Immigrant Health Care in Two Scandinavian Nations Faces Change

immigrant health care
SCANDINAVIA GETS STRICTER: Syrian refugees gather in Stockholm, Sweden. Although health care is provided to asylum seekers, restrictions are making things more difficult in the region. Photo: Frankie Fouganthin/Wikimedia Commons

Immigrants face challenges in countries from the USA to United Kingdom, but the Scandinavian nations—renowned for some of the highest standards of living worldwide—are perhaps the most welcoming to immigrants and Syrian refugees, and have some of the world’s best nationalized health care systems. However, things are changing in the region for immigrants.

In this latest installment of our Health Care Around the World series, the UMHS Endeavour looks at health care for immigrants in two Scandinavian countries, Sweden and Norway.

We look at what is offered, changes in laws and more from various online sources.


immigrant health care
SWEDEN OPEN TO REFUGEES: Syrian refugees arrive at Stockholm Central Station via train through Denmark & Malmo in September 2015. Photo: Frankie Fouganthin/Wikimedia Commons

Scandinavia Getting Tougher on Refugees

The Scandinavian countries have a reputation for being liberal and open to immigrants and refugees, but the situation is changing. Denmark started imposing restricting on refugees in 2015, and things may not always be so progressive in the Nordic region. Norway imposed new, tougher restrictions on immigrants in 2016.

“The Nordic governments are aiming to reduce their desirability as destinations by tightening asylum benefits to the minimum standards,” the Migration Policy Institute website says. “Sweden rolled back its permanent residence policy for all newly arriving Syrians, and has proposed granting only temporary status to successful asylum seekers of all nationalities, including Syrians.”

Just like in the USA, with the rise of the “alt-right,” nationalist and populist groups hostile to outsiders are growing in Scandinavia. Some of these groups include the Swedish Democrats, the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party and Norway’s Progress Party.

Sweden’s Health Care for Refugees

Sweden offers health care for asylum seekers, according to Swedish Migration Agency website Migrationsverket. In fact, health care for immigrants is considered a right in Sweden.

“When you seek asylum in Sweden you have the right to acute health and dental care and to health care, which cannot wait,”  the website says. “The county council/region decides which type of health care you can get. You also have the right to childbirth care, abortion care, contraception advice, maternity care and care according to the contagion prevention law.”

The site continues, “Asylum seeking children and youths under 18 years have the same right to free health and dental care as the other children who live in Sweden.”

Doctor visits in Sweden cost roughly 50 krona (approximately $5.50 U.S.).

Sweden took in more Middle Eastern refugees than any European Union member state in 2015, the website Migrant says.

Migrants from Syria seek asylum in wealthy Sweden more than any other country.

“Sweden received more than 160,000 asylum applications in 2015, and was second only to Germany in absolute numbers, though first in numbers of arriving Syrians,” the Migrant Policy website says.


NORWAY'S IMMIGRATION RATE DROPS: After restrictions were imposed in 2015, Norway's immigration rate fell by 95%. Pictured: Downtown Oslo. Photo: Tim Adams/Wikimedia Commons
NORWAY’S IMMIGRATION RATE DROPS: After restrictions were imposed in 2015, Norway’s immigration rate fell by 95%. Pictured: Downtown Oslo. Photo: Tim Adams/Wikimedia Commons

Norway’s Immigration Restrictions

Perhaps best known for the annual Nobel Prizes and its neutral peace policies, Norway has always been open to immigrants and asylum seekers. The Migration Policy website notes that refugees are placed in reception centers, given stipends and have access to health care, may apply for a work permit and their children can attend local schools. Health care access is just one aspect of Norwegian life that appeals to immigrants.

“Those granted refugee protection are given a renewable residence permit, typically valid for three years,” the Migration Policy website says. ”Those granted subsidiary protection are also given a residence permit, but of a more limited duration.”

Norway’s Progress Party, a populist group that opposes Norway ever joining the European Union, has pressured the government to restrict refugees, media outlets such as the Boston Review say.

After a strict new immigration policy was instituted in Norway last year, the number of refugees dropped by 95 percent, according to Britain’s Independent newspaper.

Health care in Norway is provided by the government and is publicly financed, the Commonwealth Fund website says.

Below are facts about Norwegian health care from the Commonwealth Fund.

  • “Parliament determines what is covered, although there is no defined benefits package except for new and costly treatments and technologies. In practice, national health care covers planned and acute primary, hospital, and ambulatory care, rehabilitation, and outpatient prescription drugs on the formulary (the ‘blue list’).”
  • “Primary, preventive, and nursing care are organized at the local level by municipalities. The municipality, often in cooperation with the county, decides on public health initiatives or campaigns to promote a healthy lifestyle and reduce social health disparities.”
  • For Primary Care, “Municipalities provide primary care in accordance with current legislation, government directives, and quality requirements set by the Directorate for Health.
  • “The ‘regular GP scheme, ’ “whereby people register with one general practitioner (GP), covers 99.4 percent of the population.”

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