Even the most vocal anti-immigration communities in Norway have struggled hard to find resonance for their arguments in recent years. The recognition that our own welfare depends on mobility across borders has gradually trumped the vulgar fear for loss of jobs as a result of immigration.
We depend on immigration
In Northern Norway, which has only ten percent of the country’s population, both business and health services have understood since long how very dependent we are on work immigration. Norwegian is hardly spoken on the biggest construction sites. According to OECD, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 40 percent of Norwegian health care workers have immigrant background.
The situation is the same in Finland and Sweden.
We have simply made ourselves dependent on work immigrants in order to keep the wheels of society rolling.
Strong anti-immigration rhetoric does therefore not possess the same voter magnetism as it did years ago.
40 percent of health care workers are immigrants
With a hint of exaggeration, one could say that the debate has been reduced to a question of how many quota refugees Norway should receive, an area in which the difference between our various political parties is minimal.
And the debate about integration has entered a more low-fi trac as integration increases in keep with increased employment among immigrants.
Trump, the extremist
This does mean that the problem is solved. Far-out political groups still feed their hate towards immigrants, in particular on extremists like Donald Trump and his allies. A recent poll by Pew Research Center demonstrates that Trump’s position among Europeans is on an all-time low, except for among the most far-right parties, such as SD in Sweden, Vox in Spain, and Forza Italia.
The OECD now fears that the much needed work immigration across borders shall come to a complete halt due to the pandemic.
That is, first of all, an expected consequence of closed borders in order to limit infection. Other than in Sweden, which – in this area too – has chosen its own path, immigration has come to more or less a full stop in the richest countries.
A fight against stigmatization and social injustice
Hitting immigrants hard
At the same time, those who arrived in Europe the last are the first ones to be shut out or transfer to unemployment when national economies shrink as a consequence of the pandemic. Unemployment, in Norway too, is far higher among immigrants than the rest of the population.
Stigmatization increases too, because an impression is created of immigrants being a cause of infection in and of themselves.
The survey also shows that children of immigrants are hit the hardest when schools shut down and teaching goes digital.
As if that were not enough, immigrants are hit harder by the pandemic. This has very much to do with the fact that many of them work at the front line of health services, many of them live in poor housing and it has taken time for the authorities to reach these groups with its infection control message.
The northern areas of Europe are both economically and socially dependent on work immigrants.
The fight against Corona is thus not just a fight against spreading infection. It is also a fight against stigmatization and social injustice.
This commentary was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.c