Thursday, July 19, 2012

The vagaries of permanent resident status

When I first moved to Norway, I had to apply for a residence permit each year that allowed me to live and work in the country, and that involved having my employer fill out a form outlining my job description, with major emphasis on the fact that I was the only person who could fill that job. My employer had to state and defend that there were few to no Norwegians who could fill that position as well as I could. After three years of this requirement, which meant waiting in long lines each year at the local police station for my passport to be stamped, I was eligible for a permanent residency permit. I had no trouble obtaining that. It meant that I no longer had to wait in long lines each year to renew my residence permit. My American passport reflected my permanent residency status with a sticker called 'bosettingstillatelse', which as far as I remember, gave me permission to work in Norway as well as in Sweden and Denmark. I was extremely happy the day I got my permanent residency status in the early 1990s. 

Recently, the rules changed, and now foreigners are required to have a residence card that they must carry with them when they travel in addition to their passports. Here is what is stated on the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration website:
“The residence card is proof that you hold a residence permit in Norway. The card replaces the stickers that were previously affixed to your passport.”

But what I need now is an explanation for why I have to renew my residence permit every two years, as I have done now for the past four or five years, if I have permanent resident status? I have no idea if I still have permanent resident status or if it has changed to non-permanent for some reason. This is what is written on the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration website; I hope it makes more sense to you than it does to me:
“How long is the card valid for? In principle, the card is valid for the same period as your permit. If you hold a permanent residence permit, the card will be valid for two years at a time.”

I have to say that I really don’t understand this; my interpretation is that permanent residence means two years’ residence at a time, and in my book, this is tantamount to temporary residence, not permanent. The last time I was at the Foreign Office (a few weeks ago), the man sitting behind the information desk was impatient, rude and generally not helpful. No answers or explanations to be gotten from him. I was just another nuisance, another foreigner that he didn’t feel like dealing with. Whether that was really what he thought, I don’t know—it just felt like that. Just a wave of the hand and a disgusted look to indicate where I should stand to wait my turn to make an appointment to see an officer who could create a residence permit card for me with my photo and fingerprints on it. I told them I needed it before the end of July as I was traveling outside of Norway in August, and I was told I had to bring my airline ticket with me to my appointment in order for me to get the card before I traveled. So many people apparently lie about needing their card immediately, so that I was looked upon as another potential liar. I didn’t have a problem producing the airline ticket, so I got my card today in the mail.

I decided many years ago not to obtain Norwegian citizenship, because it meant that I had to give up my American citizenship, something I would never do. Norway does not allow dual citizenship, whereas the USA does. So if my husband and I moved to the USA, he could keep his Norwegian citizenship as well as become an American citizen if he wanted to. Generous of my country, I have to admit, and that makes me proud of my country. I have no idea why Norway does not allow dual citizenship, but the fact that they do not only serves to strengthen my resolve to keep my American citizenship at all costs. Had Norway allowed dual citizenship, then I might have chosen to become a citizen, but I have never regretted my decision not to become a Norwegian citizen in all the years I have lived here. It would certainly have made my life easier in terms of not having to apply every two years for permission to remain in this country, as is the case now, even though I did get permanent residence status in the early 1990s. I suppose I should look into what it all means and why my status changed (if it did), and I will. In time. Perhaps the next time I have to renew my residence status. I simply want to avoid having to stand in long lines to make appointments to see officers and councilors who will advise me on what forms I need to fill out. I want to avoid sterile offices and paper-pushing--all the trappings of bureaucratic claustrophobia.  

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