Andreu’s blog

My experience as an immigrant in Norway

I recently read an interview with Leah Boustan on Noahpinion. Leah Boustan is an economist who has studied immigration in the US. She talked about her findings with Noah Smith. I found interesting how many of her findings, which describe how the average immigrant fares in the US, actually apply to my experience in Norway.

A statistic first. Immigrants make 14% of US population although people think they are more numerous. In Norway, we are 15.1% of the population, but I get the impression that people think we are more as well.

How do immigrants fit in culturally? She used three proxy measures, in addition to their command of English. They are: how immigrants marry, where they live (enclave neighborhood versus integrated area) and the names they give to their children. I do speak Norwegian and I use it daily in my work, so check on language command. I was already married when I moved to Norway, so this question does not apply to me. I live in a boring normal Norwegian suburb, so check on that one too. Finally, with kids names, they where born in Spain, before we moved, but by sheer chance, they have names that are also pretty common in Norway and not foreign-sounding at all.

Immigrants tend to do well economically, and the single most important factor that explains it is geography. Immigrants tend to settle in dynamic cities that provide opportunities. I can attest to that. When I first moved to Norway, I had a job contract in a small city in the south of Norway. The southern part of Norway is a backwater. My wife tried for years to get a stable job there without success. When she decided to start looking in the Oslo area, which is growing and has a permanent shortage of qualified professionals, she found a job within a week. We moved and I was able to get a better job as well. In a little more than a couple of years, we doubled our salaries. Our income, even adjusted for the higher cost of living in Norway, was higher than it had ever been in Spain when both of us where employed.

Educational differences also matter in economic outcomes when studying children of immigrants. Many immigrants have degrees or other education that they cannot use in their new country, but they can pass along educational advantages to their children who subsequently do well. Both my wife and I were fortunate in that we can work in our chosen profession.

Immigrants to the US in the past tended to be from poorer families, while nowadays they are mostly from wealthier backgrounds or have more education. I fit the contemporary immigrant profile, being from a middle class family and having higher education.

When talking about policy priorities, she highlights the need for the US to provide paths to citizenship for its immigrant population. Fortunately this seems less of a problem in Norway. For my specific situation, I have already been able to apply to become a citizen.

The second policy that she recommends is allowing for more skilled immigration. As far as I understand, Norway does not have quotas for skilled immigrants. It distinguishes between EU citizens, which can work freely in Norway and other nationals, who must obtain a visa. If I understand correctly work visas are quite easy to obtain for qualified professionals with a job offer, although it would probably be advantageous to open more for skilled immigrants. In my case, I could work freely in Norway being a Spanish citizen, but the reason I got a job offer to move there in the first place was because there was a job opening that my employer was not able to fill with local job-seekers.

In her research Leah Boustan finds that immigrants do well and contribute to the US economy and US society. Immigration is by and large a non-problem. I feel the same way about immigration in Norway.

Last updated: 2022-07-28