A total number of 31 145 persons applied for asylum in Norway in 2015, representing a huge increase from the 11 000 who applied for asylum in 2014. This development follows a decade that has witnessed the largest growth of immigrants in modern times. As of January 1, 2015, the number of immigrants living in Norway totaled 669 378. People seeking employment opportunities comprised the largest group driving the growth of immigrants during the decade but immigration for the purpose of family reunion was also an important factor. Refugee immigration has us until recently remained more stable. Asylum seekrs who obtain refugee status have a low return rate and several refugee groups grow over time. Refugees and family reunion immigrants experience – not surprisingly - more difficulties gaining access to employment.
Research on efforts to integrate refugees has been in focus at Fafo since the mid- 1990s. We have followed the introduction scheme from its inception as a trial project over into its implementation as official policy. In addition, we have carried out evaluations of the policy.
Our research interests are centered on the feasibility and effectivity of different plans, as well as client participation and client experiences. We have also examined the ethical implications of the use of obligatory schemes of qualification and economic sanctions regarding a group that has few alternative sources of sustenance.
We have also completed a number of projects connected to NAV’s (Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration) role in integration efforts, both as partner in the introduction project and as an independent actor for whom immigrants are a steadily more important client group. In the present situation, knowledge about how to easen the influx of refugees into the labour market is more important than ever.
Universalism and equality of services are important principles for the Norwegian welfare state. A substantial part of research on the welfare state’s services for immigrants, therefore, revolves around the ordinary range of services that is offered to the population at large. While we already have mentioned NAV, all other service areas employ ‘mainstreaming’ as an underlying principle: services should be appropriate to both immigrants and citizens such that both groups receive an equal service provision. Equality is however not a simple concept which can easily be implemented, and our research points out that realization of political goals is often difficult for first line service providers.
‘Mainstreaming’ implies that the area of research on integration branches out into the whole area of research on social services. This area of research has been an important theme in Fafo’s research on day care, child protection and education.