Irregular migration to Norway has increasingly become a subject of discussion among politicians and in the media, often in connection with individual cases involving persons who have stayed irregularly for a number of years. There are, however, great uncertainties with regard to the actual number of irregulars staying in Norway.
The latest figures are from 2006, where the Central Population estimated the number of irregulars to be somewhere between 10 000 to 30 000 persons, which is about 0,5 percent of the number of residents in Norway, in other words not very different from other EU/EEA Member States.
What has been the main policy against irregular migration? Generally speaking, there have not been extensive measures in the Norwegian legislative framework specifically directed towards reducing the number of irregulars, except from the measures that follows from the Schengen obligations (Returns Directive and VIS among others). In addition to one external land border crossing point in Finnmark, at the border with Russia, the external Schengen borders under Norwegian control are the sea and air borders. This means that there are few illegal extra-Schengen entries into Norway.
Recent reports states that most entries to Norway, legal and illegal, take place at the internal Schengen borders. There are reasons to believe that many of them are regular as they arrive, but become “overstayers” when their visa or permits expire. In addition, a relatively high number with ongoing (or rejected) asylum applications are leaving the reception centers each year, although many of these will later either get permission to stay or will return to the home country.
A large number of asylum seekers will become irregulars, either because they abscond during the asylum process, or because they do not return to the home country after their application has been finally rejected. In 2008 and 2009, Norway had one of the highest numbers of asylum arrivals in Europe. An active return policy combined with readmission agreements with third countries, is believed to have contributed to a decrease of arrivals in 2010 and 2011.
The most important pull factor for migration, regular and irregular, is the possibilities for work. There is generally a demand for labour in Norway, especially within IT and engineering, but also within activities that require less skilled workers, like building and construction and in the health sector. A liberal legislation of work-permits for third country nationals has not proven sufficient to meet the demand of labour. There is still a demand for labour within several key industries, especially in the export industry, and the need for a liberal work permit regime is still present. There have been several cases where work permits have been given on false grounds, in some cases without the knowledge of the migrant. The development is followed closely, especially with measures of inspections on work places and by penalties to employers who employ irregulars. Also, environments of organized criminal networks where asylum are being used as a way to do criminal activities are being followed closely.
There is little support of regularization of irregulars in Norway as a pathway out of irregularity. Instead, there are wide possibilities in the legal framework to legalize an irregular stay. Any new information that is put forward by the migrant will be considered by the immigration authorities at any stage of the irregular stay.