Integration on hold in Norway: Immigrants face revocation of residence status
"People have felt on solid ground, and now they’re having the rug pulled out from under them," says researcher Jan-Paul Brekke. The threat of losing their residence permit can be perceived as such a great burden that it affects immigrants’ health and participation in Norwegian society, according to a new report. Most people still end up being allowed to stay in Norway.
Even after many years in Norway, an immigrant with legal residence status may receive notification that she could lose her right to stay.
This was the situation for Amina from Afghanistan, who suddenly received a letter stating that the authorities were considering revoking her residence permit. She was interviewed for the recently published Norwegian research project.
"I thought – are they just going to take my permit away without even asking me? Can they just do that? It was very scary and gave me a sickening feeling," Amina said.
The letter from the authorities affects two groups. One group includes those who have a residence permit or citizenship that the authorities suspect was granted on a faulty basis – due to fraudulent or inadequate information.
The second group consists of refugees whose country of origin has sufficiently improved conditions, so that authorities consider it safe for the refugees to return.
Jan-Paul Brekke of the Norwegian Institute for Social Research led a project commissioned by the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) to study how the intensified review of residence permits and citizenship is affecting immigrant communities. The report was presented in June.
“It's a tough experience. These are people who have a residence permit and then lose it. They feel like they’re having the rug pulled out from under them,” Brekke says.
Uncertainty may create health problems
The researchers interviewed 27 immigrants from Afghanistan and Somalia who have been affected in one way or another by the revocation of their right to live in Norway.
Individuals who received the letter don’t know whether they’ll be able to stay in the country or even when they will receive an answer. All they know is that the authorities are reviewing their case, and it’s taking a long time.
Some people find that the uncertainty and waiting time have caused them serious health problems.
One man says that the content of the letter was so stressful for one relative that the relative was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. The researchers have not verified this information.
“Some people receiving this notification are in a fragile situation from before. The uncertainty is undoubtedly contributing to their stress,” says Brekke.
Immigrants also shared with the researchers that they are losing their motivation to build a future in Norway.
They ask themselves why they should bother to learn the language, work, or send their children to kindergarten if they could be sent home at any time.
Ayaan, a woman in her 30s from Somalia, has had a residence permit for seven years.
"I had the aim of completing primary school ... and this has affected my capacity to concentrate ... so that’s a pity. I had a dream to get a permanent job, but now I am less motivated to apply for a job ... it’s hard. And I had ambitions about getting a driver’s license, but that’s difficult without a residence permit,” she says.
Now she is afraid of losing her permit, even though she hadn’t received a letter from the authorities as of her interview with the researchers.
Norwegian-Somalis with Norwegian citizenship had been citizens for an average of five to ten years when their cases were opened, according to statistics from the UDI from March 2017 to December 2018. Some have been citizens for over 20 years.
Cases involving revocation of citizenship were put on hold pending a political decision as to whether or not these cases should be dealt with by the courts in future.
During this period, about 2,500 Somali cases and 500 Afghan cases of all types were handled. Approximately every fourth case was finalized.
Of these, three out of four cases were dismissed.
The researchers estimate that for half of the Somalis, the processing time is at least 15 months. Most of them are eventually allowed to stay, sometimes even if the authorities conclude that their country of origin has become safe to return to.
"This may be because children have been in Norway for a long time or because we think that girls should not be sent back to Somalia because there is a risk of female genital mutilation," says Hanne Jendal, director of UDI’s Asylum Department.
Risk of poorer integration
In the meantime, immigrants have lost valuable years as part of Norwegian society, the researchers believe.
“Integration is on hold. The cost for Norway is that we risk poorer integration for those who are affected,” says Brekke.
He believes the authorities must consider these costs against the current practices in regulating immigration.
The UDI has renewed temporary residence permits for people waiting to hear whether they need to leave because their country of origin has become safe, “so they can continue their life here even if they have the threat of cessation hanging over their heads – and I realize that’s a huge burden,” says Jendal.
She points out that reviewing cases for cessation when the situation in the home country has changed is a task the Asylum Department has been given.
Consequences of a strict policy
The process of revoking a residence permit is a result of tightening the asylum policy in the wake of 2015, the year when many refugees came to Norway.
“Now we’re seeing the consequences of a strict policy for those who are affected,” says Brekke.
The immigrants who were interviewed deal with the uncertainty in different ways. Some are trying to continue their everyday lives as normally as possible and just deal with the fear of being deported.
Others give up their long-term dreams for the future and focus on short-term planning.
Some prepare for everything while others are paralyzed and unable to prepare for anything.
Life put on hold
The researchers believe the long processing time is unfortunate.
Waiting for a response from the immigration authorities not only affects the person whose case is up for review. The UDI does not process applications from others in the family while one family member’s case is being considered. Many individuals’ lives are thus put on hold.
“The whole process grinds to a halt for both the individual and the other family members,” Brekke says.
Norwegian-Somalis are the group most affected by the revocation process.
“It’s easy to imagine the anxiety spreading among Somalis in Norway that any one of them could lose their residence permit,” he adds.
Since most immigrants end up being allowed to remain in Norway, Brekke wonders whether the authorities have set an unwieldy process in motion with little output at the other end.
“For a lot of people, the long wait is filled with uncertainty – and then nothing changes,” he says.
Brekke acknowledges that the authorities need to have a system to ensure that application information is correct. But, he says, they have to improve the system, make it faster and communicate better so people understand what they’re facing.
“We recognize that there are clearly areas where we need to improve,” says Jendal from UDI.
She says that the UDI takes the report recommendations seriously and is already working on improving the available information. Currently, the Directorate has had three informational meetings for individuals who have been notified that they may have to leave Norway.
She can’t promise that the case processing time will get shorter right away.
“Ideally, we’d like to be able to process these cases faster. But the caseload is enormous, and we have limited resources, which is regrettable,” says Jendal.
She won't comment on whether she thinks politicians should increase resources to the Directorate in order to do the job faster. The report encourages such an increase.
The researchers also recommend that the authorities commit to deadlines so that immigrants at least know what they can expect during the review of their case and when they will be informed of the outcome.
“We are working hard to be clear with the users about how long they’ll have to wait to get an answer,” Jendal says.
Jan-Paul Brekke, Simon Roland Birkvad and Marta Bivand Erdal: Losing the Right to Stay. Revocation of immigrant residence permits and citizenship in Norway - Experiences and effects. Department of Social Research, report 2019: 9.