Subscription 790/year or 190/quarter

More brains and hands!

The outer right and left wings have found each other in the fear of foreign labor.


By Olaf Thommessen, deputy leader of the Left

[chronicle] The debate on labor immigration has led us to two poles. A little tabloid we can say that the right side has highlighted the need, while the left has pointed to the problems. Astonishingly little of the debate is about how we can get a labor immigration that helps both Norway and the individual worker, and without emptying poor countries of important resources.

Need more. The outer right and left have found each other in the fear of foreign labor, although the rationale is different. From the left, we hear that labor immigration from poor countries is immoral and that the purpose of imports is to get labor to the sectors that need it, without setting up wages. The Progress Party does not want more people with other cultural backgrounds in Norway, because we already have problems with integration.

The Government, on the other hand, is aware that we have a large unmet work requirement that cannot be solved domestically. However, it has been quieter when it comes to how will attract the manpower we need and how to deal with challenges associated with foreign labor. In this article, I will illustrate the Left's view on labor immigration based on a couple of myths:

Myth 1: the need can be met within Norway and Europe's borders.

Social scientist Ottar Brox writes in Dagbladet April 21 this year: “My pious wish is that Lier-Hansen, Erik Solheim, Bjarne Håkon Hanssen, Sponheim or one of the other import enthusiasts could come down to us and be honest and genuinely cynical and tell us that we do not have many and good enough jobs for ethnic Norwegians, but that we also do not have enough people willing to work hard in poor working conditions for poor pay. Then we could have a real debate. "

We have many good jobs in Norway, and many benefits. Some of the goods, among them work, we must and should share with others. No, Brox, we should not rely on the labor need to be met by immigrants alone. We must get more people into work, fewer people on social security, more full-time and older people to stay in working life longer.

But when we are going to implement more technological "moon landings" in the future to become the world's leader in environmental technology, it is clear that today's youth set themselves ambitions other than driving a taxi. The fact is that we will have a labor deficit. The challenge is not unique to Norway. Already in 2000, a UN report stated that the need for labor is a common European challenge. Then the Progress Party's rhetoric that labor needs must be met within Europe is more a xenophobic statement than a constructive response.

The challenge for Norway is both 1) the competition with other European countries to obtain qualified labor, 2) to get the workforce to stay in Norway, and 3) to get the workers to work. The solution is not a massive and short-term labor immigration, as was the method when the first Turkish and Pakistani workers came to Norway in the early 1970s. We need to make a targeted effort so that we can assert ourselves in the competition for labor, and we must distinguish between labor immigration and humanitarian immigration (protection).

According to Statistics Norway, the need for nursing and care services will increase sharply after 2020. In order to maintain the 2003 level of municipal care and care services, the labor demand in this sector alone could increase by about 130.000 full-time equivalents (Economic analyzes 4/2006). We also find this need outside the health sector. The FAFO research foundation recently presented a report on the use of foreign labor in Norwegian industry (report 2007: 12), which indicates that Norwegian industry has a great need for labor and expertise.

Myth 2: labor immigration leads to social dumping. Although more and more now recognize that we need outside labor, the fear of social dumping has fueled the debate on labor immigration as a mare in recent years. The fear is that immigration will contribute to a general standard reduction in rights and wage levels in the working life. Now there are very few who actually defend social dumping, so the question is not whether we should have second-class workers, but how to prevent foreign labor from being exploited and thereby pushing wage levels down.

The problems stem from the fact that we have not had and still do not have a developed system for labor immigration. Asylum and tourist visas have been used as entrance tickets to work, mostly for physical work such as painting, harvesting and refurbishment – and where the individual is left to himself as a freelancer or organized by "workaholics".

Instead of such temporary and poor solutions, we must do both 1) a political work with laws and regulations, 2) a bureaucratic clean-up, 3) a schooling in business and in trade unions, and 4) strengthen the Labor Inspectorate to ensure a good follow-up of the social dumping action plan.

Change of pace. I think Norway needs to be more offensive in the international labor market and actually stimulate labor immigration. Several companies talk about workers disappearing to other Western countries, often due to late case processing. We therefore need a change of pace in public Norway to help the Norwegian business community keep the steam up. Many measures can be taken to remedy the situation. One of them is to abolish the transitional rules for the new EU countries. A job search visa should be introduced so that people outside the EEA can apply for a job in Norway. An application for such a visa should be able to be processed at the immigration stations. It should also be possible to apply for a visa from Norway for someone who is already in the country for legal reasons. Today, many people travel unnecessarily in and out of Norway to bypass the rules that you cannot apply from Norway. Foreigners outside the EEA area who already have a specific job offer in Norway should normally be granted a residence permit for one year at a time. Work contracts must then be signed before entering. Foreign students should automatically receive a six-month visa to apply for a job after completing their education.

I also believe that we should investigate a point-based criteria system based on Canada's model, where, among other things, language, education and experience can be weighted. In this way, we can set more political goals with labor immigration than just obtaining labor. We also want increased diversity.

Give the regions responsibility. With a red-green government that these days is pushing from all sides to find more jobs for the new regions, I would suggest to Labor Minister Hanssen to consider placing the responsibility for labor immigration to the counties and eventually the new regions. One issue is that will move the case processing closer to those concerned, namely the companies and the knowledge they need. Another issue is that it will mark a clearer distinction between the treatment of those who need protection and those who come to sell their expertise. It will simply clear up the immigration debate.

In cooperation with employers, such decentralization of authority and bureaucracy could radically streamline the case processing time for labor immigrants and create a more flexible system than today. France has such a model. I urge the Minister to look into this.

Labor immigration is not only important for Norwegian working life. It is also a human, cultural and professional enrichment for Norwegian society. Today, we are missing out on a lot of new human wealth because we have an old-fashioned system and heavy-handed bureaucracy. ■

You may also like