They do not receive emergency packages or extra loans and grants. More than 1,000 international students still in Norway are struggling.

By: Eva Tønnessen

English translation of Khrono's article that ISU Norway's National President, Amine Fquihi, was interviewed in. To read the original Norwegian version of the article see: "Over 600 internasjonale studenter har store økonomiske problemer".

 

36 employees at OsloMet have sent a letter to Rector Curt Rice. They ask that he and the university address the difficult situation international students are currently in.

In the letter, staff indicate that most international students on exchange programs for Erasmus + have probably returned to their home country, but their impression is that students in the master's programs appear to be staying.

At OsloMet's master's degree program in International Education and Development, they have 25 students in their first year, 14 of whom are international. 13 of these are from sub-Saharan Africa and one is from Asia.

- The overwhelming majority of international master's students are self-financed, the 36 OsloMet staff members write.

They point out that Norwegian authorities require students outside the EU / EEA to have an amount equivalent to one year of student loans in their bank account at the start of the academic year, as a condition for renewing the student visa.

- In order to make ends meet, they usually, like their Norwegian fellow students, depend on a regular income from part-time work. Many have lost this paid work - typically in bars and restaurants - as they have been laid off as a result of public policy measures against the pandemic, the staff adds in their letter.

Have received responses from 1018 students

The student organization, International Students Union of Norway (ISU), says that these days they are working hard to find out how many international students are left in Norway, and how many of these are currently laid off, and what their financial situation is.

Amine Fquihi is president of ISU. He says that they have created and distributed a survey to international students to gain a better understanding of their job status and financial challenges at the moment.

- So far, we have only received responses from 1018 students. Of the number of students we have heard from, 634, 62 per cent, stated that they were laid off. We are still waiting for more answers, Fquihi tells Khrono.

Over half cannot pay rent

The ISU leader continues:

- We are very concerned about the current financial situation of international students. In our survey, we found that 56 percent of those surveyed are currently unable to pay their rent because they lost their job, Fquihi says.

ISU's experience is that the government has so far decided that they will not provide any assistance to international students who have lost their jobs.

- Students are now worried because they may be thrown out of Norway, Fquihi says.

He points out that for many, their part-time job was important for maintaining the level of bank deposits the Norwegian authorities require them to have in their account at the start of their studies. 79 percent in ISU's survey say this is a major concern for them now.

- When the students do not get a job, do not receive unemployment benefit or receive other support. Then they struggle to maintain the amount they should have. Now they are very uncertain whether Norway will throw them out, says Fquihi.

Hears from concerned students daily

As of this year, international students must show NOK 126,120 in their account, or if they have a job, that they will receive this amount according to their contract, in order to qualify for a student visa.

Fquihi explains that since many of those who worked and are now laid off had assumed that they would have their jobs when applying for a visa renewal, they did not expect to need the above amount in their account at this time.

- We have now been approached almost daily by international students who are concerned about how they will survive financially right now, as well as whether they will be allowed to continue studying next year. There is a real fear among many international students at the moment, Fquihi says.

9500 degree students in Norway

After some decline from 2015 to 2017, the number of international degree students increased again in 2018 to just over 9,500, writes Diku (Directorate for Internationalization and Quality in Education) in the Condition Report for 2019. It was submitted in May 2019.

- Most students are from China and Nepal, followed by Sweden and Germany. The decline in the number of students from Sweden continued in 2018, and for the first time in ten years there were now fewer than 500 students from neighboring countries at Norwegian institutions, Diku writes.

The reason for the increase in the number of Swedes as degree students at Norwegian institutions from 2009 to 2015 and the decline from 2016 to 2018 can be found in the labor market. After a number of years with many young Swedes in the Norwegian labor market, this trend reversed in 2016.

- For Russia, too, the decline from recent years continues. The number of graduate students from Russia has more than halved in the last five years. There are probably several reasons for this, including the liquidation of the quota system. In 2018, countries in Africa had just over 900 degree students in Norway, the same as ten years earlier, the state report states.

Asheim: - This is a demanding situation

Henrik Asheim is the Minister of Research and Higher Education. He says that the situation for the international students in Norway is demanding.

Asheim points out that just as Norway takes responsibility for its students abroad, other countries should take responsibility for their students.

- But Norway is one of the richest countries in the world and many of the students will not get help from their home country. Still, they have to pay rent, what do you think?

- It is, for example, the case that in the boards of samskipnad that control all rents, it is the students who have a majority, Asheim points out.

Asheim says that he has asked for a meeting with representatives from ISU just to get more insight into the situation of this group of students.

He also points out that we must keep in mind that the standards the students come from could have supported them better, and that further development does not lie on his table.

Curt Rice: Expects something to be done

Curt Rice points out that he has noted that Minister Henrik Asheim has on several occasions stated that it is the home country of the international students who should be handling the situation with students.

-But it won't happen, Rice says, adding:

- I think that in one of the world's richest countries, we have to think that we have no greater responsibility than the strictly geographical areas.

Rice says he expects the authorities to find a solution to the case.

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