Integration and Exclusion at Work: Latvian and Swedish Agency Nurses in Norway


Qualitative interviews with Latvian and Swedish agency nurses in Norway reveal that the two groups have quite different experiences of integration in the Norwegian labor market. Aiming to add knowledge about differentiation within migrant labor markets, the objective of this article is to examine how language, nursing culture, and personal motivation affect the double control that agency nurses are subject to, their resultant skill-sets, inclusion in the workplace, and response to this. Norway is of interest as the Norwegian language can be difficult to learn outside Scandinavia. The Latvian agency nurses are harder hit by the double control of the temporary work agencies than the Swedish are. They obtain higher wages and better working conditions and are ready to speak up against unfair treatment. If they want to leave the agency, they easily find direct employment. Latvian nurses seem more ready to accept work below their qualifications and some show signs of “resigned acceptance.” They have more to lose than the Swedish nurses in terms of access to work, wages, and working conditions if they return to their homeland. Although Latvian and Swedish nurses largely feel well received in the workplace, the double control they are subject to calls for self-restraint and impedes a sense of inclusion. For the Latvian nurses, language problems and cultural differences exacerbate this. The study expands and nuances how double control affects agency workers, and applying a broad concept of resigned acceptance it nuances what language means for discrimination in the workplace.

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  1. 1.

    A few private actors operate in nursing homes and homecare in the municipal health sector, acting on behalf of the municipality.

  2. 2.

    These are  unpublished figures obtained from Statistics Norway. The figures include directly employed nurses and nurses working for agencies based in Norway, and they refer to a representative week in November.

  3. 3.

    In 2015, average monthly wage for non-specialized nurses in Norway was NOK 41100 (EUR 4591); for specialized nurses, it was NOK 44500 (EUR 4970) (Statistics Norway 2017). In Latvia, average gross monthly wage for specialist nurses was 759.80 EUR in December 2016 and 729.30 EUR in December 2015 (Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia 2017).

  4. 4.

    Maiken Bjerga Kiil conducted the bulk of the interviews with the Swedish nurses, see also Kiil (2015).

  5. 5.

    This could be explained by technicalities of the shift-work system.


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We are thankful to the Research Council of Norway for funding as part of the research project: The impact of temporary work agencies on the politics of work. Ref. 227021.

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Correspondence to Hege Merete Knutsen.

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Knutsen, H.M., Fangen, K. & Žabko, O. Integration and Exclusion at Work: Latvian and Swedish Agency Nurses in Norway. Int. Migration & Integration 21, 413–429 (2020).

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  • Agency nurses
  • De-skilling
  • Double control
  • Migrant nurses
  • Norway
  • Resigned acceptance