How has the pandemic affected immigration into Norway? 

The Covid-19 pandemic led to strict travel restrictions domestically and internationally, but, how has this affected immigration into Norway?

Oslo Central Station
Figures have revealed how the pandemic has affected immigration into Norway. Pictured is Oslo Central Station. Photo by Svein Sund on Unsplash

Last year, just under 54,000 people immigrated to Norway, while 34,300 emigrated, figures from Statistics Norway have revealed

Immigration into Norway increased in 2021 despite tight travel restrictions being in place for much of the year, making it harder for people to move to the Nordic country. 

The last entry restrictions barring some travellers from entering weren’t lifted until November last year. Between January and May, stringent measures also meant that only residents and citizens were allowed to enter the country with a few small exceptions. 

Citizens from the EU and European Economic Area made up around two-thirds of all people who moved to Norway. 

Polish nationals made up the largest group to immigrate to and emigrate from Norway last year. The figures for immigration in 2021 are comparable to pre-pandemic years, according to Statistics Norway. The stats agency said that last year’s figures were similar to 2018. 

READ MORE: How many people move to Norway for family reasons, and where do they come from?

Last year’s numbers even surpassed 2019, when less than 40,000 non-Nordic citizens relocated to Norway. 

However, according to official figures, the pandemic had a massive effect on immigration in 2020. 

In 2020, 24,400 immigrants made the move to the Scandinavian country. This was the lowest number of people moving to Norway since 2005. 

The numbers from Statistics Norway stated that the pandemic and restrictions introduced as a result were a reason for the massive drop in immigration. 

“The reduced immigration is mostly due to the coronavirus pandemic,” The report stated.

The report on 2021’s figures also said that the pandemic affected net migration in 2020 before activity increased again last year. 

“In 2020, net immigration fell sharply due to the measures against the corona pandemic. In 2021, cross-border migration activity increased again, and thus also net immigration,” Statistics Norway’s latest report stated

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Why some Norwegian residence applications take so long to process

Some people applying for residence or citizenship in Norway are facing waiting times of up to 18 months, or longer. So, what is the cause of the long case processing times and what is being done to reduce them? 

Why some Norwegian residence applications take so long to process

Soon-to-be and existing residents in Norway face increasingly long waiting times to have their applications approved by the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI). 

Several international residents have contacted The Local recently about long waiting times to have their residence and citizenship applications processed.

In some cases, applicants are left waiting more than 18 months for their application to be processed, while others have said that the waiting time provided to them by the UDI is increasing almost every month. 

Fatima, a data scientist who has lived in Norway for over five years, said the waiting time to have her permanent residence application processed had increased from 3 months when she applied in October 2021 to 16 months more recently. 

The UDI has said that there were several reasons why waiting times in Norway had increased, such as the pandemic, Covid entry rules implemented throughout 2020 and 2021 and the adoption of dual citizenship. 

“The waiting times for applications for residence permits and citizenship are still affected by the situation in 2020 and 2021 where the work with entry restrictions required a lot of resources, and where both the UDI’s and the police’s work was also affected in different ways by the Corona situation. An important factor was also the opening for dual citizenship from January 2020, which resulted in a large increase in the number of citizenship applications,” Karl Erik Sjøholt, director of residence at the UDI, told The Local. 

Sjøholt added that the UDI hoped that increased automation and more measures to ensure applications are complete when they reach the immigration directorate would help to reduce waiting times. 

In addition, the UDI said it had good dialogue with the police, which handles appointment slots, about waiting times but said it couldn’t control the resources the police have available to work on immigration appointments.

READ ALSO: What are the rules for moving to Norway to be with a partner?

Older applications pushed to the back of the queue

Another reason why waiting times are increasing for some is a change in how the UDI handles applications, which has led to some applicants being pushed to the back of the queue. 

Due to changes with the UDI’s workflow, cases processed in 2022 typically have shorter waiting times than those submitted before this year. One applicant who applied for a family immigration permit in 2021 said they had seen their waiting time increase twice since this change came into force, while someone they knew and who applied in 2022 saw their case processed in just over a month. 

“The new system is unfair, and moreover, they (the UDI) claim they want families to reunite, but the reality is that due to long waiting times, families are splitting, and lovers are breaking up,” The applicant, who didn’t want to be named, claimed when expressing their frustration with the new system. 

Sjøholt said that the new system would lead to faster decisions for all applicants in the long run.

“The aim is to work more efficiently so that, in the long run, all applicants will experience more predictability and get their decisions faster,” the residence director of the UDI explained. 

READ ALSO: Why are British residents’ passports being stamped at Norway’s border?

The applicants and readers who got in touch appear to be among a growing number of people concerned with long waiting times. Last year the Civil Ombudsman received 4,000 complaints from people who believe they had been exposed to injustice or errors from public authorities

The ombudsman noted that it saw an increase in complaints surrounding issues relating to immigration and case processing times. 

‘Difficult’ to say when waiting times will go down

Unfortunately for those facing long queues, the UDI is unsure when waiting times will go down. 

“We believe that automation and other measures- will help to reduce waiting times, but it is difficult to say when. The large number of applications for asylum from Ukrainians makes it more difficult to predict waiting times,” Sjøholt said. 

The lack of clarity on when waiting times will decrease will come as a blow to those affected, such as Fatima, who has been unable to leave the country while her case is processed.

For her, this has meant being unable to travel home after hearing her best friend had passed away or being able to visit her elderly parents. 

“Last week, I lost my closest friend and her two kids, but I couldn’t be with my family because I don’t have my visa. I can’t visit my family. My parents are old and sick. I am so frustrated about my situation, which prevents me from visiting them,” Fatima said.

“I’ve lived, studied and worked in this country without a problem. I am thankful for the opportunities Norway has given me, but this problem is annoying, especially in this century, with modern technology,” she added.