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.

Many Icelandic Residents Unaware of Right to Vote

Reykjavík City Hall ráðhús

Foreign residents who have lived in Iceland consecutively for three years have the right to vote in municipal elections, but many of them are not aware of that right, says Sara Björg Sigurðardóttir, a candidate for the Social-Democratic Alliance in Iceland’s upcoming municipal elections. Citizens of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland whose legal residence is in Iceland also have the right to vote in municipal elections, regardless of how long they have lived in the country.

“We’re talking about residents who have been living here for many years, paid taxes and fees, been active users of city services but didn’t know that they could vote in municipal elections,” Sara Björg told Fréttablaðið. “As a society, we need to do better when it comes to informing our residents about what rights they have in our society. One of the most precious ones is the right to vote.”

Amendments to Iceland’s municipal election laws took effect on January 1 of this year, shortening the period foreign citizens must reside in Iceland before they acquire the right to vote in municipal elections.

Municipal elections are held every four years in Iceland, and occur on the same date in all municipalities across the country. The upcoming municipal elections will be held on May 14, and advanced polls are already open.

Health Authorities Fall Short in Reaching Foreign Citizens on Vaccination

Icelandic healthcare system

Residents of Iceland with foreign citizenship appear much less likely to be vaccinated against COVID-19 than Icelanders, data published by TV program Kveikur suggests. While just 6% of Icelandic citizens 16 and older have not been vaccinated against COVID-19, that figure is nearly 50% among residents of Iceland with foreign citizenship. Various factors could explain that high percentage, however.

Kamilla Sigríður Jósefsdóttir, deputy chief epidemiologist at the Directorate of Health, says it is clear that authorities’ messaging regarding vaccination has fallen short when it comes to reaching residents of foreign origin. “We are working to strengthen our messaging to various groups and find new ways to get information across,” she stated. “We will possibly look at making vaccination accessible at other times or other places so those who have difficulty leaving work in the middle of the day can get vaccinated.”

The data does not include any reasons as to why so many foreign citizens living in Iceland have not been vaccinated. It is, for example, possible that many foreign citizens with a registered address in Iceland are simply living elsewhere. A part of the group may have been abroad when they were invited to receive the jab or they may have even gotten vaccinated abroad. Some may have not had a phone number registered in the healthcare system, a requirement for receiving an invitation to get vaccinated.

A small number in the group may be unable to accept vaccination due to medical reasons, including severe allergies.

Czech Artist Converts Ship’s Wheelhouse into ‘Cultural Kiosk’ in Seyðisfjörður

A ship’s wheelhouse dating back to 1969 is getting a new life as a piece of public art cum snack stand in the East Iceland village of Seyðisfjörður, RÚV reports. The project, dubbed KIOSK 108, is the brainchild of Czech artist Monika Fryčová, who decided to turn her attentions outward during lockdown and find a way to make a meaningful contribution to the local community. The plan? To take an abandoned ship’s wheelhouse and convert it into a ‘cultural kiosk.’

“When the COVID situation came, I thought it’s very useless for me to sit behind [my] computer and wait [to get] sick,” Monika explained. “So, I start[ed] to think about how I can make public art for outsiders and local people, to make something meaningful with this object.”

Screenshot, RÚV

Monika plans to serve light meals and drinks from the converted wheelhouse, including fish soup, hot dogs, coffee, and beer. She’s using old timber to build a small bar inside the cabin where people can sit and look out the window onto the fjord. She’s also plans to create a kid’s corner for children to play in and have a stage on the roof where musicians and artists can perform.

Monika is selling KIOSK 108 stickers and t-shirts to raise money for the project, which has also received a grant from Uppbyggingarsjóður Austurlands, the East Iceland Development Fund.

Watch Monika’s interview with RÚV (in English) here; and another video she made about KIOSK 108, here.

Icelandic Residents Without a Kennitala Offered COVID-19 Vaccination

bólusetning mass vaccination Laugardalshöll

Residents of Iceland who do not have a kennitala (national ID number) but have a system ID have been invited to receive COVID-19 vaccines. Employers who have temporary residents among their staff are asked to compile a list of applicable staff to facilitate the invitation process. Icelandic authorities have stated they expect to offer all residents aged 16 and older their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by June 25, 2021.

Foreign residents without a kennitala living in the Reykjavík capital area can register for vaccination by emailing [email protected]. Those living in other regions are asked to contact their local health clinic. Residents are asked to provide the following information:

  • Name
  • Birthdate and year
  • Gender
  • Country of origin
  • Postcode (in order to receive an invitation to the correct health clinic)
  • Email address

The Directorate of Health has specified that tourists are not eligible for vaccination through this initiative.

Companies that employ foreign workers with a service ID number (kerfiskennitala) are asked to provide health authorities with an excel document containing the following information:

  • Service ID number
  • Name
  • Icelandic mobile phone number (to receive the vaccination invitation)
  • Postcode (in order to receive an invitation to the correct health clinic)

The list is to be sent to the business’ local health clinic (employers are asked to contact the clinic for the correct email address). Businesses with employees in more than one postcode are asked to contact the COVID vaccination project manager via the Chief Epidemiologist’s Office or via [email protected].

Read More: All Foreign Residents to Have Access to Vaccine

Iceland’s COVID-19 vaccination programme began on December 29, 2020. While it got off to a slow start, efforts sped up as vaccine rollout accelerated. So far 62.59% of the population have received one or both doses of vaccine and 39.2% are fully vaccinated. Authorities have released a plan for lifting all social restrictions in stages by late June. Current restrictions, including one-metre social distancing and a 300-person limit on gatherings, are in place until June 29.

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.

City of Reykjavík’s Foreign Staff Inform Immigrants on COVID-19

Sabine Leskopf

City of Reykjavík employees with a foreign background have been crucial in informing the immigrant community during the COVID-19 pandemic, says City Councillor Sabine Leskopf, who also chairs the city’s Intercultural Committee. While translation of key information got off to a slow start, now many organisations are co-ordinating their efforts to ensure that foreigners living in Iceland aren’t out of the loop.

“There’s a lot of co-operation now, and that’s the amazing thing that’s happening,” Sabine says. “The beauty of Iceland is that the hierarchies are flat, it just takes a couple of phone calls, and things get done, and that’s happening a lot in this area as well.”

Information in many languages key

Sabine says those who speak Icelandic or English have had relatively good access to local information since the first coronavirus case was confirmed in Iceland. “A lot of immigrants speak good Icelandic, and those who do, of course, have more or less sufficient access to information as all the others have. Then there is a large group that speaks not much Icelandic but good English, and info in English started early, so I think this group also had good access. But then there’s a group that speaks neither good Icelandic nor English that we need to worry about. I’m a fierce supporter of learning Icelandic, I think there’s no way around it if you want to live here. But this is a time where we shouldn’t be arguing about people learning Icelandic or not. This is a time of emergency: we have to get information out there so people can get through this.”

Lack of accessible information leads to mistrust

“I’ve worked for a long time in translation – multilingual website translation is a very tricky thing. It was done incredibly fast, for the city’s official website, the COVID website and everyone else, but it still came late to the public.” Residents who don’t understand Icelandic or English well had trouble understanding and trusting Iceland’s unique approach to curbing the pandemic, says Sabine. “The strategy used in Iceland is very different from other countries. Immigrants who don’t speak Icelandic or English, they look for information elsewhere, mostly to their countries of origin, and that information was very different. So that confused people and maybe increased their worries about what’s happening here, particularly with schools. I think that’s the major issue for most immigrants; they’re wondering why the schools aren’t closed. They’re closed back home and not here, so people are scared and critical of government response and I think that’s understandable.”

“They have to know their options”

Besides providing information on COVID-19 on their website and Facebook pages in English and Polish, the City of Reykjavík is working to inform immigrants about what schools are doing to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus even while they remain open.

“We have what you call ‘bridge builders’ – people who have a foreign background, speak foreign languages, and have a teacher’s education who work in the school department. These people have been crucial for us. All messages sent from schools are always sent out at least in English, Polish, and Icelandic. These bridge builders have been in personal contact with the public, particularly calling parents who haven’t sent their children to school. We have called these people with an interpreter or spoken directly to them in their language. We always have to respect if they make the personal decision not to send their children to school. There can be many reasons for it. But we have to make sure they know their options, make sure they understand what the school is doing to protect their children.”

Sabine’s biggest concern is ensuring that children who are kept home can continue to learn. “If you have foreign children who don’t speak Icelandic in the home, for those children to be out of school maybe for months, that will set them back immensely, and they may already be in a vulnerable situation. So this is what we really want to inform the parents about. We want to make sure they understand their options and that they trust us so they can really think it through whether they want to send their children to school, and if not make sure children can stay in touch and continue to study.”

More immigrants needed in positions of responsibility

Of the City of Reykjavík’s 9,000 employees, around 10% are of foreign origin. Those working within the welfare as well as the human rights department and other communication-focused jobs have been crucial to keeping foreign residents informed, says Sabine. “It takes a lot of time for a translator to get into a new subject matter, to learn about it and understand it. It’s different when you have someone who works in the institution and knows it well. These people have the language, they understand the needs of the community, and they know the institution.”

While the city of Reykjavík has benefited from such employees, Sabine says it could do better. “That’s what I’m taking away from this time, what’s going to be my mission: we need to have more people with an immigrant background in responsible positions in the administration and in society.”