The entry restrictions to the country introduced in connection with the corona pandemic led to decreased immigration in 2020. In 2021 immigration was back at the same level as before the pandemic. This was most probably due to some of the restrictions being lifted that year. This increase also applied to family immigration, which rose from 8 800 to 11 500 people.

Fewer family immigrations than in 2019

However, the number of family immigrations increased less than immigration due to labour, refuge and education. As figure 1 shows these types of immigration were back at approximately the same numbers as in 2019. There were 1 300 fewer family immigrations in 2021 compared to before the pandemic.

Figure 1. Immigrations, by reason for immigration. 2015–2021

There are several possible reasons for this. Over time, there has been a tendency for family immigration to decrease since the peak years in the late 2000s and early 2010s. In the period after the enlargement of EU eastwards in the mid-2000s there was a sharp increase in labour immigration from some of the new member states, especially Poland and Lithuania. The decrease in family immigration in the last ten years is most probably partly due to the lower inflow of labour immigrants in these years and a subsequent reduction in family members arriving to unite with labour migrants. The number of immigrants arriving to seek refuge has also decreased since the large influx of asylum seekers in the years around 2016. This has probably been even more important for the general decline in family immigration in the very last few years.

However, for the difference between 2021 and the previous years, it appears that most of the decline can not be primarily traced to the long-term trend of fewer family reunifications to refugees and labour migrants. The decrease is largest with family establishments, especially to persons without immigrant background (more about this below).

It is also important to clarify that some of the difference from 2021 compared to previous years can be traced to problems with data quality (see text box). The number of non-Nordic citizens with unknown reason for immigration increased sharply last year. In 2021 there were 1 200 persons with unknown reason for immigration. The reason is primarily the lack of registration of EEA-citizens, who are not obliged to state the reason for immigration. Some of these have most probably immigrated for family reasons.

From 1st of October 2009, requirements for residence permits were replaced by a registration scheme for non-Nordic EEA-citizens. This means that these citizens can freely come to Norway to study, work or live with their family (Immigration Act ch. 13). The introduction of the registration scheme has led to loss of data regarding the persons to whom family immigrants migrate to (the persons of reference), especially in cases of family reunifications. As registration is largely voluntary, there has also been an increase in the number of persons with unknown reason for immigration.

Decrease in family establishments with persons without immigrant background

Not all types of family immigration increased equally from 2020 to 2021. We often distinguish between Reunification with spouse, child, parent or other family member, where the family relation existed before the immigration to Norway. and Understood as the establishment of a new marriage or other partnership in which one of the parties is not resident in Norway, and where he or she is eligible for residence as a result of the family relation with his/her resident spouse or partner.. It was particularly family reunifications that increased in 2021, the number rose by 38 percent. In comparison, there were «only» ten percent more family establishments in 2021 compared with in 2020.

There were also differences between different groups among those immigrating to establish family (figure 2). Fewer immigrants came to establish family with persons without immigrant background than the year before, despite this being a type of family migration that also diminished in the wake of the travel restrictions in 2020. The number of family establishments with immigrants and Norwegian-born with immigrant parents approached the level before the pandemic.

Figure 2. Family establishments, by immigration category of person of reference. 2015–2021

The fact that there are fewer family immigrants that come to persons without immigrant background becomes evident when we consider what citizenships were the most usual among family immigrants in 2021 compared to previous years (figure 3). There are noticeably fewer family immigrants from Thailand and the Philippines compared to the preceding years. Only 300 Filipinos came as family immigrants to Norway in 2021 and Filipinos were not among the ten largest nationalities. There were furthermore about half as many Thai family immigrants compared to in 2019. Family immigrants from these countries usually immigrate to marry men without immigrant background.

Most family immigrants from Poland, Eritrea and India

A majority of family immigrants in 2021 had citizenship from countries outside the EEA-area. Two-thirds of family immigrations were from countries outside this area.

The largest group was Polish citizens, however. Most came through family reunification and it is natural to assume that most were family members of Polish labour migrants. Due to shortcomings of the data regarding the The person already resident in Norway and with whom the family immigrant is seeking reunification or family establishment. for family immigrants, we cannot know this for certain.

Figure 3. Number of family immigrations per year, by first citizenship

The second largest group was Eritrean citizens. Eritrean family immigrants also came mostly through family reunification. Data on the persons of reference show that these were almost without exception Eritrean refugees.

Like Poles and Eritreans, Indian citizens, the third largest group, consists primarily of people who come to reunite with family in Norway. There has been considerable labour immigration from India over the past ten years. Since 2012, between 500 and 1 000 migrant workers with Indian citizenship have arrived each year. The exception was the corona year 2020, when 400 Indians came for work. In the wake of increased labour immigration, more Indians have come to reunite with family in Norway. Compared to family immigration from other countries, family immigration from India is the most similar to immigration from Poland.

As we can see from figure 3 there are relatively few of the largest countries of family immigration which are typical countries of origin for refugees. There is a longer-term tendency of less immigration from previously large countries of origin for refugees and family immigrants, such as Somalia and Syria. Fewer immigrate to refugees in 2021 than in the peak years around the mid-2010s, although slightly more than in 2019 (2 000 compared to 1 400). Family immigration from Eritrea follows an opposite pattern. The number of Eritrean family immigrants has increased steadily, throughout the pandemic.

Family establishments to immigrants the most usual

2 700 immigrated in 2021 to establish family with a person resident in Norway. A bit more than half (1 500 persons) immigrated to an immigrant. The largest group was those coming to Afghans. These constituted about ten percent of those coming through family establishment. Other big groups were Eritreans, Indians, Polish and Pakistanis. These groups are either well-established groups of immigrants with long duration of residence in Norway or countries from which there has been steady immigration over the past few years. In previous publications we have furthermore seen that some of these groups, such as Pakistanis and Poles, are characterized by high degree of endogamy, i.e. tendency toward marrying someone with the same country background (Molstad & Steinkellner, 2020, pp. 47, 50). Almost all of those who came in 2021 from these countries to establish themselves with immigrants in Norway, came to someone with the same country background as themselves.

The vast majority, between 70 and 80 percent, of those who came through family establishment were women, irrespective of whether the person they immigrated to was an immigrant or a person without immigrant background. The exception is those who immigrated to establish themselves with someone Norwegian-born to immigrant parents. 56 percent of these family immigrants were men. However, those coming to Norwegian-born with immigrant parents constituted a vast minority of those immigrating to establish family in 2021, only 170 people.

As mentioned, fewer came to establish family with someone without immigrant background in 2021, both compared to 2020 and 2019. They nevertheless accounted for over a third (1,000 people) of all those who came through family establishment. Thailand, USA, the Philippines, Brazil and Ukraine were the most common nationalities. Citizens of the same countries were also among the five largest in the two previous years. The exception was in 2020, when Russians, instead of Ukrainians, made up the fifth largest group.

På norsk: Økt familieinnvandring etter koronaåret 2020


Molstad, C. S., & Steinkellner, A. (2020). Familieinnvandring og ekteskapsmønster 1990-2018 (2020/05).