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How Norway's views on immigration have changed over time

Robin-Ivan Capar
Robin-Ivan Capar - [email protected]
How Norway's views on immigration have changed over time
What exactly do Norwegians think when it comes to immigration? And how have their opinions and attitudes changed over the years? Photo by Fabiana Patalano on Unsplash

Norway has become more accepting towards immigrants, and fewer locals believe that foreigners should strive to become more 'Norwegian', the latest figures from a long-term study show.

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Norway takes pride in being a country with a vibrant immigrant community, and its high standard of living, high wages, and generous social safety net attract a steady stream of new international residents to this Scandinavian country each year.

At the beginning of 2022, immigrants and Norwegian-born people whose parents are both immigrants numbered just over one million, according to Statistics Norway (SSB).

A generally positive trend

For more than 20 years, the SSB has been tracking attitudes towards immigrants and immigration in Norway. 

The national data agency's most recent findings highlight the complex interplay between attitudes, demographics, and experiences when it comes to immigrants and immigration in Norwegian society.

In recent years, attitudes towards immigrants and immigration have tended to become increasingly positive, according to the SSB.

For example, more and more people believe in Norway that most immigrants make a useful contribution to the country's working life and that labour immigration mainly contributes positively to the Norwegian economy.

At the same time, fewer and fewer people feel that most immigrants abuse social welfare schemes or constitute a source of insecurity in society.

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Fewer believe immigrants should be more "Norwegian"

For a long time (between 2003 to 2019), a majority of people in Norway stated that immigrants living in the country should strive to become as Norwegian as possible.

Until 2020, the proportion of people who disagree has remained relatively stable, with some annual variations.

From 2021 to 2023, however, the proportion of those who disagree with this statement has become greater than that of those who agree with it.

In the 2023 survey, more than half of respondents (51 percent) disagreed with the statement that immigrants should strive to become as Norwegian as possible, while 31 percent of respondents agreed with it.

Furthermore, most people are also comfortable with having an immigrant as a domestic worker, doctor, close co-worker, or son- or daughter-in-law.

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Attitudes toward refugees and residence

There has been a persistent attitude among people that it should be more difficult for refugees and asylum seekers to obtain residence in Norway for many years.

In 2002, very few people expressed the wish for it to be easier for refugees and asylum seekers to obtain residence in Norway, only 5 percent.

At the time, a narrow majority (53 percent) answered that it should become more difficult, while 39 percent believed that it should remain as it was.

However, the proportion of those who believe it should become easier has increased since 2002, while the proportion of those who believe it should become more difficult has decreased.

Since 2021, more people have stated that it should become more straightforward rather than more difficult. In this year's survey, the proportion of those who believe it should be easier (22 percent) was greater than the proportion who believe it should be more difficult (9 percent).

The majority, close to six out of ten respondents, said that the residence process and requirements should remain as they are today.

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How major events affect attitudes

While there has been an increase in positive attitudes towards immigrants and immigration over the long term, there have been some annual variations that can be seen in connection with cycles in society and events that have influenced people's attitudes.

For example, more negative attitudes were registered in 2016, the year after the large refugee inflow from Syria. The trend of increasingly positive attitudes, however, continued in the following years.

Although there has been a significant influx of refugees from Ukraine in the past year, attitudes towards immigrants and immigration have been stably positive, and a slight growth in the proportion of people expressing positive attitudes was seen in 2023.

Differences based on demographics and experiences

The research shows that positive attitudes towards immigrants have increased alongside greater contact with them, particularly in the workplace, as those who have interacted with immigrants mostly report positive experiences.

The SSB pointed out that attitudes towards immigration vary based on factors such as education and age. Higher-educated individuals tend to have more favourable views compared to those with primary or secondary education.

Furthermore, women tend to exhibit more positive attitudes than men, and younger people are generally more immigrant-friendly than older people.

Residents of densely populated areas, where one usually finds more significant contact with immigrants and higher education rates, tend to hold more favourable attitudes towards immigrants.

There are also some variations in attitudes across different regions in Norway, and people living in urban communities generally display more positive attitudes, while those residing in sparsely populated areas and small towns tend to be more sceptical of immigrants.

This aligns with the fact that densely populated regions have more immigrant contact and higher education rates.

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