Tag Archives: Norway

Open borders in Scandinavia: a brief case study

Now here is an interesting account of migrant workers who live in overcrowded quarters and work for relatively magnificent wages doing menial work which natives don’t deign to do. The twist, of course, is that the migrants are Swedes working in Norway. It’s fascinating, and it illustrates, I think, to a large degree that the social problems presented by migrants will never go away completely.

After all, Sweden and Norway are both relatively rich countries with a shared culture and history. If ever there were two countries better suited for open borders, it’s hard to imagine, and so it is of course unsurprising that their borders are in fact open to each other. Yet none of this has made all the common stereotypes about migrant workers go away: Swedes are seen as living in filthy, overcrowded lodging, doing menial work and being uncouth, uncultured. Employers simultaneously prize them for their work ethic and willingness to accept lower wages than the natives.

All this of course overstates the tensions that exist between the two: clearly, Norway is not on the brink of social collapse because of a horde of unwashed Swedish masses. The natives and migrant workers may coexist uneasily, but I do not think anyone would suggest that Norway’s taking in Swedes has harmed Norway, or Sweden for that matter.

The lessons of this tale are many, and can really be marshalled to support any stance you like on open borders. What I would focus on is of course the optimism — that even if we can’t make inherent anti-foreign bias or mistrust of foreigners go away, there’s no reason to expect your society to break down just because you admit most any foreigner to work and live in your country. What a pessimist would focus on is how Norwegian issues with migrants might be magnified if Norway opened its borders to most anyone — since, after all, plenty of us around the world would be willing to take on Norwegian summer jobs that pay 30 or 40 US dollars an hour!

At the same time, one must be careful to nuance the picture: 13% of all Norwegian residents are already immigrants, with the top 3 source countries being Poland, Sweden, and Pakistan in that order. Poland and Pakistan are clearly no Sweden, and yet there is no evidence either that immigration is threatening Norway. The author of the Swedish migrant worker account asserts (without citation) that “Over the past ten years, Norway has taken in more foreign labor than any other European country.”

One might cite Norway’s immense mineral wealth as a factor in its resiliency to the harms of immigration here — it’s interesting to note that policies in natural resource-rich countries in general seem more accepting of migrants — think Canada, Australia, Malaysia, the UAE, and I suppose, Norway. But I am not sure if that is the whole story, as I can’t think of an obvious prima facie reason why mineral wealth, as opposed to wealth in other forms such as industrial or human capital, should substantially matter here. If we are talking about wealth redistribution to immigrants, that’s one thing — but a lot of these countries have limited if not zero redistributive policies for many if not most migrants. Good luck trying to take advantage of the UAE or Malaysian welfare states — and it’s not like Canada or Australia are giving away the farm to most people who come over either.

Overall, I think the Norwegian case supports revising upwards our prior probabilities of the potential success of open borders. At the very least, it supports that relatively uncontroversial (I hope) notion that more liberal immigration policies in some countries would be a good idea. It certainly does little, I think, for the common supposition that rich countries generally either don’t benefit much from immigration, or are actively and substantially harmed by immigration.

Who favors open borders?

The World Values Survey records quite a bit of information about public opinion related to immigration. I’d like to do in-depth analysis of it at some point. Here are a few things I’ve noted so far (no rich statistical analysis yet though):

  • Young people worldwide are more favorable to open borders, but the effect is very slight. There is no sign– yet– that generational change will tilt the world towards open borders.
  • Children of immigrants are somewhat more favorable to immigration.
  • There seems to be NO correlation worldwide between attitudes towards immigration policy and self-positioning on the left-right spectrum. (This surprised me.)
  • There seems to be no correlation between social class and attitudes towards immigration policy, unless it’s that the middle classes are a bit more favorable.
  • Correlations with life satisfaction are weak; however, the most strongly restrictionist attitudes seem to be more common among people leaning towards dissatisfaction with their lives.
  • People who trust foreigners “completely” are more favorable to a welcoming immigration policy (well, duh), yet 13% of those who don’t trust foreigners at all still say “let anyone come.”
  • People who don’t want immigrants as neighbors are more likely to favor strict limits on or prohibition of immigration (58%, to 42% of those who don’t mind immigrant neighbors) but some of these, too, favor “letting anyone come.”
  • No difference between men and women.

There are large differences across countries in attitudes towards immigration policy. Only 48 countries seem to be covered by the survey, but among those, two-thirds have public opinion more favorable to immigration than the United States, as measured by the share saying “let anyone come.” In particular, Mexican attitudes towards immigration policy are more liberal than Americans’. Some commenters at this site have suggested Asia as an example of a more restrictionist society that nativist Americans might desire to emulate. The WVS data suggest that this is true at the level of public opinion: Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Malaysia have some of the lowest shares of open borders supporters in the world, though in the terms of the number favoring “strict limits” or more, South Koreans are more liberal on immigration than Americans are.

What I find most interesting in the international data is that some developing countries have far more favorable attitudes towards immigration than any rich country. In Vietnam, Burkina Faso, Rwanda, and Ethiopia, nearly half the population favors letting anyone come. India has an unusually large number of open borders supporters as well, though it is also tied for highest in terms of the number of people supporting complete prohibition of immigration. Several countries in Eastern Europe and Latin America also seem to have more open borders supporters than any of the rich countries, except Sweden, which appears to be an outlier, with a far more pro-open borders populace of any rich country included in the survey.

Country Let anyone come As long as jobs available Strict limits Prohibit

1

Vietnam

49%

27%

22%

1%

2

Burkina Faso

43%

45%

10%

1%

3

Rwanda

41%

48%

8%

2%

4

Ethiopia

40%

28%

27%

5%

5

Mali

34%

46%

16%

4%

6

Morocco

28%

41%

20%

11%

7

Romania

23%

42%

23%

11%

8

Uruguay

23%

56%

17%

3%

9

Peru

23%

50%

21%

6%

10

India

23%

22%

25%

30%

11

Ukraine

21%

53%

19%

7%

12

China

20%

51%

21%

8%

13

Ghana

18%

39%

36%

6%

14

Sweden

18%

54%

27%

1%

15

Guatemala

17%

55%

21%

7%

16

Argentina

15%

45%

34%

6%

17

Serbia

14%

26%

46%

14%

18

Bulgaria

13%

55%

24%

8%

19

Moldova

13%

50%

26%

11%

20

Poland

12%

35%

46%

6%

21

Mexico

12%

45%

25%

17%

22

Zambia

11%

30%

44%

15%

23

Brazil

9%

47%

33%

11%

24

Georgia

9%

19%

56%

16%

25

Finland

9%

40%

48%

3%

26

Turkey

9%

43%

27%

21%

27

Italy

8%

49%

37%

6%

28

Canada

8%

51%

39%

2%

29

Spain

8%

48%

42%

3%

30

Slovenia

7%

56%

29%

8%

31

Germany

7%

43%

45%

5%

32

USA

7%

37%

49%

8%

33

Chile

6%

50%

35%

9%

34

Cyprus

6%

36%

51%

7%

35

S Africa

6%

16%

48%

30%

36

Switzerland

6%

67%

26%

1%

37

Indonesia

6%

15%

72%

8%

38

Andorra

5%

72%

22%

1%

39

Egypt

5%

25%

43%

26%

40

Thailand

5%

16%

65%

14%

41

Norway

4%

53%

42%

1%

42

Trinidad And Tobago

4%

32%

55%

10%

43

Australia

3%

54%

41%

2%

44

S Korea

3%

56%

36%

5%

45

Japan

3%

42%

50%

5%

46

Taiwan

3%

30%

58%

9%

47

Jordan

2%

28%

46%

25%

48

Malaysia

2%

8%

72%

18%

 

Another very interesting pattern emerged when I dug down into the data involving religion. When asked “How important is God in your life?” on a scale of 1 to 10, about half the respondents answered “10” and half answered something less.  I was distressed to discover that those for whom God was very important in their lives seemed to have less favorable attitudes towards immigration. But when I broke it down by religious demonination, I found something different. While Muslims who regard God as very important in their lives tend to be more restrictionist, Christians of each denomination are more likely to support open borders if they are strongly in touch with God, as shown in the table below (which includes all denominations for which there were over 500 observations in the WVS dataset):

 

How important is God in your life? (scale: 1-10)
Religious Denomination <10 10
Roman Catholic 9% 15%
Protestant 7% 15%
Evangelical 7% 11%
Orthodox 13% 19%
Church of Sweden 16% 19%
Muslim 19% 13%
Buddhist 7% 9%
Ancestor worship 44% 57%
Hindu 12% 15%

 

The percentage in each cell represents the share of respondents saying “Let anyone come.” Note that it is not the case that Christians are more supportive of open borders in general. Many factors affect support for open borders, and it seems that public opinion in rich countries is often less favorable to open borders. And of course most rich countries are nominally/historically Christian. So Muslims are actually more likely than most Christian denominations to favor open borders. But within each Christians denomination, there is a statistically significant (though fairly small) positive correlation between rating God’s importance in one’s life “10” and advocating “let anyone come.”

Continue reading “Who favors open borders?” »