On a sunny Friday afternoon, angry voices of international students filled Oslo’s Eidsvoll square, hoping to be heard by the decision makers of Norway right across the street. «Visa fees down!» they chanted. As most international students in Norway will apply for visa renewals in the coming months, the matter is urgent for everyone affected.
An increase of 65 percent in a year
Last December, the government passed the budget for 2018 which included some rampant increases in visa application fees for citizens outside the European Economic Area (EEA). All international students outside the EEA, both new and existing, are now required to pay 5,300 NOK for their visa applications, as compared to 3,200 NOK in 2017.
«In what world does anything get inflated by 65 percent in a year? This is a slap in the face to us, the international students, who are already struggling financially in Norway,» Sam Davis, a New Zealand student from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, shouted in front of the crowd through a megaphone.
«The fact that they have given no explanation indicates that there is no justifiable explanation for the hike,» he told Inter Universitas.
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Eric Kimathi, President of ISU Norway
Free education for whom?
Eric Kimathi, president of International Students’ Union in Norway (ISU), emphasised that the increase will effectively exclude many talented students from studying in Norway. In many countries, 5,300 NOK is a significant sum, which often only students from privileged families can afford.
«5,300 NOK can be someone’s two months salary in Kenya. It’s an incredibly high amount of money,» he said.
«The visa fee in Norway can hold a family of 8 members for a month in Morocco. To compare, the student visa fee in France is about 600 NOK,» Amine Fquihi, political affairs officer at ISU, explained. The student visa fee in Norway is excessively high even compared to other European countries.
«I think the government wants to stop international students coming from poor countries like in Africa and Asia. They will have students from wealthy families, but not the smartest students,» he added.
Julie Kristine Wood, political vice-chairperson in SAIH
Not just about international students
Other student organisations such as National Union of Students in Norway (NSO), Norwegian Students' and Academics' International Assistance Fund (SAIH), and youth organisation of the Norwegian Civil Service Union (NTL UNG) also joined the demonstration to show their support for international students on the issue.
«Norwegian students gain international perspectives by interacting with international students. It’s a problem if it’s only the richest of the international students that we gain our perspectives from. Then we start to believe the world is different than it is,» Julie Kristine Wood, political vice-chairperson in SAIH, explained in an interview after her speech at the protest.
Nina Sandberg, Labour party MP, was also present at the demonstration to support the international students in their fight for lower visa application fee.
«We have a common goal in lowering thresholds for education. I’m going to ask the Minister of Higher Education questions before the revised national budget. One about the increase in visa fees. Second about the need of the annual deposit,» she promised the audience.