Without rights for months

The Norwegian Directorate of Immigration spends up to eight months processing the renewal of study permits. In the meantime, international students are unable to work or leave the country.

The Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) spends an extensive amount of time deciding whether students from countries outside the European Union (EU) should be permitted to continue studying in Norway. The estimated processing period was recently raised from two to eight months.

– I check UDI’s website frequently, and could not believe my eyes when I suddenly noticed the change. The implications for international students are very serious, says Isaiah Ouma Omolo from Kenya, who is currently taking a master’s degree in physics at UiO.

Unable to travel or work

Omolo has been a student at UiO for five years, and must renew his study permit every year. In practice, this can only be done three months before the previous permit expires. This means that he may be without a permit for up to five months, something that will greatly limit his freedom.

– The consequences are dramatic; it involves staying in Norway without a permit. Without this I cannot leave the country, I cannot visit my family in Kenya at Christmas or travel to conferences, Omolo says.

Equally worrying for Omolo is that he risks losing his part time job as a consequence of not having a permit.

Demands a resolution

Educational policy spokesman for Venstre (the Liberal Party of Norway), Odd Einar Dørum, reacts strongly to UDI’s new processing time.

– It sends out a terrible and incredibly negative message that will hinder all internationalization. There is no other reaction than that. It is precisely in this time of crisis that we must hold on to all types of exchange, «business as usual» is all the more important. This matter must be resolved, Dørum says.

Hanna Krange, area manager of the Residence Department at UDI, says that the processing period is adjusted according to an intricate system.

– Often the number online will be adjusted every other month, based on previous processing times. The police deal with many of the applications, but when there is doubt, it is sent to UDI, Krange says.

According to Krange, the police consider a large number of applications to be incomplete.

– Many cases end up with us, but I do not have an exact figure. There can be many reasons for this. For example, the application might lack a statement from the place of study, or the student may have changed their degree or something like that. It may well be that the application is filled out correctly, even though there is doubt. The doubt may be connected to whether the financial guarantee is fulfilled, Krange says, referring to UDI’s demand that the student must have a solid financial basis to be able to study in Norway.

– Unacceptable

International officer at the Student Parliament, Naomi Ichihara Røkkum, also reacts strongly to the recently increased processing time. She says that students already experience a large amount of insecurity in relation to this process, and that the situation will now be even worse.

– This is unacceptable. With a small amount of financial support in an expensive country, it goes without saying that international students are dependent upon the income from a part time job, Røkkum emphasizes.

– What is the alternative – sending them into the black market? she asks rhetorically.

She is also unimpressed with the way in which the police deal with these cases.

– The university helps the students to fill out these applications, but past experience shows us that the police make approximate decisions. If «in doubt» concerning subjects such as study points, they send the application to UDI, Røkkum says.

– Can work

Krange of UDI admits that eight months is a long time, but maintains that such a long processing period is an exception.

– Eight months is the maximum processing period, and the processing period varies greatly, dependent upon how many applications we receive, among other things. The average processing period is three and a half months, Krange says, and points out that it is the applicant’s responsibility to provide complete and correct information.

Krange does believe, however, that students who are waiting for a permit can work, but admits that the regulations are complicated.

– The general rule is that if they have applied a month before their previous study permit expires, they have the right to study and work until a decision has been made regarding their new application. If they apply any later than this, they do not have the same rights, and there are exceptions to this rule, Krange says.

– Can they travel in and out of the country?

– The students cannot enter the country without a valid permit, Krange says.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Inclusion did not want to comment on this case.