Thursday, February 14, 2008

Immigration Douleur (Part I)

Immigration - 'tis painful. And I'm not talking about the emotional, physical, and mental aspects of immigration but the paper processing - the formalities in short. In recent years, migration policies in Norway are getting strict, for understandable reasons of course. Why? Well, there's the principle of the welfare state's limited resources. As such, immigration must be restricted and all immigrants in Norway should have equal opportunities.

In a nutshell, immigrants in Norway are roughly composed of the following: labor migrants from the 60s to date (Pakistan, Turkey, Yugoslavia, Poland, Russia, etc.), refugees and asylum-seekers (Vietnam, Somalia, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Serbia, etc.), people who came through family reunification (this is me!), and others from neighboring Nordic countries, Western Europe, and North America. There are now approximately 415,000 immigrants in Norway.

Governed by the principle of equality, Norway strongly aims to "integrate" these immigrants into the society in order for them to be productive citizens of the country. Hence, language trainings are available for free, sufficient employment centers are available for use, universal health care is available, and other infrastructures/facilities are in place.

But the process of integration is made tedious by unnecessary impediments. Here's my experience:

1. I received my residence/work permit 6 months after I applied. And to think I am legally married to a Norwegian citizen already. Anyway, although I'm still lucky that it didn't take 11 months for UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet or Norwegian Directorate of Immigration) to process my case, I still have to wait another month to get my social security number from the National Registry. Thus, I can't open a bank account or work while waiting.

2. After getting my permit, I was informed that I am entitled to 300 hours of Norwegian language training (including 50 hours of Norwegian society and culture classes). However, I have to get a tuberculosis control (TBC) test first. Yes, this is compulsory but free of charge. Fine. But when I made an appointment at the designated public hospital, I was told that I have to wait for one month and a half. (Surely, I must understand that there is a long queue of newly-arrived immigrants.) I'm not supposed to take the test at private hospitals and no private doctors are allowed to do this. I should use the free service, in other words. Great.

3. Granted that I will get my TBC documentation ASAP, can I immediately start the language course?, I asked Voksen Opplæring which offers the language training. No, it will take 1-3 months from the time I register. Of course, why didn't I think about that?

So, for 4 months or so, one can't avail the free language training.

For half a year to 11 months that it would take to process a residence/work permit based on family reunification, no one is allowed to work. No temporary work permit is issued. And no health insurance.

In one year, Norway may have lost thousands of potential skilled workers. Just what the Kingdom needs at this time of strong economic growth and increasing labour demand.

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