Do Norwegians make “good immigrants”?

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Norwegian immigrants

Photo: Anders Beer Wilse / Norwegian Folk Museum
The first major emigration wave came when steam vessels were developed in the 1860s. Steam vessels shortened the travel time considerably and made crossing the Atlantic less deadly. In this picture, Norwegian emigrants are photographed aboard the steamship Hellig Olav (Olav the Holy) in 1904.

Viktoria Kontanse Dauer
New York

The immigration debate in the United States has reached a boiling point with the U.S. federal government having been shut down since Dec. 22. Donald Trump is threatening to keep it closed until Democrats agree to the funding he needs to build his wall along the country’s southern border. 

This whole thing reminds me of one remark President Trump made about one year ago. On Jan. 11, 2018, during a meeting regarding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA, a policy created to protect immigrants who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children) Trump mused that “The United States should admit more people from places like Norway,” rather than countries like Haiti.

As a Norwegian living in America, I don’t see my country in the news very often. Suddenly, Norway was the leading story of the day. Most of the news coverage portrayed the comment as more evidence of Trump’s thinly veiled racist views. Presumably, there was an element of that, but he could have just as easily referenced other predominantly white countries like Canada or Australia. If it was about wealth, Switzerland and Singapore could have been mentioned. Do certain countries inherently produce “better” immigrants?

An article in The Guardian asserted that “immigrants are weighed on a scale that buckets us into either the ultra-successful, overachieving good-doers, or the ‘bad hombres,’ job stealers and welfare loaders.” Trump seems to be taking that approach, placing Norwegians in a bucket at the high end of the scale. What was it about Norway that made Trump single it out?

The UN’s Human Development Index ranks countries by how well their inhabitants are living—not just by dollars and cents, but with regard to a variety of other factors. Norway, with its extraordinary welfare program, free education, universal health care, high gross national income, gender equality, voter participation, and good work-life balance has ranked No. 1 in 16 of the past 18 years. In addition, Norway has been ranked the happiest country in the world up until 2018. In comparison, the United States was ranked 18th (by the World Happiness Report).

So, could there be truth in Trump’s remark? Perhaps Norwegians are simply better, more productive citizens than those in most other countries, and the more Norwegians the United States can bring in, the stronger the country will become.

Raj Shah, Trump’s former Deputy Assistant, stated after the meeting last year that, “Trump is fighting for permanent solutions that will make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy, and assimilate into our great nation.” A “bad immigrant” must then be the opposite: someone who drains the economy by taking advantage of benefits and welfare programs.

Norwegians arguably are doing exactly that: they earn a lot, but they don’t work much. Since discovering vast oil reserves in 1960s, Norway has gone from a country of little global significance to one of the largest non-OPEC oil producers in the world, boasting a $1 trillion Sovereign Wealth Fund. While this has given Norway a reputation as a successful and prosperous nation, high taxes and a lot of benefits are discouraging people from working.

Over 60 percent of Norwegians work part-time. Spending more time in the mountains with their family has become an important part of the Norwegian identity. As one Norwegian told Reuters, “Maybe it’s luck, maybe we earned it, it doesn’t really matter. We have the money to live the Nordic life: go to the cabin, ski, bike, spend time with the children.” “Winning the lottery” has therefore come with some drawbacks; it is breeding a lazy generation.

This indulgent way of living has become ingrained in the Norwegian culture, creating a challenging situation because it is not sustainable. Norwegian labor is getting so expensive that many Norwegian companies are looking abroad for talent, or worse, moving their companies abroad. Salaries have gone up 63 percent since 2000 and unless the country increases its weekly workdays at least 10 percent, Norway will start burning though its oil money. Even though Norwegians are aware of this, they are resistant to change. Thus, Norwegians are arguably “bad immigrants” by the standard of Trump’s deputy assistant. Nevertheless, Trump seems to hold us in high esteem.

Defining a “good immigrant” by evaluating someone’s background or culture is a futile endeavor. Strong societies are built on strong communities, made up of citizens with equal opportunities who feel connected to one another and have a desire to contribute to the greater good. Trump’s America First policy, by withdrawing America from the world and building walls at the borders, will not preserve a strong America; it will create more desperation abroad, more illegal immigration, and feelings of alienation among those immigrants, breeding weak communities and a fractured society. American interests would be best served by engaging with the world, working with developing countries to improve living standards so that the immigrants who do come to America do so not simply to escape undesirable situations, but as a choice made with an eagerness to call a new place home.

Viktoria Konstanse Dauer is a Norwegian student at Columbia University in New York City.

The opinions expressed by opinion writers featured in “On the Edge” are not necessarily those of The Norwegian American, and our publication of those views is not an endorsement of them. Comments, suggestions, and complaints about the opinions expressed by the paper’s editorials should be directed to the editor.

This article originally appeared in the January 25, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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