Jews, Kvens/Norwegian Finns, Roma, Romani people/Tater and Forest Finns are considered to be national minorities in Norway. National minorities are defined as groups with a long-term connection to the country.
Norway ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in 1993 and the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in 1999. The authorities wish to maintain a close dialogue with the organisations that represent the different national minorities in order to ensure that their views are heard. The Inter-ministerial Coordinating Committee for National Minorities and the Contact Forum between the National Minorities and the Central Authorities have been established for the purpose of promoting greater awareness of the status of national minorities in society and the activities of national minorities in civil society.
A grant for national minorities is provided each year from the central government budget. The aim of the grant scheme is to support activities that promote active participation in society, ensure equal opportunities for all and combat discrimination. The grant scheme is intended to help to ensure that the principles enshrined in the European Framework Convention are implemented in practice.
Applications may be submitted for basic support for the operating costs of organisations based on a national minority or funding for projects aimed at disseminating information on the situation of national minorities, self-help activities and transfrontier cooperation. Organisations, municipalities, counties and others who are engaged in activities related to national minorities may also apply for project funding from this grant scheme.
In order to promote active participation in society and prevent discrimination, there is a special focus on education, both for adults and children. In addition, efforts are made to promote reconciliation and confidence-building between the Norwegian authorities and the national minorities. Several of the national minorities have experienced a difficult past involving assimilation policies and measures. As part of the reconciliation process there has been a need to address these issues and establish a shared understanding of past injustices.
Fourteen per cent of Norway’s population has an immigrant background (2012 figures), defined as persons with two parents born abroad, of which 593 300 are immigrants (12%), and 117 100 (2%) are born in Norway to immigrant parents. The Government white paper, En helhetlig integreringspolitikk – mangfold og fellesskap (A comprehensive integration policy – diversity and community), presented on 26 October 2012, deals with the opportunities and challenges related to the position as a country and a society with immigration. Although there are large variations between groups and individuals, statistics show that living conditions among the immigrant population as a whole are poorer than among the general population. The most important goal for the Government’s integration policy is to ensure that all people who live in Norway are able to utilise their resources and participate in the community. In August 2013 a comprehensive action plan to improve the use of immigrants´ resources and skills in the labour market was presented. All inhabitants in Norway have rights and obligations and should have the opportunity to participate in and contribute to working and social life. Everyone should contribute according to his or her abilities. No person should be discriminated against or excluded because he or she has an immigrant background. All public authorities have a responsibility to help to meet the goals of the integration policy. The Action Plan for Integration and Social Inclusion of the Immigrant Population (2007–2010) has been successfully implemented, and the majority of the measures are now part of the regular policy. In order to strengthen coordination and interaction between responsible ministries, the Goals for Social Inclusion of the Immigrant Population scheme is under revision.
Newly arrived immigrants are in a vulnerable position in the labour market. According to the Introduction Act, the municipalities have been required since 1 September 2004 to offer such immigrants an introductory programme. The programme is intended for persons who have been granted asylum or a residence permit on humanitarian grounds or collective protection under conditions of mass outflow, and persons who have been given a residence or work permit as family members of these persons. The aim of the programme is to give newly-arrived immigrants the opportunity to participate in working and social life and to increase their financial independence. The introductory programme may last for up to two years on a full-time basis, and provides basic Norwegian language skills, basic insight into Norwegian society and preparation for participation in working life and/or education, as a minimum. Everyone who participates in an introductory programme is to have an individually tailored plan and is entitled to an introduction benefit, equal to twice the basic amount under the National Insurance Scheme.
The Introduction Act also regulates the right and obligation to participate in 600 hours of Norwegian language training and a social studies programme free of charge. Migrant workers and their families are also required to take part in a 300-hour instruction programme, but this is not free of charge. People holding an EEA-EFTA work/residence permit are not obliged to take a language course. The programme consists of 550 hours of language training and 50 hours of social studies in a language the immigrant understands. The municipalities are required to arrange for further language instruction, up to a maximum of 2 400 hours, if the person concerned needs it. This applies to persons who have a right to take part in language courses free of charge. The right to take part in the programme applies for three years from the date the work/residence permit is granted or from the date of arrival in Norway. The municipality’s obligation to provide further instruction applies for five years from the date on which the right or obligation to participate in the programme took effect. After 1 September 2013, participants with a right and an obligation to take part in language training are also required to finish their training with a mandatory test. In order to obtain a settlement permit and Norwegian nationality, immigrants must complete their obligation to take part Norwegian language training.
Some immigrants have lived in Norway for several years without a permanent attachment to the labour market and are dependent on social security. These individuals are also in a vulnerable position. In 2005 the Government started a project called Second Chance, which is a qualifying programme aimed at immigrants who do not have a secure foothold in the labour market, are recipients of social security benefits and have lived in Norway for several years. The objective is to ensure permanent attachment to the labour market for the participants. The project is intended to test the model of the introduction programme on a new group. The project was in operation from 2005 to 2012. Based on this project, the Government introduced the Job-change programme in 2013, where the goal is to increase the employment rate for immigrants without a connection to working life. The main target group is women who are staying at home. NOK 57 million has been allocated to nearly 50 municipalities in 2013.
Norway has implemented several measures to ensure access to higher education for all. These measures include a comprehensive system for student financial support, subsidised student housing schemes and several other welfare benefits. Public higher education is also without tuition fees. Private higher education institutions receiving public funding are not allowed to pay dividends to their owners or in any other way extract funds from the institution.
However, the right to education does confer the right to enrol in any programme the applicant wishes. All qualified applicants are ranked according to their merits from upper secondary education or the equivalent. Certain rules and regulations are in place for ranking applicants with a foreign educational background.
The aim of the Norwegian student financial support scheme is to reduce economic inequalities between students and thus provide equal access to education, independent of gender, origin, age, disability and social and financial barriers.
Student financial support may be granted to immigrants or foreign citizens who meet certain criteria defining ties to Norway. As a general rule, immigrants are eligible for student support if they have legal residence in Norway and if the studies do not comprise the legal basis for residence. For instance, immigrants who have been granted protection (asylum) or who have been granted a residence permit in connection with a family reunion with a Norwegian or a foreign citizen are entitled to student support on the same footing as Norwegian citizens. Citizens of EEA or EFTA countries with permanent residence in Norway and/or with status as an employee in Norway are also eligible.
Foreign citizens who meet the criteria for eligibility receive the same support for maintenance, travel and tuition as Norwegian students. Norwegian student support includes additional grant schemes for provision of children and for sickness. There is also a special grant scheme for pupils in upper secondary education who have been granted protection (asylum) in Norway.
The Norwegian Government offers a special support scheme (Quota scheme) to a limited number of students from developing countries and certain countries in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The objective of the scheme is to provide relevant education in Norway that will benefit the students’ home countries when the students return.