A comparative study of Somali immigrants in Minnesota and Norway, a critical response to the book “The Immigrants’ Superpower” by Gerhard Helskog


Publication date



Høgskolen i Oslo. Avdeling for samfunnsfag

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Master in International Social Welfare and Health Policy


This thesis is a literature review, comparing research concerning Somali immigrants in Minnesota and Norway. The starting point for the comparison is the critique of Norwegian integration policies and welfare policies in general, as described by the Norwegian journalist Gerhard Helskog in his book “ The Immigrants’ Superpower” (2008). Helskog claims that immigrants in the US more successfully integrate, mainly because of the strong work requirements for newly arrived immigrants, tied to the limited welfare policies. By comparing research from the two societies, I aim to evaluate Helskog’s theories, particularly in the case of Somali immigrants. I have divided my findings into three main categories, describing the integration processes on different levels: strategies used by immigrants, strategies used by governments, and overall structural factors which influence the immigration processes. I find the groups of Somali immigrants in the two societies to be similar when it comes to characteristics like family-structure and education, but also related to strategies used to meet the challenges of the settlement processes. Maintaining religion and strong family ties, remittance sending to family and friends and clustering of populations in the main cities are some of the strategies used. How social capital is utilized differs to some extent between the two societies. The strategies used by governments for integrating the immigrants differ when it comes to duration, content and who is providing the services. The Norwegian Introductory Program lasts for two years, while the Refugee Cash Assistance Program in Minnesota is limited to eight months. The emphasis on language skills in the Norwegian program provides a different starting point for the Somali immigrants in Norway compared to those in Minnesota. But the labour market opportunities for the group are better in Minnesota, both because of the food processing industry and the Somalis own businesses, leaving the Somali immigrants in Minnesota with higher employment rates. Stigmatizing of the group based on skin colour and religion are obstacles that need to be overcome in both societies. However, the example of unusually high employment rates among Somali immigrants in Hammerfest, Norway, shows that whenever works are available, also for immigrants with lower education and scarce language skills, the Somali immigrants in both societies integrate seemingly well into the labour market.


Permanent URL (for citation purposes)

  • http://hdl.handle.net/10642/482