Record Population Growth Last Year – 400,000 Milestone in Sight

Locals and tourists enjoy the sunshine in Reykjavík's Austurvöllur square.

Iceland’s population rose by 11,500 in 2022, potentially reaching 400,000 this year, according to a report from the Housing and Construction Authority. The proportion of working immigrants in the national labour market has quadrupled since 2003.

On course to reach 400,000 by end of the year

Iceland’s population increased by 11,500 last year, marking the most significant growth since records began. According to a monthly report of the Housing and Construction Authority, this growth trend has continued in 2023; in the first six months of the year, the country’s population increased by 1.7%. If this trend continues, the increase this year will surpass last year’s, with Iceland’s population reaching 400,000 by year-end.

The report also notes that foreign nationals currently compose nearly 18% of the population or over 70,000 individuals. Furthermore, foreign nationals constitute about 30% of the age group between 26-36 years. The institution notes that, based on tax data, the proportion of working immigrants in the Icelandic labour market has quadrupled since 2003, rising from just over 5% to over 20% last year.

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Katrín Ólafsdóttir, an associate professor at the University of Reykjavik, stated that since the tourism sector began its rapid growth, there had been a strong correlation between Iceland’s economic growth and the number of foreign nationals: “The correlation was much weaker in the years before, but the last ten years show a very strong link.”

Foreign nationals nearly 50% of the unemployed

While working immigrants in the Icelandic labour market have quadrupled since 2003, the proportion of foreign nationals among the country’s unemployed population has also seen a sharp increase in recent years, now reaching nearly 50%.

Speaking to RÚV, Unnur Sverrisdóttir, Head of the Directorate of Labour, expressed concerns about this trend, noting that various measures had been tried without the desired success. Unnur speculated that several factors may be contributing to the trend, including language proficiency and challenges related to childcare, especially for single mothers who might not have the same support system as native Icelanders.

Unnur also emphasised the need for a better understanding of the issue and highlighted potential gaps in educational opportunities for younger foreign nationals in Iceland, especially those who aren’t proficient in Icelandic.

8.9% Increase in Foreign Nationals Living in Iceland

pedestrian street Laugavegur Reykjavík

70,307 foreign nationals were registered as residents in Iceland as of July 1, which is an increase of 5,722 persons since December 1 of last year (or 8.9%). Iceland’s total population as of July 1 was 393,955.

Greatest Relative Increase Among Palestinians, Belarusians

According to Registers Iceland, 70,307 foreign nationals were registered as residents in Iceland as of July 1. This marks an increase of 5,722 people (8.9%) since December 1 of last year.

Significant population increases were noted among Polish, Ukrainian, and Romanian nationals. The Ukrainian resident count rose by 43.4% (982 individuals), now totalling 3,247; the number of Romanian residents in Iceland increased by 14.7% (534 individuals), standing at 4,157; and Polish residents, the largest foreign national group, grew by 7.2% (1,677 individuals), reaching a total of 24,973.

As noted by Registers Iceland, the most significant relative growth among foreign nationals was seen among Belarusian citizens, with a 46.7% rise, or 14 individuals. Palestinian nationals increased by 39.4%, or by 122 individuals.

During the same period, the Icelandic citizen count saw a minor increase of 1,062, or 0.3%. Iceland’s total population as of July 1 was 393,955.

Multicultural Festival Celebrated as Part of ‘Friendship Week’ in Vopnafjörður

The East Iceland village of Vopnafjörður will celebrate its second annual Multicultural Festival on Saturday, with international food, dance exhibitions, games, international cartoons for children, and more. Austurfrétt reports that just under 10% of the fishing village’s population is of foreign extraction, with full-time residents hailing from 20 different countries around the world.

As of September, 670 people called Vopnafjörður home. Sixty of these residents are originally from another country. Poles make up the largest subset of foreign residents, followed by Bulgarians. The village is also home to people from Sweden and Pakistan, among other nations.

Flags representing all the nationalities living in Vopnafjörður at the village’s 2020 Multicultural Festival. Photo: Vopnafjörður, FB.

“People have always come here from abroad,” says Þórhildur Sigurðardóttir, who oversees multicultural and diversity initiatives for the larger municipality. Þórhildur explained that the village has a history of attracting foreign workers, but it’s only recently that the makeup of the fulltime population has been so diverse.

“There are people with Faroese roots, and then Danish women came to work here. I think one of them is still left. Otherwise, there weren’t many [other nationalities] here even six years ago. For a long time, it was just one woman from Poland. But that’s changed completely.”

Vopnafjörður held its first Multicultural Festival in 2020, at which time, there were people from 22 countries living in the village. The following year, a Children’s Cultural Festival was held instead, but still with a multicultural focus. During that festival, kids were taught how to count to five in 13 languages and flags were raised for each of the nationalities living there.

This year, the Multicultural Festival is just one part of a week-long ‘Friendship Week,’ sponsored by a local youth club and programmed entirely by teenagers. Friendship Week runs from Friday, October 7 to Sunday, October 16 and will include a variety of events, including a parade, a potluck-style cake buffet, a movie night, a ‘goodwill marathon,’ in which residents are encouraged to do good deeds for one another (such as raking leaves, folding laundry, dog walking, etc), an intergenerational game night, and more.

A Golden Opportunity: New Program Teaches Vocational Skills to Young People

A new program called Tækifærið (‘the opportunity’) aims to teach young people vocational skills that will allow them to secure steady employment, Vísir reports. In 2022, Tækifærið will offer two, 13-week courses, which will teach practical skills such as how to rip out and replace flooring, paint furniture, and fix electrical wiring, as well as help participants hone their mental, physical, and social skills along the way and connect them with future employers.

The first class has six participants and is being held in Borgarfjörður, West Iceland. It received funding from the Development Fund for Employment and Education, the Mental Health Support Fund, and Landsbankinn, and is free of charge for participants.

‘Each participant must want to change their life for the better’

Tækifærið is the brainchild of Björk Vilhelmsdóttir, a social worker and former member of the Reykjavík City Council. It is founded on one of the United Nations’ three universal values: Leave No One Behind.

“Tækifærið’s organizers have faith in people—all people,” explains the program website. “We’re ready to work with those who are the furthest from the labour market; these individuals possess countless strengths. Tækifærið is built around the strengths of participants and those who work with them. We’re well aware of our weaknesses but are trying our best not to let them dictate our lives anymore.”

The program promises to empower participants, but that empowerment must be self-motivated: “The basic premise of empowerment is that people take responsibility of their own lives…Each participant must want to change their life for the better.”

Half of unemployed individuals are foreign nationals

While the program is targeted at young people in general, Tækifærið will undoubtedly be helpful for young foreign nationals living in Iceland. Unemployment in Iceland is currently 5.2%, or roughly 10,000 people. Just under half of that group, or 43%, are foreign nationals.

Vísir interviewed Alfredo Correia, from Portugal, who is one of the six participants in Tækifærið’s spring 2022 class. “I came to Iceland to grow up, because in my country it’s very hard to live,” he said. Alfredo has no formal education and decided to move abroad to seek better opportunities.

Björk is optimistic that the first class will be successful in finding work after completing the program. “Come May, I’ll be ready to take offers from the business community,” she said, “and I know there will be plenty of them.”

Two to Be Deported for Quarantine Violations

Police

Two Romanian nationals who violated quarantine regulations have been fined and will be deported from Iceland, Vísir reports. They were among nine other Romanian nationals who were fined for not abiding by quarantine rules.

See Also: Test Positive After Breaking Quarantine

The two men facing deportation are among 14 Romanian nationals currently being detained in the quarantine hotel on Rauðarárstígur in Reykjavík. They were arrested earlier this week with another man on suspicion of robbery in Selfoss, South Iceland. Further investigation revealed they had arrived in the country from London less than 14 days ago and should, therefore, have been in quarantine. Indeed, following their arrest, they tested positive for COVID-19, as did one policewoman involved in the incident. Sixteen South Iceland police officers were quarantined as a result of the case.

Following this incident, police began a search for another group of Romanian nationals who were believed to have had contact with those arrested and likely also violating quarantine regulations. The group presented themselves at a central Reykjavík police station shortly after and are now at the quarantine hotel. There are currently 17 people in the quarantine hotel, three of whom are asylum seekers.

The 11 quarantine violation fines ranged from ISK 150,000-200,000 ($1,100-$1,500/€1,000-€1,300). The cases of the other nine individuals who were fined are still under consideration, but it is possible that further deportations will take place.

Checkpoint Van Allows for Workplace Checks and Random Stops: ‘I think we’re going to find a lot more people’

Icelandic police are using a new, custom-designed van provided by Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörgsdóttir in mid-May to increase border surveillance and deportations, RÚV reports.

“I think we’re going to find a lot more people,” said capital-area Detective Superintendent Jóhann Karl Þórisson. He says the new van simplifies the inspections process, thereby making it easier to find and identify people who have outstayed their visas in Iceland and/or are working without legal permission. Jóhann Karl said that the van functions as a mobile border checkpoint and will, for instance, be particularly helpful in monitoring passengers disembarking from cruise ships.

‘Then we’ll grab them and throw them out’

However, the mobile checkpoint van is not solely being used to monitor points of entry to the country. Rather, authorities also drive the vehicle to workplaces in search of people who are working without legal permits. Often, these work permit checks are done in collaboration with the Icelandic Revenue and Customs Office and/or the Directorate of Labor, but sometimes, the van is sent out after police receive a tip. Indeed, at the end of May, the van was used in an operation at a construction site in the capital-area municipality of Garðabær, during which four foreign nationals were arrested and two asylum seekers were questioned.

Jóhann Karl freely admitted police also use the van to stop “cars with Albanians or Romanians. Then we check to see if they are who they say they are.” Since the van went into operation in mid-May, police have used it to run checks on almost a hundred people. Around 60 of these checks have occurred at workplaces.

Eight undocumented people have been identified in the course of these checks but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they have not been made to leave Iceland yet. When travel restrictions are lifted, however, “then we’ll grab them and throw them out,” said Jóhann Karl.

The Ministry of Justice decided in May 2018 to purchase the surveillance van, which costs roughly ISK 27 million [€178,160; $200,526]. A grant from the EU’s Security Fund paid for 75% of the vehicle’s total cost.

 

Expired Visa and Residence Permits Temporarily Extended

iceland real estate

Expired visas and residence permits for foreign nationals who are currently in Iceland and cannot leave the country for reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic have been automatically extended by the Minister of Justice, RÚV reports. The extension applies to those who are unable to leave Iceland because of the travel restrictions that went into effect on March 20, as well as foreign nationals who are in quarantine or isolation.

The extension will be in effect until July 1 and is automatic; no further application process is necessary. The extension does not, however, apply to people who were residing in Iceland without current and legal documentation before the March 20 travel restrictions went into place and will have no bearing on pending deportations for these individuals.

The government advises people who qualify for the current extension to make arrangements to leave the country as soon as possible, but no later than July 1.