Legal with limitations (2012)
Download the entire report (in Norwegian)
[The following summary in English has been reproduced from the report.]
For all those who today are granted residence in Norway on humanitarian grounds, the right to family reunification and the possibility of a permanent residence permit relates to whether a passport or other travel documentation is submitted to the immigration authorities. In cases where no passport is submitted, a residence permit will be granted, but with certain limitations until the passport is presented. Such limitations include not having access to Norwegian language classes and having to remain in the asylum reception center until he or she can provide a valid passport. The basic idea behind the permits is to create an incentive structure that leads more immigrants to document their identity. This is part of the authorities’ efforts to increase the number of asylum applicants that document their identity.
In the three years since limited residence permits were introduced (15 June 2009 to 31 March 2012) they have been granted to 873 persons, of which 42 percent are children. Among those who have been granted a second residence permit, 33 percent have been changed into a residence permit without restrictions. Thus, the measure has worked as intended—as an incentive to present a passport—for about a third of the people who were given the permit. The measure has thus prompted a number of people to put an extra effort into obtaining passports. But the figures also show that the majority who received the permit have not been able to document their identity within the deadline given. Most of them therefore remain in reception centers with limited rights despite the fact that they have legal residence in Norway.
One of the research questions guiding this report is how to explain the fact that such limitations serve as an incentive for only one-third of people who have been granted these permits. This study finds the answer to this question to be complex, but some general lines can be drawn. Four main categories stand out: lack of information, practical barriers, economic barriers and fear.
First, the procedures for information and follow-up of applicants who are granted this type of residence is characterized by a lack of information. Information and follow up is reduced to the individual responsibility of the applicant. The lack of clear and uniform information creates huge gaps when it comes to grasping the permit and its requirements. This affects applicants’ ability to make informed decisions and deal with the immigration authorities in a timely manner. Individualization of the responsibility to provide proper and sufficient information is in sharp contrast to the government’s work with other objectives in the asylum sector, such as voluntary return.
Practical challenges relate in part to the country-specific procedures for obtaining passports. Some countries have extensive and complicated processes for issuing passports, which complicates the documentation of identity for people from several countries. The study also shows that immigration authorities grant limited residence permits to people they know have no possibility of documenting their identity, which challenges the very rationale behind issuing these permits.
Financial obstacles related to the travel costs, fees and other necessary expenses related to passport provision are high. This makes it difficult for a family living on the basic payments in an asylum reception center to feed and dress their children as passport-related expenses are not reimbursed. As a result, people who go through the process of obtaining the necessary documentation are often forced into debt or poverty.
A final obstacle is the fear of what consequences registering at the embassy will have on the family still living in the country of origin, which this study finds to be a frequent concern among those who choose not to seek a passport or other travel documents.
In this permit scheme, settlement and integration are used consciously as an incentive to increase the number of those documenting their identity. This type of restriction delays and hinders the integration of the persons concerned. To exclude legal residents from integration initiatives and extend their stay in asylum reception centers has consequences for these peoples’ lives. The situation for many families is characterized by passive parents with no language skills and children who speak Norwegian well and are integrated in Norwegian kindergartens and schools. This situation is hard on most people who live with limited residence permits, and many struggle with mental health issues.
This report points to several challenges related to limited residence permits and argues that the basic idea of the measure as an incentive scheme has failed. The report concludes that people with limited residence permits should be granted access to Norwegian language courses, that information and follow-up of the permits must be improved, that expenses related to the passport provision should be reimbursed, that certain permits should be reconsidered and that, as a general rule, limited residence permits should not be granted in cases where there is no possibility for the applicant to provide the requested documentation.
Research report by: The Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research