Large Drop in Asylum Applications

deportation iceland

Applications for asylum in Iceland dropped by 56% in the first two months of 2024 compared to the same period last year. Only 410 applications were submitted during January and February, with 925 submitted during those same months in 2023.

Costs to go down substantially

If this trend continues, authorities will process between 2,000 and 2,500 applications from asylum seekers this year, a drop of 40-50% from last year, Heimildin reports. This would mean that the cost of asylum services, which has been heavily criticised in the Icelandic political sphere in recent months, would drop by a third, from ISK 17.7 Billion [$130 Million, €119 Million] this year to ISK 11.5 Billion [$84 Million, €77 Million]. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour expects costs to drop even further if the speed of processing applications can be increased.

Most applications from Ukraine and Venezuela

In 2023, 4,155 people applied for asylum in Iceland. The vast majority were arriving from Ukraine and Venezuela. Both of these groups were given additional protection during the process due to conditions in their home countries. Additional protection for people arriving from Venezuela, however, was revoked last year. Due to this decision, many Venezuelans were left without a work permit in Iceland, but received financial support from the state while the decision to revoke protection was in appeals process. Outside of these two groups, only 951 applications for asylum were submitted last year.

Iceland to Tighten Asylum Regulations

Guðrún hafsteinsdóttir

The Icelandic government aims to reduce the number of applications for international protection and asylum with a new series of measures presented today. The processing time for applications for international protection will be shortened to 90 days on average and “efficient deportation” will be implemented, according to a government press release. A special team will review around 1,400 pending applications from Venezuelan citizens, and most will be rejected, the Minister of Justice stated.

Tightening legislation on asylum seekers

The measures could, in part, be seen as a follow-up to legislation on immigration passed earlier this year, which tightened regulations on asylum seekers and has been criticised by human rights groups. Seven ministries are involved in the implementation of the new measures: the Ministries of Justice, Social Affairs and Labour, Universities and Innovation, Health, Infrastructure, Culture and Trade, and Education and Children.

The measures include shortening the processing time of applications for international protection to an average of 90 days at each administrative level. They also include establishing “residences” for applicants for international protection, ostensibly the detention centres that Justice Minister Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir introduced in a draft parliamentary bill last month.

Aim to cut costs, redirect funding

“The authorities intend to reduce expenses and better prioritise the funds that go toward the issue,” the government press release states. “By reducing the number of applications that do not meet the criteria for protection and increasing the efficiency of processing applications, money is saved, which will partly be used to increase contributions to ensure Icelandic language teaching, increased assistance to children in schools, and social education that helps people actively participate in Icelandic society.”

Some of the educational measures outlined in the press release include increased access to affordable and work-related Icelandic language education, increasing the number of Icelandic language teaching specialists, and increased support for children of foreign origin during their first three years in Iceland.

Other measures include better utilisation of human resources among immigrants, including by establishing a system that more efficiently recognises their education from abroad, as well as facilitating residence and work permits for those who are self-employed and come from outside the European Economic Area.

Venezuelan applications processed in six months

A special team will be established to speed up the processing of applications for international protection from Venezuelans. The aim is to process some 1,400 pending applications within six months.

“The vast majority, almost all, of these applications, will receive a rejection,” Minister of Justice Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir told RÚV. She asserts that the changes to asylum seeker regulations will bring them closer in line with legislation in other Nordic countries.

Palestinians Continue Protest Outside Parliament

Palestinian protesters outside Iceland's Parliament

A group of Palestinians who have been protesting outside Iceland’s Parliament has received permission from the City of Reykjavík to continue camping in Austurvöllur square until January 17, Vísir reports. Most of the protesters have family members who have been granted residence visas in Iceland on the basis of family reunification but are still stuck in Gaza.

The group is calling on Icelandic authorities to do more to retrieve their family members from the strip, where over 30,000 people have been killed by Israeli attacks since October 7 and conditions are life-threatening.

Western countries have received refugees from Gaza

Naji Asar, who has been granted visas for 14 family members, including eight children, told Heimildin he cannot understand how it was easy to rescue 120 Icelanders who were in Israel on October 7 but not his family members. “If you don’t want to help, help me go back home,” he added. “I want to die with my family. I don’t want to die slowly.”

While Icelandic authorities say the Rafah border crossing between Palestine and Egypt is closed, a statement from the group of protestors points out that countries such as the UK, Canada, Germany, Norway, and Sweden received refugees from Gaza in December.

Three demands to Icelandic authorities

The group has made three demands of Icelandic authorities. Firstly, to carry out the family reunifications for which they have already granted visas. Secondly, a meeting with the Minster for Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Justice, and the Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market. Thirdly, to stop the ongoing deportations of Palestinian people in Iceland and grant them international protection.

Icelandic activist groups have organised regular protests and solidarity marches calling on Icelandic authorities to carry out the family reunifications that have been promised, as well as and condemn Israel’s ongoing aggression and apply sanctions against Israel. The next solidarity march will be held this Saturday at 2:00 PM outside the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

Can I bring my family to Iceland on a student visa?

Háskóli Íslands University of Iceland

In short, yes. If you have a residence permit as a student you can bring your family to Iceland with you. There, however, some rules which you can find below.

Obtaining a student visa yourself

People who are not from the European Economic Area (EEA) or EFTA (Iceland, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Norway) and want to study in Iceland for more than three months are obliged to file for a student residence permit. Usually, the student residence permit is valid depending on their enrolment and ability to financially support themselves. So if you can prove higher means of financial support, your permit will also be issued for longer.

To be eligible for a student permit, you must be 18 years and older (exchange students may be younger), and be admitted into studies that are recognised by the Directorate of Immigration. Those can be full-time studies at an Icelandic university, postgraduate studies at a university outside of Iceland that collaborates with an Icelandic university, exchange programmes, internships where working in Iceland is part of your studies, and technical studies at higher education institutions.

Útlendingastofnun directorate of immigration iceland
The Directorate of Immigration

You should apply for a residence permit for your studies before June 1 for the autumn semester and before November 1 for the spring semester each year. That way there is enough time for the permit to be processed before the semester commences. The application form can be accessed via Island.is and needs to be submitted in paper form to the Directorate of Immigration. Before handing in the application, you also need to pay a processing fee of ISK 16,000 for your application to go through.

In your application for a student residence permit, you need to show that you have enough financial resources for your entire stay. So if you stay for one year, you also need to prove that you can support yourself for that time. In your application, you need to attach a transcript from your bank account with the specific amount. The Directorate of Immigration has specific requirements for how much money is needed for an individual to live in Iceland. For an individual, the minimum amount required is ISK 217,799 per month [EUR 1,441 / USD 1,604].

Bringing the whole family to Iceland

According to the Directorate of Immigration, you have the right to bring your marital spouse or your cohabiting spouse (defined as a cohabiting partner of at least one year). If you have children under 18 and have custody of them, you are also allowed to bring them to Iceland. Likewise, if your parents are over the age of 67, you also have the right to family reunification with them.

In order to have all the paperwork sorted, your family members need to apply for a residence permit to the Directorate of Immigration. This can only be done in paper form to the address of the Immigration office. Additionally, they also need to pay a processing fee of ISK 16,000. To bring your entire family to Iceland, you need to prove that you can financially support them for their entire stay. 

For a couple, this means a minimum monthly amount of ISK 348,476 [EUR 2,306 / USD 2,566] and another ISK 108,898 [EUR 720 / USD 802] for every additional family member above the age of 18. For children under 18, there are no requirements for providing independent financial support. It is important to note that payments in the form of social assistance, alimony payments, support by a third party, assets other than bank account balances (e.g. real estate) and cash are not considered secure means of support.

What costs can you expect?

So if you’re thinking of bringing your spouse, your parent and your two kids to Iceland with you while you’re studying you should expect to be able to prove a minimum monthly budget of ISK 457,374 [EUR 3,027 / USD 3,368]. if you intend to stay for one year and also receive a student permit for that timeframe, you need to multiply that amount by twelve. So in total, you need to be able to showcase a whopping 5,5 Mio. ISK [EUR 36,312 / USD 40,416] on your bank account. 

Please keep in mind that this is merely the minimum amount required by the Directorate of Immigration for your application to be processed. Housing and living in Iceland are rather expensive. So don’t expect too comfortable of a lifestyle with those funds! You better start saving early.

You can find out more on the website of the Directorate of Immigration here. Read more about how to move to Iceland here.

Hussein Left Iceland with Family

directorate of immigration iceland

Hussein Hussein, an asylum seeker from Iraq who uses a wheelchair, decided to accompany his family back to Greece, Vísir reports. 

They left voluntarily for Greece on Saturday, December 2.

Hussein’s Stay in Iceland Extended, Family to be Deported Tomorrow

The European Court of Human Rights had previously ruled that his family may be deported from Iceland, but not Hussein.

Hussein has stated previously that he would not be able to live without his family in Iceland, as he relies on them for support and essential care. Upon the European Court of Human Rights ruling, he stated that he faced an impossible choice, as conditions in Greece are unfit for asylum seekers with disabilities.

Gerður Helgadóttir, a friend of the family, stated to Vísir: “He doesn’t speak anything except Arabic, so he needs to have Arabic speaking people around him. His situation here was just too unclear when he considered staying. His family is everything to him. They care for him, and he needs assistance all day long. It’s a horrible situation the family was placed in, and terrible to send his family away from him. I don’t know what kind of treatment this is for disabled people.”

Gerður reportedly spoke with the family since their arrival in Greece. She stated to Vísir that they are currently looking for accomodation there.

Gerður continued: “It sounds terrible […] They are short on money and this is a very bad situation for them. We are talking about people who were working in Iceland and could have easily taken care of themselves. It’s just so cruel, one really just doesn’t have the words.”

Hussein’s Stay in Iceland Extended, Family to be Deported Tomorrow

Útlendingastofnun directorate of immigration iceland

Following a decision from the European Court of Human Rights, the ban on deporting Iraqi asylum seeker Hussein Hussein has been extended. However, the same ban was not extended to his family, who are scheduled to be deported to Greece tomorrow, November 28. 

The European Court of Human Rights recently ruled against the deportation of Hussein, who uses a wheelchair. According to RÚV, his family, which includes his brother, mother, and two sisters, intends to cooperate with authorities and to leave “voluntarily.” RÚV reports that this decision was made following a message from the Directorate of Immigration, instructing the family to leave the country, either willingly or under police escort.

Refugee Man and Family Previously Deported Wins Case

This is not the first time Hussein and his family have come into national focus in Iceland. Authorities faced widespread critique last year when he was forcibly removed from his wheelchair during his deportation. He has since fought for his right to remain in Iceland alongside his family, claiming that conditions in Greece for asylum seekers with disabilities are especially dangerous.

Þórhildur Ósk Hagalín, a spokesperson for the Directorate of Immigration, stated that the family’s rejection was in line with procedure. She stated to RÚV: “In this case, the Immigration and Asylum Appeals Board has ruled that these individuals must leave the country. The Directorate of Immigration, as a subordinate authority, cannot alter the decision of the board, and therefore, we have to adhere to that ruling.”

Essential care

Albert Björn Lúðvígsson, Hussein’s lawyer, stated to RÚV that Hussein’s needs were never formally assessed, and his health condition has only been minimally diagnosed. He stated that Hussein requires substantial assistance in daily life and that, until now, his family has been his primary caretaker.

Albert expressed concern that Hussein will remain here for a long time while the European Court of Human Rights addresses his case. A request for a review of the decision has been submitted, but it is unlikely that a conclusion will be reached before the intended departure date of the family, November 28.

Asked whether adequate care has been ensured for Hussein after his family leaves the country, Þórhildur stated that it is the responsibility of the Directorate of Labour to ensure that service. She continued: “There is an exception to this rule where it is allowed to consider the circumstances of the family as a whole. However, these measures are intended for spouses and children under eighteen. So, even though they are individuals bound by family ties, and one of them certainly needs ongoing care, that alone is not sufficient to delay the decision.”

Regarding the role of the Directorate of Labour in providing asylum seekers with services, Þórhildur also stated: “This should be done in line with their service needs. So, as soon as people arrive in the country, an assessment needs to be made regarding the service they require. In other words, when people seek assistance from the authorities, an assessment of their service needs should be conducted.”

Inhumane treatment

The decision to extend Hussein’s deportation ban and not his family’s has occasioned critique.

One critic is Árni Múli Jónasson, the director of the Disability Alliance, who has called the treatment of Hussein “inhumane.”

“It’s so evident that Hussein, a disabled individual, is heavily reliant on various forms of support from his family, ” Árni stated to RÚV.  “Socially, emotionally, physically—to separate the family in this way is tremendously inhumane towards him, and that’s what we are particularly concerned about at the Disability Rights Association. We are of the opinion that if this proceeds as it is, it’s in complete contradiction to what the government states in its policy declaration, that humanity should be the guiding light in these matters. “

Árni continued: “In our view, there’s no doubt that human rights are being violated here. This is not in line with the obligations resting on the Icelandic state according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. So, we implore the authorities not to let this injustice proceed.”

Iceland Deports 180 Venezuelans

Keflavík Airport

The Icelandic authorities deported 180 Venezuelans earlier this week who had come to the country seeking asylum. They received a cold welcome when they landed in Venezuela, according to those interviewed by Heimildin. The fight was carried out by Iceland’s Directorate of Immigration and the European border agency Frontex.

One of the Venezuelans who was deported from Iceland stated that the group was stopped at the airport and their money was taken from them. The group was reportedly received by police and taken to a building where they were required to stay for the next two days. People from the group have been interrogated repeatedly and made to sign numerous documents without legal assistance, according to Heimildin’s sources.

Venezuelans no longer given additional protection

For several years, the Icelandic government provided additional protection to almost all Venezuelans who sought asylum here due to the poor conditions in Venezuela. Earlier this year, the Immigration Appeals Board upheld several negative rulings by the Directorate of Immigration involving Venezuelans.

Venezuelans have strongly protested this, as conditions in Venezuela are still very bad. Few people have access to health care and most ordinary citizens have difficulty meeting their basic needs. The crime rate in Venezuela is one of the highest in the world.

Stricter legislation passed

The number of asylum applications by Venezuelan citizens in this country has grown enormously in recent years – they went from 14 in 2018 to 1,209 in 2022. Between January and September of this year they numbered 1,318. After the Immigration Appeals Board confirmed the negative rulings of the Directorate of Immigration, the number of applications began to decrease.

Human rights organisations have criticised the Icelandic government for increasingly harsh legislation on asylum seekers. Legislation passed in Iceland’s Parliament last spring strips asylum seekers of essential services after their applications have received a final rejection, unless they consent to deportation. Iceland’s current Justice Minister Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir has proposed establishing detention centres for asylum seekers.

Debate Whether State or Municipalities Responsible for Rejected Applications

Guðrún hafsteinsdóttir

A deadlock has arisen in the cases of a group of applicants for international protection under the new immigration laws. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir has publicly called for the matter to be clarified, with Minister of Justice Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir stating that the law is quite clear: municipalities bear no responsibility for refugees and asylum seekers. RÚV reports.

Normally, individuals who have received a final rejection for protection have 30 days to leave the country. At the end of that period, they lose all services. But recently, a debate has begun centred around who should take responsible for this group of people, whether the municipalities or the state.

A need for clarity

The Minister of Social Affairs has recently stated that the municipalities should handle this group, but the municipalities argue that it’s the responsibility of the state. This debate has caused Prime Minister Katrín to weigh in on the matter, stating “Naturally, it cannot be expected that full services will be provided here when the administrative process in the protection system is completed, and the denial does not occur at just one but two administrative levels.”

The Prime Minister has acknowledged that there is a disagreement about the interpretation of the laws, and it’s important to resolve it. The matter was discussed at a cabinet meeting this morning.

The current debate is part of a long-standing discussion about the treatment and legal rights of refugees and asylum seekers in Iceland. Some in government have also looked to Nordic peers for possible solutions. Some Nordic countries limit services in stages in so-called departure facilities. On such facilities, Katrín stated: “It’s not an idea that I necessarily find appealing, but it’s evident that an explanation is needed about what comes next.”

Asylum seekers “responsible for themselves”

However, Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir, the Minister of Justice, has stated that the matter is quite clear legally. She says that the ultimate responsibility lies with the individuals who have come to this country and applied for protection.

“This group of people has undergone a two-stage administrative process, involving the Immigration Agency and the Immigration Appeals Board. The conditions that have been set as a basis have not been met,” she stated recently. “Their cases have been concluded, and a decision has been reached. The decision is that these individuals have not been granted protection in Iceland. Therefore, they cannot stay, and they should leave the country.

The Ministry of Justice believes furthermore that municipalities are not responsible for this group: “I emphasize that if municipalities wish to have a different approach, they can do so. The laws are clear, however. People must leave the country 30 days after receiving a rejection for protection.”

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Venezuelan Asylum Seekers Challenge Directorate of Immigration Rulings

deportation iceland

 

Some 2,000 people from Venezuela have applied for asylum in Iceland since the beginning of last year. Last summer, Iceland’s Directorate of Immigration ruled that applicants from Venezuela should be given asylum, but this ruling was overturned last month after the Directorate of Immigration reevaluated conditions in Venezuela and came to the conclusion that they had changed. Five applications from the country that the Directorate has rejected are being appealed to the Immigration and Asylum Appeals Board, which has yet to take a stance regarding this change. RÚV reported on the issue.

Crimes against humanity in Venezuela

Jón Sigurðsson, chairman of the Association of Asylum Seeker Representatives (Félag talsmanna umsækjenda um alþjóðlega vernd) says the association disagrees with the Directorate’s assessment and that conditions in Venezuela have certainly not changed for the better. “People’s situation in relation to the government, how the government treats protesters and political opponents, and the fear towards authorities that people live with, that’s a big part of why people need protection,” Jón stated. He points out that a United Nations report stated that crimes against humanity have been committed in Venezuela. “And it’s at the behest of the government.”

Residents of Venezuela face shortages of basic necessities, such as water, electricity, food, and healthcare. “There’s a shortage of all necessities, so people can’t live a decent life.” Some 1,600 residents of Venezuela are currently waiting for a ruling from the Directorate of Immigration. Some have already been denied asylum, and five had appealed the decision. A ruling on the appeal is expected within the next three months. Jón says it is contradictory to deny people asylum based on new data and reports written this year, many months after the people arrived in Iceland.

220 asylum seekers, 45 children, to be deported

Deportation of asylum seekers to Venezuela has not begun, but staff of the Police Commissioner’s Office are scheduled to deport 220 people from Iceland in the near future, including 45 children. Most of those who are awaiting deportation are from Nigeria, Iraq, and Palestine, and the largest group (around 60 people) will be deported to Greece, a practice that has been criticised by human rights organisations in Iceland for years.

Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson recently stated the Icelandic government needs to “go further” in encouraging asylum seekers whose applications had been rejected to leave the country. He has proposed legislation that would offer applicants increased financial incentive to leave the country in the case of rejected asylum applications. The Directorate of Immigration operates under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice.

Justice Minister Promises Additional Tightening of Asylum Seeker Regulations

Jón Gunnarsson Minister of Justice

Iceland’s Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson has proposed changes to regulations governing asylum seekers in Iceland that will be made public in the coming days, RÚV reports. The proposed changes include implementing systemic measures to encourage asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected to leave the country. Jón stated he believes the government needs to “go further” and says the Justice Ministry has been working on a bill that “tackles certain uniquely Icelandic rules.”

Changes for asylum seekers from Venezuela

Like other countries in Europe, Iceland is seeing a surge in the number of asylum seekers. Over 1,700 people have applied for asylum in Iceland since the beginning of this year, with the largest group, nearly half, from Venezuela.  The Directorate of Immigration recently updated its assessment of conditions in Venezuela so that asylum seekers arriving from the country no longer automatically receive additional protection in Iceland. The Immigration and Asylum Appeals Board has yet to take a stance regarding this change.

Read More: Refugee Man and Family Previously Deported Win Case

Iceland’s Parliament passed a highly-criticised immigration bill last month that strips asylum seekers in the country of their rights, including access to housing and healthcare, 30 days after their applications have been rejected. Human rights organisations in Iceland have strongly opposed the bill, including the Red Cross, UNICEF, and Amnesty International.