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Speech at Integrating Immigrants into the Nordic Labour Market seminar

"We need to include more immigrants into the labor market. We must lean on research and facts in order to find the right policies to increase employment", State Secretary Brage Baklien (Progress Party) said in his speech today.

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First of all, thank you for the opportunity to open this conference.

Two important things characterize the Nordic Countries. And I am not talking about bad weather or winter sports. What I am thinking about is high living standards and high labor participation rates. These two things are connected. We need to maintain a high level of labor participation in order to remain competitive.

There are challenges ahead, both for public finances and for the overall economy. One of these challanges is demography. Norway is small country with 5,3 million people. Approximately one million are immigrants and their descendants. Large groups of immigrants have very low labor participation rates. This is not sustainable in the long run. One of our most important tasks in the coming decades is therefore to increase employment.

We need advice from academics on how to design policies that increase employment. And I think that the report you will present today is an important contribution. The Nordic Countries face similar challenges. We must learn from each other. Both from policies that work, and from policies that clearly doesn’t work.

Individual men and women, and their families, are the key building blocks of our society. Having a job, or running a business, is the most important means of integration. Our society depends on a healthy ratio between people who pay taxes, and people who depend on money paid by the tax-payers. We need to mobilize people who could have worked in order to reduce pressure on public finances.

The employment rate of immigrants is generally lower than employment among native Norwegians. There are, however, huge differences between different groups of immigrants. Immigrants from European and other Western countries tend to have high labor participation rates. Statistics also show that immigrants from East and South-East Asia tend to have high employment rates. Other groups, especially from Africa and the Middle-East, tend to have a low level of participation in the labor market.

Let me say a few words about the Norwegian economy. Our main exports are oil and seafood. Oil and gas accounts for 43 % of our total exports, 17 % of GDP, 19 % of the state's revenues, and 18 % of total investments. However, petroleum is not our most important resource. Our most important resource is actually the labor force. It is therefore important to succeed in integrating immigrants in order to maintain high employment.

We need to make sure that immigrants can access the labor market and that they do not fall back on welfare services. Research on earlier immigration to Norway shows that both goals represent challenges. Previous immigrants from Pakistan and Turkey, who arrived in the 70s, typically dropped out of the labour market after only 10-15 years. The flip side of this coin is an increased share of immigrants receiving disability benefits. Studies have shown the same pattern for refugees.

There are two important factors for increasing employment. A well-functioning labor market and an effective labor market policy. However, this is in itself often not enough when many immigrants does not have the necessary skills to compete. Immigrants from the Middle-East and Africa typically have lower education than the native population. 70 percent of refugees that came to Norway in 2015 and 2016 had no education at all, or only primary school education. It is therefore necessary to increase qualifications.

The government has launched an inclusion strategy to help more people into the labor force. The government has also presented an integration strategy last year. Important areas of the strategy include qualifications, education and work. Another thing that we are working on is to get better at teaching immigrants the Norwegian language. We will also strengthen primary school education for young immigrants and make sure that more children go to kindergartens.

So, to summarize: We need to include more immigrants into the labor market. We must lean on research and facts in order to find the right policies to increase employment. We already have a great number studies that have looked into measures to promote employment among migrants. However, I do not think that we have previously had a systematic review like the one presented today.

It is therefore a great pleasure to open this conference. And I hope and think that it will increase our knowledge on how integration policies should be designed.         

Thank you for your attention.  

 

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