Posted on January 31, 2006

Government Split on Job Quotas for Immigrants

Aftenposten (Oslo), Jan. 30, 2006

Once again, the three parties making up Norway’s coalition government appear to have sharply different views on an important issue, this time whether employers should be subject to mandatory quotas to spur the hiring of immigrants.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg from the Labour Party has already said he’s against the use of quotas, in the hopes of finding another way to better integrate immigrants into the workforce.

The Socialist Left (SV) party, however, favours imposing quotas, believing it to be the only way to ensure the immigrants get a fair chance in the job market in Norway. The Center Party is positive towards drafting an attempt at quotas.

Many immigrants are also split on the issue, but some are convinced that quotas are necessary in a country that continues to suffer a fair dose of so-called “fear of foreigners.” Among them is Nguyen Phuong Ngoc, age 55, who arrived in Norway from Vietnam in 1975 with little more than a plastic bag containing a pair of trousers and a shirt.

He went straight to work, starting out as a garbage collector, then a warehouse worker and then as cleaning help. He had studied social anthropology in Vietnam and knew he wanted a higher education.

First he studied Norwegian several hours a day, and even went to sleep with Norwegian tapes playing in the background “so I could keep learning in my sleep,” he told newspaper Aftenposten. He started at the bottom, in a Norwegian high school, then going on to study engineering and medicine at the university level. He graduated with the highest marks, but then hit the tough reality of trying to find a job in Norway when you’re not a Norwegian.

“I must have applied for at least 50 jobs as a doctor, without getting any response at all,” he said. “I had to take small jobs here and there for many years to get the references I needed to prove I was a proper doctor and not a dangerous foreigner.”

That’s why he has little doubt that quotas are needed to give other foreigners a chance. “Foreigners have a difficult time getting a job in Norway, even when they’re better qualified than Norwegians,” Nguyen claimed. “If there are several qualified applicants for a job, the foreigner should get preference.”

Nguyen now also lectures at the University of Oslo, is active in the Oslo medical association Legeforeningen, and works with the Catholic church, refugee aid and the Red Cross. He notes that foreigners also have an obligation to integrate into Norwegian society.

“Immigrants who isolate themselves, distance themselves from Norwegians, and create big problems for themselves,” he said.