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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Immigration and the Scandinavian Welfare State


Event Recap

Scandinavian countries are deeply committed to egalitarianism and offer some of the world’s most generous social welfare programs. But their recently burgeoning “new immigrant” populations present great challenges to national unity around these core principles. On April 10 Boisi Center visiting scholar Grete Brochmann, professor of sociology at the University of Oslo, discussed her research on the dilemmas of the contemporary Scandinavian welfare state.

Immigrants have made their way to Scandinavia for centuries, but in the 1970s Sweden, Denmark and Norway each instituted immigration reforms designed to stem the flow of workers then flooding domestic labor markets. As a result, most immigrants since that time have come to Scandinavian countries as refugees or asylum-seekers from non-European countries, or to be reunited with family members who were refugees. Approximately ninety percent of these new immigrants are unskilled.

Once admitted into the country, immigrants receive nearly identical welfare benefits as citizens. The core principle behind this policy is the belief that equal rights promote social integration.

The present challenge for Scandinavian societies, said Brochmann, involves balancing principles of equality and pluralism. Can Muslim immigrants from outside Europe integrate into Norwegian society without losing their distinctive identity? This has become an important political issue, but one that Brochmann believes can be addressed without abandoning the egalitarianism that in many ways defines Scandinavian culture.