Norway border couples: ‘They say this is all fixed now, when it’s not’

A group of Norwegian cross-border couples has accused the government of falsely claiming that Monday's changes to border rules make reunion possible, when only 11 of the 272 members who responded to a survey have been

Norway border couples: 'They say this is all fixed now, when it's not'
Ida Marie Rygg from Norway and her American fiancé Luke DeBoer are among those not helped under the new rules. Photo: private
In a letter sent to media across Norway, the group said that the Norwegian justice minister Monica Mæland had used “misleading rhetoric” in interviews with Norwegian media, giving a false picture that the new rules solved the problem for couples separated by border controls. 
The new rules, which took effect on June 15th, state that “anyone who has been granted a residence permit on the basis of family immigration can travel to Norway” — regardless of whether the family member in Norway is a Norwegian citizen, EEA citizen or from countries outside the EEA”. 
But in their letter, the Facebook group, “​We with family or a beloved abroad during Covid-19 2020“, said that the changes in practice helped relatively few couples and families, with Norwegian citizens with fiancé(e)s or spouses in the US, Canada, Australia and other visa-free, non-EU countries all unable to reunite. 
This is because: 
  • Many application centres abroad are currently closed and are not accepting new residence permit applications
  • Applying for a residence permit currently takes months to process
  • Most of those who already have residence permits also need a visa, and most visa application centres are closed. 
When the group's has 1,561 members were polled, of the 272 who responded, only 11 said they had been helped by the changes. 
Atle Johansen, the IT consultant behind the letter, said that he hoped to “put the pressure back on the policy makers”. 
“They lifted some of the restrictions today and they may feel that they can take a step back,” he said. 
“We don't think what they've passed is good enough, because what we've seen it's only a very small group that can be reunited.” 
Johansen was in the middle of moving back to Norway with his American wife after five years working in the US when the lockdown was imposed. 
“Two weeks before we were going to travel the borders closed and that's when the whole process started,” he remembers. “At the beginning we were OK with it. It made sense. But now it's turned very political.” 
He said that it was people from visa-free countries such as the US that had been caught out. 
“People from visa-free countries outside the EU were hoping to submit their application from within Norway, so they sold everything and got ready to come,” he said. 
“A lot of people have put their faith into the rules that used to be, so when they were talking about 'opening for families' these people certainly expected them to keep them in mind.” 
In the letter, Johansen and the Facebook group also criticised Norway's Justice Minister Monica Mæland for her claim that the new rules removed the advantage EEA citizens have over Norwegian ones, which has been the subject of several articles in the Norwegian media. 
In practice, they say, reunion remains impossible for Norwegian citizens who are married or engaged to a partner living outside the EEA/EU who does not already have a residency permit. 
In the same situation, an EEA or EU citizen living in the Norway would be able to bring their partner to the country. 
“If I was a Swedish citizen living in Norway, I would go under the EEA rules and my wife would be able to enter the country,” Johansen complained. 
“Norway has its own immigration laws which trump the EEA rules, but we still feel they should be parallel, side by side — especially if the government claims that they are the same, which is one of the things Monica said in her interview. She said this is all fixed now, when it's not.” 

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Coronavirus: Sweden extends travel ban from Denmark

Sweden on Sunday announced an extension to the travel ban from Denmark until February 14th, over concerns of the new variant of coronavirus spreading.

Coronavirus: Sweden extends travel ban from Denmark
Illustration photo of Copenhagen airport. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe / Ritzau Scanpix

The extension to the travel ban was confirmed at a digital press conference on Sunday January 24th, when the Swedish government announced a new travel ban on entry from Norway. The entry ban from the United Kingdom was also extended until February 14th.

On Saturday January 23rd, the Norwegian government introduced a series of very strict restrictions in Oslo and nine more municipalities due to an outbreak of the more contagious B117 coronavirus variant, first identified in Britain.

The British virus mutation already exists in Sweden. So far, about 50 cases have been confirmed, the vast majority of them are linked to people who have been abroad, according to the Swedish Public Health Agency.

“The ban applies from midnight until February 14th and can be extended if necessary”, Interior Minister Mikael Damberg said at the digital press conference on Sunday afternoon.

READ MORE: COVID UPDATE: Sweden bans travel entry from Norway

In December, the Swedish government announced a ban on travel into Sweden from both the UK and Denmark, due to the new coronavirus variant in the countries. The ban was initially due to last a month.

It was the first time during the pandemic that the Scandinavian country closed the border on one of its neighbours. 

Swedish citizens are exempt from the entry ban, as are non-citizens who live or work in Sweden, and people working in the transportation of goods.
The B117 coronavirus variant has previously been estimated to be between 50-74 percent more infectious than established forms of Covid-19.

It is expected to comprise 50 percent of all Covid-19 variants in circulation in Denmark by the middle of February, according to a new report issued by the State Serum Institute (SSI).

It has been traced to have first appeared in Denmark in November, but was reported to have become established in the south east of England in December.

READ ALSO: How could infectious Covid-19 variant impact Denmark's infection numbers?