The Cool Embrace: Recent Migration Trends into the Nordic Region

In recent years, migration flows into the Nordic countries have been at historically high levels, with many of the recent arrivals coming as refugees or asylum seekers. This has challenged the well-established integration programs that the countries have in place.

Immigration into the Nordic countries reaches historical highs
Over the twenty-six year period from 1990 to 2016, the population of the Nordic countries has grown by 15 percent from a combination of both natural increase (more births than deaths) and positive net immigration (more immigrants than emigrants). Over this period, net immigration has accounted for about two-thirds of total population increase and natural increase one-third. Since 2007, net migration has increased considerably in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark and has become the major source of population increase, far exceeding that of natural increase. Thus, since 2007 in the four Nordic countries making up the bulk of the population, adding new people through immigration has been the primary source of population increase thus contributing to increasingly diverse populations. Unlike the other Nordic countries, Iceland has vacillated between being a country of net emigration and net immigration since 1960. From 1960-1996, there was a net emigration of 9,000 persons. During the boom years of 1997-2008, there was a huge net inflow of 20,000 followed by a net outflow of 6,000 during 2009-2014 following the banking crisis. In the early 1990s, the volume of new people coming to the country only amounted to just over 1 percent of the total population. This small inflow had minimal impact on the economy and society. At the peak of immigration in 2007, this inflow represented over 4 percent of the Icelandic population.

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The population of foreign origin in the Nordic region
The Nordic countries define and tabulate data on the immigrant or foreign-origin populations differently. However, the data reveal a trend of rapid increases in the foreign-origin populations in all of the Nordic countries. Iceland collects quite detailed data on the population of foreign origin. People are divided into those with no foreign background, those born abroad with an Icelandic background, and immigrants, which are further divided into first and second generation immigrants. In 2015, the sum of those with no foreign background and those born abroad with an Icelandic background had declined to 85 percent of the total population and immigrants had increased to 9 percent. Thus, the total share of the population with some foreign background is now 15 percent of the Icelandic population, a significant increase from twenty years previous when it was just 5 percent. For Finland, data are collected on persons with Finnish background and persons with foreign background. These are disaggregated into those born in Finland and those born abroad. Finland has had less immigration than the other Nordic countries and thus has a smaller foreign-origin population. However, there has still been a considerable increase of the foreign-origin population within the country since 1990. Norway has the most detailed data on the foreign-origin population. Statistics Norway collects and compiles data on the place of birth of all people, their parents, and their grandparents.

This results in thirty different categories of foreign-born based on three generations. In 1990, the immigrant population made up 7.1 percent of the population, half of which were first generation immigrants without Norwegian background. Most of the rest were persons born in Norway with at least one foreign born parent – second generation immigrants. The immigrant population has grown steadily so that in 2016, it made up 22.4 percent of the population. Of the total population, 13.4 percent were first-generation immigrants without Norwegian background. The share of second-generation immigrants had grown to 4.7 percent of the total population from 2.4 percent in 1990, most obviously concentrated in the younger ages. For Sweden, data are presented on the foreign born and native born. The native born are then further divided into those born in Sweden with two foreign born parents, those born in Sweden with one parent born in Sweden and one foreign born parent, and those born in Sweden with two parents born in Sweden. By 2015, the percent foreign born had increased to 17 percent from 12 percent in 2002. This percent foreign-born is higher than the United States, a traditional immigration country.

The share of people born in Sweden with two parents born in Sweden declined to just 70 percent of the population from 79 percent in 2002. Second generation immigrants increased to 5.2 percent of the total population from 3.4 percent in 2002. The increase in the second-generation is most telling when focusing on school-age children. Among children ages 0 to 14, second-generation immigrants increased from 9 to 14 percent of the population causing many necessary adjustments in the school system. Denmark provides data on the population by place of birth, which are then further disaggregated into immigrants and their dependents. The enormous increase in the population of foreign origin in Denmark since 1980 is evident. In 1980, only 3 percent of the population was of foreign origin, 2.6 percent were immigrants and 0.4 percent were children of immigrants. Denmark was still an extremely homogenous society with 97 percent of the population being of Danish origin.

The need for integration
The influx of people from outside the Nordic region over the past several decades has resulted in a rapid transition of these societies. All of the Nordic countries have well-established and generally well-funded integration programs which will be severely tested with these large and increasingly diverse populations of newcomers. However, if done properly these new populations can become a significant demographic, economic, and cultural asset.

This article is a part of Nordregio News #3.16. Read the full issue here:

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