within Norway, so they sold everything and got ready to come,” he said.
“A lot of people have put their faith into the rules that used to be, so when they were talking about 'opening for families' these people certainly expected them to keep them in mind.”
- 'The Norwegian government is separating us from our life partners'
- Norway relaxes border rules for families of residents
- Why Norway is letting in partners of EEA citizens but not of Norwegians
In the letter, Johansen and the Facebook group also criticised Norway's Justice Minister Monica Mæland for her claim that the new rules removed the advantage EEA citizens have over Norwegian ones, which has been the subject of several articles in the Norwegian media.
In practice, they say, reunion remains impossible for Norwegian citizens who are married or engaged to a partner living outside the EEA/EU who does not already have a residency permit.
In the same situation, an EEA or EU citizen living in the Norway would be able to bring their partner to the country.
“If I was a Swedish citizen living in Norway, I would go under the EEA rules and my wife would be able to enter the country,” Johansen complained.
“Norway has its own immigration laws which trump the EEA rules, but we still feel they should be parallel, side by side — especially if the government claims that they are the same, which is one of the things Monica said in her interview. She said this is all fixed now, when it's not.”