Today, I attended a hearing about family migration policies in The Home Office Committe of the UK Parliament. I was thinking that the information I prepared might be relevant also for others than the members of the House of Lords.
Population and Migration Inflows
The Norwegian population counts approximately 5.5 million people, out of which 15.1 % are migrants and 3.8 % are descendants of migrants. In 2021, the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) approved approximately 10,000 new residence permits for family migrants. From 1990 to 2018, family migration was the main channel of legal migration to Norway and constituted 36 % of the migration inflows.
Who Counts as Family?
Spouses, cohabitants, children under the age of 18; and parents who have custody for a Norwegian child under the age of 18 – or a child recognised as a refugee – have the right to family migration. Elderly parents are only granted residence permit under exceptional circumstances.
Family Reunification vs Family Formation
In Norwegian legislation, a distinction is made between family reunification and family formation. The first regulates situations where pre-established families are reunited, whereas the second regulates the establishment of new families. Some requirements only apply for family formation. For example, refugees and persons with a residence permit on humanitarian grounds are required to have lived and worked, or been in education in Norway, for four years before qualifying for family formation.
Married and Unmarried Partners
The sponsor and the applicant must be a) legally married, b) document that they have cohabited for minimum 2 years, 3) have/expect children or 4) engaged and plan to get married within 6 months (fiancé visa). It is required that the spouses/partners live together. Moreover, the application may be rejected if securing a residence permit is regarded as the primary purpose of the relationship. For family reunification, the spouses must be over the age of 18. For family formation, however, both parties must be 24 years or older. Exceptions are made when it is proved beyond doubt that the marriage is voluntary. Same-sex couples have the same legal right to family migration as heterosexual couples. In practice, however, many same-sex couples find it impossible to comply with the requirements for a legal marriage or officially documented cohabitation.
Income Requirement for Family Migration
From 1988, Norwegian immigration legislation has contained an income requirement for family migration. Since 2003, it has successively been expanded to cover almost all sponsors, including Norwegian citizens. Refugees are, however, exempted when reuniting with existing family, as long as the application is submitted within the first six months. The requirement is currently approximately 24,800 £ (287,278 NOK) – which the sponsor must demonstrate to be earning both in the year of application and in the preceding year. The regulations also specify that those who have received means tested welfare benefits the preceding year are disqualified regardless of their income. The amount is calculated based on the «G» base amount in the social welfare system and is indexed yearly.
The two main arguments brought forward for the income requirement was 1) to prevent forced marriages and 2) to prevent family migrants from becoming a burden on the welfare state. There has been some controversy regarding the possible discriminatory effects of the income requirement, since decision-making statistics have revealed that rejection rates are higher for applications with a sponsor who is female, of minority background, or both.
The UDI has commissioned a study of the effects of the income requirement for family migration. The results showed that the income requirement has not caused increased labour market participation at the individual level, but that both applications for family migration and actual family migration dropped significantly. Thus, the requirement primarily functions to reduce family migration inflows and not to strengthen labour market integration on the individual level.
The application fee for spouses is about 900 £ (10,500 NOK). Spouses of refugees pay a slightly reduced fee amounting to 670 £ (7,800 NOK). An application for permit renewal incurs a fee of 224 £ (2,600 NOK). Application fees have increased substantially over the past years, and most notable with regard to family migration permits. For spouses, the fee has increased twelvefold in 18 years. There are no application fees for children under 18 or for spouses who apply for a permit after leaving a violent relationship.
Marriage Migrants Subject to Domestic Violence
Marriage migrants are subject to a three or five-year waiting period (five years apply to spouses of refugees and persons with humanitarian status), an income requirement and a requirement for passing language and social studies tests before they can achieve a permanent residence permit. During the waiting period, marriage migrants will lose their residence permit if the couple divorces. There is a concession for partners subject to domestic violence, who have the right to an independent residence permit if they leave their partner. Over the course of the years, NGOs have argued that the barriers for receiving such a permit is too high and that the legal dependency of marriage migrants makes them vulnerable to domestic violence.
Income Requirement for Permanent Residence Permits
In 2016, an income requirement for permanent residence was introduced. This was an entirely new proposal that had never been expounded or debated earlier. The requirement is currently approximately 24,000 £ (279.000 NOK) and is applicable to all migrants, including refugees and family migrants. Existing statistics shows that there is a large employment gap between different sub-groups of migrants. While labour migrants obtain the required income level after 3-5 years of settlement in Norway, it takes 6-9 years for family migrants to obtain the required income level, and the median income level for refugees in 2014 was below the income requirement even after 10 years of residence. The ongoing research project REMIMO investigates the effects of the income requirement for permanent residence.
Long term trend
The overall trend in Norwegian family migration regulations is that they have become more restrictive over the past 15 years. Existing evidence indicates that the restrictive measures primarily reduce inflows rather than the stated aim of promoting integration.
 Staver, A. and H. Eggebø (forthcoming) “Everything but the marriage certificate: Unmarried partners in Norwegian immigration regulation”, Social Politics.
 Eggebø, H. and A. Staver (2021). ”Follow the money: Income requirements in Norwegian Immigration Regulations”, in Money Matters in Migration. T. de Lange, A. Schrauwen and W. Maas.
 Eggebø, H. (2010). “The Problem of Dependency: Immigration, Gender, and the Welfare State.” Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State & Society 17(3): 295-322.
 Eggebø, H. (2013). The regulation of marriage migration to Norway. The Faculty of Social Sciences. Bergen, University of Bergen.
 Bratsberg, B and O. Raaum (2021). Underholdskrav, familieinnvandring og integrering. Oslo: Frischsenteret.
 Staver, A. and H. Eggebø (work in progress) ”Immigration and Integration Requirements”. Research Note conducted for the project REMIMO.
 Eggebø, H. and A. Staver (2021) ibid.
 Omholdt, E. L. and F. Strøm (2014) Lavere inntekt blant innvandrere. https://www.ssb.no/inntekt-og-forbruk/artikler-og-publikasjoner/lavere-inntekt-blant-innvandrere
 Eggebø, H. and J.-P. Brekke (2018). Family migration and integration: a literature review. Bodø, Nordland Research Institute. Report 4/2018. https://nforsk.brage.unit.no/nforsk-xmlui/handle/11250/2727362