NOTE: Updates on immigration to Norway can be found below.

When moving to another country there are many legal procedures you have to go through. This can be very daunting, especially when you don’t speak the language. I can understand why they use the term ‘alien’, because you can certainly feel like one. Being questioned about your details and intentions over and over can be emotionally and morally exhausting especially when there is no guarantee that your permit will be granted. The process can make you feel like a suspect in a criminal investigation and you only have your paper information to get you off. It doesn’t matter whether you are a good person, do loads of charity work or are the greatest mum in the world, if you don’t have the correct paper work you can be stuck in limbo for years.

The main thing that helped me through the process (besides a wonderful husband) is being ‘informed’. I read everything I could about the process. I would call up the embassy to ask questions on what I couldn’t find answers to on the internet. I sort for definitions of language terms. I researched Norwegian immigration law and about my rights. I studied the application process and made sure I knew exactly what the authorities would do and what they needed from me. I even gathered extra documented information about myself just in case there was a ‘hiccup’. When I went to my interviews I felt very prepared and confident and I think the Norwegian authorities appreciated my openness and willingness to do whatever I could to ensure a smooth process.

As I feel that knowledge and information was key to a smooth application process, below I have provided some information from my own personal experience to be used as a general starting point for those who are looking into working and living in Norway. Please feel free to ask me any questions in the comments section so all can benefit from the answers. I hope you find the information useful and interesting.

How to get Work and Residency Permits for Norway

There are four main avenues of obtaining a permit to live and work in Norway: employment, family, study and asylum. This is a general guide. For more information please go to the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration www.udi.no. Below is a contents list for easier navigation:

Work Permits
General
For EU/EEA/EFTA citizens
Norwegian Language
Different Work Permits for Norway

Family Immigration Permits
Family Reunification
Defacto relationship
Fiancé Permit
Reunification Red Tape

Settlement Permit and Citizenship

Student Resident Permit

Asylum Seekers and Refugees
General
Ramifications of withholding information or giving misleading information
From Asylum Seeker to Refugee
Seeking Asylum from within Norway
Seeking Asylum outside of Norway

Visiting Norway – Visas

Work Permits

Norway has very low unemployment, high wages and very good work conditions. If you want to work in Norway you need to be highly skilled, have great education and be in a field that is in high demand (usually in the oil industry, universities, and health industries).

The process is simple enough. Once you find an employer to sponsor you, in your resident country fill in and send your work permit form to your Norwegian Foreign service mission. Then wait. Waiting times can vary (and the government is trying to speed up the process for employers) but expect at least three months from a western country and more from a non-western country.

One of the elements that the Norwegian authorities don’t seem to make clear is that to get a Work Permit you need an offer of employment. However, most employers will not offer employment unless you have a Work Permit. (Catch22) This is because a work permit takes a long time to process and, in general, you will not be able to enter Norway before it is approved. In fact, firstly you have had to live in your country of residence for at least six months before applying, you have to apply in your country of residence for a Norwegian Work Permit, and then stay there until your application is approved. This is generally a long wait for employers, who don’t have the time and money to wait for your permits to clear.

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For EU/EEA/EFTA citizens
In general, if you are a citizen of the European Union, European Economic Area or European Free Trade Association it is easier for you to travel and live in Norway. You can start working as soon as you arrive but after three months will need to apply for a permit. If you are looking for employment you can live in Norway for up to six months without a permit.

Certain countries (generally the Balkans) have extra rules to follow also. There are exceptions for foreign workers such as journalists, professional sports people, flight attendants, performers etc. Many workers come to Norway for a three month work season and then return to their home country.

Norwegian Language
Another factor working against you getting employment is language. In general, to get good work in Norway it is essential that you know the language. There are only a very small percentage of employers who take on people who don’t speak Norwegian (or Swedish/Danish). A lot of immigrants who have degrees and great work experience have to take on cleaning and babysitting jobs because they don’t know Norwegian. This can be frustrating as most Norwegians can speak English. But because of the pride in their language, Norwegians expect you to learn Norwegian if you want to live in Norway. Taking Norwegian language classes can give you brownie points for employment but not until you get the basic language certificate (which takes at least six months full time to complete) most employers will look over you.

When you have received a Work Permit you will most likely need to re-apply every year or when you change employer. You can also apply for your family to be with you in Norway while you are working. Note that there may be special conditions of employment in regards to a Work Permit – such as learning Norwegian or returning to your home country after termination. Also please see the section Family Reunification and Settlement and Citizenship for more information.

Different Work Permits for Norway:

Artist/Musician (or accompanying assistant)

Au pair – for young people to live with Norwegian families

Charity and humanitarian organisations

Ethnic cooks (under the rules for skilled workers/specialists – this does not include “ordinary” chefs)

Development of Norwegian trade

Diplomat (must be registered with the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign)

Foreign state companies and multinational companies

Group permit (for temporary work/project)

Guest worker (granted to foreign nationals for farm/garden work and live with farming family

Journalists/media staff

Market trader (for Russian citizens in the Barents region)

Missionary

Necessary co-worker for the performance of a contract (temporary)

Peace Corps participant

Researcher/scholarship holder/lecturer

Seamen

Seasonal worker (such as farm work)

Short term specialist

Skilled worker/specialist (work experience equivalent to a three year university degree)

Sole trading (granted to people who intend to start their own business)

Sportsperson/trainer

Student (part-time work – up to 20hours)

Temporary permit (special – only grated to those who are likely to find work) ly when the permit)

Trainee (vocational training)

Work experience after completing studies

Work on the continental shelf

Worker in the fish processing industry (for Russian nationals from the Barents region)

Working holiday (granted to persons from Australia or New Zealand – must be under 31 years)

Youth exchange

Family Immigration Permits

Family immigration is known as Family Reunification in Norway. To immigrate via Family Reunification you need to either: have a family member who is a Norwegian/Nordic citizen and you wish to join them in Norway, or your family member has a settlement permit in Norway (or a work/residency permit for more than three years) and you wish to join them. There are various differences between immigration with EU/EEA/EFTA permits and non- EU/EEA/EFTA permits. When a Family Reunification has been granted you receive both a resident and work permit. In general, family reunification only applies to immediate family members.

To apply:

You must apply from your country of residence (must have been living there for at least six months).

In general, YOU must apply and not your family member in Norway (unless, of course you under 18 – which required a lot more paper work from both parents).

Your family member in Norway needs to sponsor you – meaning they need to house you and provide for all your needs. Your sponsor needs an income of at least NOK200,000 (more for each family member applying). This does not mean you have to sponge off them – if the permit is granted, once you get to Norway you will be given a personal number and will be free to work.

You need to provide documentation of relationship – birth/marriage certificates. (If you are in a defacto relationship you need to have lived together outside Norway for at least two years prior to application – and be able to document it – both names on elect bills, rent bills etc.)

This process can take anywhere from six months to two years depending on which country you come from. Of course, with children the Norwegian authorities try to speed up the process but it is likely to still take at least three months.

Fiancé Permit
This is a special permit for people engaged to be married. A Fiancé Permit allows you to reside in Norway until you are married to your Norwegian citizen (you usually have to marry within three to six months). Once you are married you then apply for Family Reunification within Norway. However, the Norwegian authorities will hold onto your passport until they have finished your application for Family Reunification. Therefore you will not be able to leave the country until you receive your passport, which can take at least six to 12 months at the earliest.

Reunification Red Tape
There are a lot of issues that you need to face going through the Family Reunification process; you could face months or years away from your partner, you could have to pay large amounts of money, have a lawyer and after doing every thing right, crossing all the ‘T’s etc your application can still be rejected.

To stop forced marriages or marriages of ‘convenience’, especially if you or your partner is from a country that allows forced or even multiple marriages, the process includes intense interviews with you and your spouse along with a very long application process. They need to check your whole history in your home country. In later years they may even choose to come into your home and check your living (whether you are sleeping in the same bed, whether you know each other’s personal lives, etc) and also interview family and friends. I guess because I am married to a Norwegian citizen I have only been asked to get signatures of witnesses to verify that I am in a ‘regular’ marriage relationship with my spouse – so far. Immigration is a very serious business.

Some countries are reluctant to give up their citizens. The U.S.A is known to drag on the application process for months (even years) as they do not take lightly giving up their citizens. I have had a couple of friends from the U.S who have had their application to reside in Norway rejected because the U.S didn’t clear them. One particular friend had a ridiculous outcome. She had been married to a Norwegian citizen in the U.S. for 15 years and they had two children together. Her husband and youngest son were approved to stay in Norway but she and her oldest son (under 16) were rejected and were being forced to return to the U.S. They had to lawyer up, create a media frenzy and even sue in order to allow the whole family to stay together in Norway.

It is not an easy road for people who are applying for Family Reunification with a non-Norwegian citizen either. This process is more expensive, more time consuming and more intrusive. I have an English friend who is married to a Polynesian with a Settlement Permit for Norway. Even though they are in love and have done all the right things for a residency permit for my English friend, the government is taking their application process to new extremes and it is causing them a lot of frustration and inconvenience.

Settlement Permit and CitizenshipNorwegian_passport.jpg

After you have been granted a Family Reunification permit you have to reapply every year. After three years you can apply for a Settlement Permit, which allows you to reside in Norway indefinitely, and you will not need to reapply for permits. However, there are special requirements to obtaining a Settlement Permit such as documenting at least 300 hours of Norwegian language lessons.

After seven years of combined Residency and Settlement Permits you are ‘invited’ to become a Citizen. It is almost expected that you become a Citizen of Norway and is necessary to receiving all the rights and privileges of living in Norway. One of the privileges of becoming a Citizen is more job opportunities. As Norway is a social-democratic country a large portion of the job market is with the State. You cannot work for the State unless you are a Norwegian Citizen. People who have become Citizens prove their commitment to Norway and are highly valued.

However, in Norway you are unable to hold a dual Citizenship except under special circumstances (like your parents are from two different countries etc.) This means that if you want to become a Norwegian Citizen you will need to renounce your Citizenship to your home country first, usually via application, which tells your home country that you do not wish to be a Citizen anymore. This is very serious stuff. Some countries will consider you are traitor for doing this. (Also, your home country can reject your application because you have debt or have committed a crime, etc.) Then after you have successfully renounced your Citizenship from your home country, you then apply for Citizenship for Norway. I’ve always wondered – what happens if Norway rejects your application to be a Citizen?

Student Resident Permit

One of the great things about living in Norway is that education is free! This is because universities and colleges are owned by the State. There are some private institutions but they do not compare to the larger universities. All residents in Norway/Nordic Countries can apply for free tuition through the Norwegian university admissions service. However, even though tuition is free, living is not and so you need to make sure you either have enough money or enough scholarship to survive. If you are not a resident there are many different ways to study in Norway but only one way to receive a Student Resident Permit. As usual, it is a little easier if you are from the EU/EEA/EFTA, but here is a general guide for everyone:

To apply:

You must apply from your country of residence (must have been living there for at least six months) and the terms for application include you returning to your country of residence after your studies.

You must hand in your application in person to a Norwegian foreign mission service.

You need to provide which course, university etc plus a letter of acceptance from the Norwegian university

You need to document your finances to prove you can afford to live in Norway (this depends on where you will be studying) – bank account, scholarships etc.

You need to document housing for your period of stay.

There are a couple of choices in how to study:

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International Exchange – this is where you study for six to 12 months in Norway as part of your regular course from your country of residence. Your university will generally need an agreement with a particular university in Norway. Usually your university will do all the legwork for you too. You can also apply through exchange programmes set up by the university – as an example from UIT: programs such as ERASMUS, North2North, Nordplus, Nordlys, Barentsplus.

Full Degree Program – as far as I’m aware there are no degrees offered in English in Norway at major universities. You might get some at colleges such as drama etc. Even though some courses might have some subjects in English it is still a requirement that you know enough Norwegian to do a degree at any Norwegian university. (This is how they trick you – even though university is free to anyone, you need to speak, read and write Norwegian to have access.)

Free Mover/Self-financing – these are students who can get into any course they want (meaning you don’t need to go through the university admission process) however, you will then need to pay for your course. You can take up to two semesters of English subjects (or Norwegian subjects if you can document Norwegian language proficiency) as a Free Mover student. Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) says that students from outside EU/EEA must document that they have at least NOK 42 500 per semester (approximately US$ 8000 / 5500 Euro) before being allowed to study.

Masters/PhD – a lot of Masters courses are in English. You can either apply as a self-financing student or if you are a resident of Norway/Nordic country (even some EU/EEA) you can apply through the university admissions (which is free!) Of course, you can be on a scholarship, exchange etc as well.

See the Study in Norway website for more information.

Asylum Seekers and Refugees

This is always a hot topic in Norway. I am often amazed at how much Norwegians know about the government’s process with Asylum Seekers and Refugees, and especially of the ways applicants try to beat the system. The proper way to apply for Asylum is to provide as much information about yourself and your situation as possible so the Norwegian authorities can make a proper decision. However, it is very rare for Seekers to do this. They often arrive in Norway with no papers, claiming they don’t know where they came from. Seekers are also known to destroy their official documents once they have arrived in Norway thinking that it will help them to stay. They also do not give up any information about themselves, their family or where they are from. This certainly has ramifications down the line.

In order to gain asylum the Seeker needs to prove that in returning to their country of origin they would face great persecution based on religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Only when sufficient information has been given/obtained on the asylum case will the Norwegian authorities make an assessment as to whether the Asylum Seeker is entitled to receive residence on humanitarian grounds. If the Seeker does not provide the correct information they can expect to spend years ‘in the system’ and at Reception Centres (nicer words for Asylum camps).

The main ‘ramification’ of withholding information or giving misleading information to authorities is that Seekers always get found out. Nowadays, Norway uses a bunch of different methods to play detective:

Language analysis is used to access information about a Seekers place of origin and ethnic background. This is used particularly when a Seeker has no identity papers.

Age examinations are used when it seems the Seeker has not stated their correct age. This examination is used in questionable cases from Seekers trying to get the benefits of ‘unaccompanied minor’.

Country observation and information is another tool the Norwegian authorities use. Norway has many diplomatic and accredited agents in many countries that report or verify asylum cases. Norwegian authorities are acutely aware of actions and conditions in war torn countries around the world. This knowledge is vital in deciding whether a Seeker has a need for asylum.

Another problem down the line for Seekers who lie or withhold information is the denial of certain privileges:

Many countries will not allow these Seekers to enter and can get turned back or detained at airports. I had a Seeker friend from Pakistan who was refused entry into Russia – he was just going to visit his girl friend for three days and then return to Norway. He was stopped at the airport because he had an ‘immigrant’ passport – a special passport provided by the asylum-granting country because the Seeker has no identifying documents. My friend was detained for a day then sent back without any compensation.

These Seekers can also stop their chances for education. I worked with a Seeker from Sudan who won a full scholarship to an American university. Unfortunately the United States government wouldn’t approve his visa as he had an ‘immigrant’ passport. My colleague had to turn down his university offer.

Another issue with Seekers withholding information or lying is that they will need to tell the truth if they want to bring family members to Norway. For Family Reunification the country of origin must be known, as well as age, names and relationships. However, revealing different information than first provided can jeopardise a Seekers asylum/refugee status.

Mostly Seekers lie or withhold information because of fear or misunderstanding, but sometimes it is for more sinister reasons – like escaping persecution for war crimes committed. A new problem for these types of Asylum Seekers is that Norwegian law does not protect them from being tried and punished for their war crimes. Just recently the first case of an Asylum Seeker turned Citizen was held, tried and imprisoned for war crimes he committed in another country 20 years ago. Norway is the great humanitarian but it will not tolerate injustice.

From Asylum Seeker to Refugee
Not everyone tries to cheat the system. Most of the Asylum Seekers I know are just golden. They have good cause to be in Norway. In my Norwegian classes I get to meet many refugees – an Iraqi journalist who brought his family here to escape persecution and death threats, a Libyan mother who brought her sons here to save them from the militia, even an American who was being persecuted by his government for his political views! We often form a bond as we learn together how to live in a strange new country.

Seeking Asylum from within Norway
When seeking Asylum from within Norway the process can be very quick. If the applicant is truthful and upfront with authorities the process of turning from Asylum Seeker to Refugee will take between 48 hours to three weeks! During this waiting time applicants will need to make a personal declaration and be thoroughly interviewed. They will usually stay at a Reception Centre until the application has been processed. If the application is denied they will be sent back to their country of residence. If the application is accepted, their status will change to ‘Refugee’ and will be given a home in refugee housing somewhere in the country.

Seeking Asylum outside of Norway
Not every Asylum Seeker has money or papers to get to Norway to apply inland. However, there is a way through special application programs organised by the U.N. to apply for asylum in war torn countries. Many countries tell the U.N. how many Asylum Seekers they can accept each year. The U.N. organises application processes for Seekers. When an application is approved the Seeker (and their family) is shipped off to the next country on the list. Most Seekers would prefer to go to the UK or U.S.A, however, this process works on a ‘first come first served’ basis – if Norway is the next country on the list that is where you are going. I know some Seekers who have written other countries down on their forms as first preferences but ended up with Norway instead, however, I find they are still very happy. But really, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter what country a Seeker ends up in, does it? – just as long as they are safe and free.

Visiting Norway – Visas

Please note that as a general rule all foreign nationals require a visa to visit Norway. There are some exceptions but you need to confirm with proper authorities. Please visit Who needs a Visa from the UDI website for more details.

UPDATES:

As of 1 October 2009, EEA nationals no longer need to apply for residence permits in Norway. It is sufficient that they register on arrival.  http://www.udi.no/templates/Page.aspx?id=10948

As of 21 July 2008, Family Immigration – Increased income requirement. http://www.udi.no/templates/Page.aspx?id=9440

As of 1st January 2010, UDI has made changes to all immigration application requirements due to changes in Norwegian Immigration Law.  See the post UDI Immigration Changes for 2010

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