Deep North Episode 67: A Different Story

Karitas Hrundar Palsdottir

Icelandic, it is often said, is an impossible language to learn. Beyond the the cases and declensions, however, lies a simple fact – there are not many resources for learning the language. Karítas Hrundar Pálsdóttir is trying to change this with a series of books aimed at adult learners of the Icelandic language.

Read the story here.

Icelandic Government Invites Immigrants to Shape Policy

Iceland’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour is inviting immigrants to participate in shaping policy on integration and inclusion. The ministry is inviting immigrants in Iceland to an open consultation meeting in Reykjavík this Wednesday, February 28. Polish and English interpretation will be provided at the meeting.

Last November, the government of Iceland published its first-ever “green paper” on immigrant issues. The document is a status assessment on immigrant and refugee issues in Iceland and identifies opportunities and challenges for the future. The green paper has been published in Icelandic, English, and Polish, a first for the Icelandic government.

First-ever comprehensive integration policy in the works

As a follow up to the green paper, the Icelandic government will work on a white paper on immigrant issues. This will serve as the first draft of the country’s first-ever comprehensive policy on immigrant and refugee issues. The white paper will be developed into a parliamentary resolution on immigration and refugee policy.

Immigration brings large economic benefits

The most recent OECD Economic Survey of Iceland found that immigration in Iceland is rising faster than in other Nordic countries and that it brings large economic benefits. The median age of immigrants in Iceland is lower than in any other OECD country, at between 30-35 years, and their participation rate is higher than in any other country, at over 85%. The survey emphasised that Iceland should step up its efforts to help immigrants integrate, such as through better access to services, addressing housing needs, and establishing more effective language training courses.

To gather data for the white paper, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour has already held focus group meetings around the country, and the discussions from this Wednesday’s meeting will be integrated into the paper as well.

This Wednesday’s meeting in Reykjavík will take place at 5:00 PM at Hotel Reykjavík Grand.

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.

Deep North Episode 60: Boom Town

iceland immigration

If you’re looking for a community in Iceland that has been profoundly changed by tourism, there is hardly a better place to look than Vík, the urban centre of the Mýrdalshreppur municipality. Over the past eight years or so, building after building has sprung up in the town: a two-storey Icewear store opened in 2017, a 72-room hotel in 2018. Since 2015, the municipality’s population has nearly doubled, from 480 to 877. Ten years ago, there may have been one or two places in town for a traveller to sit down for dinner. Now there are enough restaurants for Tripadvisor to compile the top ten.

And along with the tour boom, the community in Vík has grown in recent years as well. Here’s how this South Iceland community is making the best of it. Read the story here.

Iceland News Review: Eruption Near Grindavík, Reykjavík’s New Mayor And More!

INR

In this episode of Iceland News Review, we go in-depth on last Sunday’s eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula and what this could mean for the people of Grindavík. Can they ever return and if not, where will they live? How will the government help them? There’s a lot of options on the table.

Also, Reykjavík has a new mayor with an historic twist; good news for Palestinian children in Iceland; one town stands out as having the highest per capita immigrant population; along with weather, road conditions, and much more!

Iceland News Review brings you all of Iceland’s top stories, every week, with the context and background you need. Be sure to like, follow and subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode!

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.”

Icelandic Language Strengthened in “Landmark” Initiative

Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Lilja Alfreðsdóttir, Katrín Jakobsdóttir

The Icelandic government has announced what it is calling a “landmark” initiative to strengthen the Icelandic language. The initiative includes 19 measures to support the preservation and development of Icelandic, many aimed at supporting immigrants’ language learning. Expected to cost at least ISK 1.4 billion [$9.9 million; €9.1 million], the initiative will receive additional funding over the coming years.

The initiative was announced at a press conference yesterday by Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Culture and Trade Minister Lilja Alfreðsdóttir, and Social Affairs and Labour Minister Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson. It is a collaborative project between five ministries and was developed in a cross-ministerial committee on the Icelandic language established last November. The initiative will be introduced to Parliament as a parliamentary resolution in the coming days.

Icelandic as a second language support

The 19 measures of the initiative include work-related Icelandic lessons for immigrants alongside work, improving the quality of Icelandic education for immigrants, and establishing online studies in Icelandic and Icelandic as a second language. One of the measures is supporting Icelandic language education for staff of preschools and after-school centres. The initiative also aims to provide additional support for Icelandic language technology as well as Icelandic subtitling and dubbing.

Iceland Review has regular coverage of the latest in Icelandic language programs and policies. For more on the government policy surrounding Icelandic language education for immigrants, read Nothing to Speak Of.

Boom Town

vík í mýrdal

The drive into Vík í Mýrdal from the west is one of my favourite stretches of the Ring Road. Just past the turnoffs for Dyrhólaey and Reynisfjara, the flat plains of the south coast narrow and rise into a brief but beautiful mountain pass, windy in both meanings of the word. Before you know it, the town opens up below: to the left, its iconic, red-roofed church on a hill, watching over a slope of low-lying houses. To the right, a cliff leading out to the sea. Ahead, a plain on which the growing town stretches east. 

If you’re looking for a community in Iceland that has been profoundly changed by tourism, there is hardly a better place to look than Vík, the urban centre of the Mýrdalshreppur municipality. Over the past eight years or so, building after building has sprung up in the town: a two-storey Icewear store opened in 2017, a 72-room hotel in 2018. Since 2015, the municipality’s population has nearly doubled, from 480 to 877. Ten years ago, there may have been one or two places in town for a traveller to sit down for dinner. Now there are enough restaurants for Tripadvisor to compile the top ten. 

vík í mýrdal

As elsewhere across Iceland, the booming tourism industry in and around Vík needs workers, and most of those who have come to the town in recent years are immigrants. While across Iceland, some 18% of the population are foreign citizens, in Mýrdalshreppur that figure is 60%, making it the only Icelandic municipality in which immigrants constitute a majority. It’s a reality in which both the opportunities and the challenges brought by immigration and multiculturalism in Iceland are magnified. I’m here to learn more about both.

icewear vík
tourism in vík
tourism in vík

The Mayor’s office

In Einar Freyr Elínarson’s office, a big screen hangs on the wall, featuring a photograph of goats frolicking in a field. “It’s taken on my farm,” he explains. “I’m the sixth generation of my family to live there. I’m a country boy, as deeply rooted in Mýrdalshreppur as I could be.” For years, the family farm has also had a guesthouse and a restaurant, and before becoming mayor last year, Einar was involved in the family business. “I have a background in tourism, and like everyone who works in tourism here, I’m used to working with foreigners. Since I was ten, there have almost always been some foreign people living with us at home, so I sort of grew up in that environment.”

Einar Freyr Elínarson

“In the youngest division of the preschool, most of the children are from families of foreign origin. Most of them don’t speak Icelandic. If we don’t address this, it could lead to certain social problems in 10-15 years. We have an opportunity to prevent that.”

Since Einar’s childhood, however, the tourism industry in Mýrdalshreppur has changed dramatically, expanding from a seasonal industry to a year-round one. “Back in 2010, people were hiring staff for two or three months over the summer, but there was nothing to do over the winter. Around 2017, that started changing very quickly. There started to be a lot of traffic over the winter, which meant tourism companies could hire staff year-round. I also think that’s why we’re leading in tourism in this area: we have such quality staff.” 

tourism in vík

When the pandemic brought tourism to a near-complete halt, it really sunk in for Einar that many of the foreigners who had come to Mýrdalshreppur for work were not just here temporarily. “I was on the local council at the time. When companies closed and had to lay off their staff, we thought the municipality’s tax income would collapse. What we hadn’t realised is that there were a lot of people who had lived here long enough that they had earned the right to unemployment benefits. The municipality got local tax income through those benefits, and its income didn’t drop quite so much. That’s when I realised: OK, people are starting to settle here. They’re not leaving.” 

I head to the Icewear wool shop to meet one such settler, who came to the town years ago and never left. 

vík black sand beach

Icewear

The Icewear store in Vík is more than a store, it’s an institution. A sea of coats, socks, knitted hats and sweaters, stuffed toys and souvenirs fill its vast, two-storey floor plan. Even on this weekday morning in early November, tourists are wandering the aisles, picking up a puffin-emblazoned scarf or a hiking shoe for closer inspection. “Summers are crazier, but the winters are catching up,” Tomasz Chochołowicz, the store’s energetic manager, and the chairman of the town’s English-language Council, tells me.

icewear in vík Tomasz Chochołowicz

“At first I thought local politics were beyond my reach, that they were more for Icelanders.”

Tomasz moved to Iceland in December of 2015. “I came straight to Vík. It was different than it is now. A year or two earlier, the hotels were closing down over the winter. I was unemployed for a month, I had debts. It was tough. Then I met a woman who lived here and she helped me find a room. I stayed with a guy who was working at Icewear. He told me to leave my CV here. I got a position because I already had housing; it was such a hard thing to get. Then I lost it one week later.”

Tomasz eventually settled in, and shortly afterwards, his girlfriend (now wife) joined him in Vík. Eight years later, he has climbed the Icewear ladder to become the store’s manager. He has a house and a three-year-old son. “There are challenges. But if you compare it to life in other places, it’s just crazy good.” He admits, however, that for residents arriving now, it’s more difficult to enter the real estate market. “We have many young people working here, between 20 to 35 years old. Very often they stay for three, four years. It’s a challenge for us to try to keep them here. To give them a carrot, so to say.”

Víkurskáli

One person looking for such a carrot is Irene, a cashier I meet when I pop into Víkurskáli gas station. Irene came to Vík two years ago, relocating from an Athens she describes as “overpopulated.” I ask her how the town is treating her. “I love it here, but it’s not for everyone,” she answers. While settling in wasn’t hard for Irene, “it’s after that it gets harder. Then it’s in Óðinn’s hands, or Þór’s,” she quips.

“I love it here, but it’s not for everyone.”

When I ask Irene about the challenges of living in this small, South Iceland community, she lists off many issues that small communities across Iceland share: the health clinic, which also serves as the community’s pharmacy, is only open from 9:00 AM-1:30 PM on weekdays. There’s a lack of housing, and most new buildings are “built for the tourists, not for the people who live here. They’re trying to build more housing, but it’s too slow.” Many of the issues, she recognises, are not necessarily reflections on the municipality, but the government. “The big heads seem to forget there’s a strong community of people here behind the touristic town that really try to stay long term. But we don’t have a hospital, post office, or school big enough to accommodate a town of nearly 1,000 people.” Irene wants to stay in Vík, but she doesn’t know how long she can under the current conditions. “There are not a lot of career opportunities for people who would like to work on their career path.”

The English-language Council

Over the past few years, as Mýrdalshreppur’s transformation was taking place, the issues facing foreign residents were not immediately apparent to the local council. That changed in the lead-up to the 2022 municipal elections. “When we were preparing the candidate lists for the election, Tomasz came to the meeting,” Einar tells me. “He took the stage and explained that a very large group of people within the community felt that they didn’t have a real opportunity to make an impact. So we had a very honest discussion about that and the idea of forming an English-language Council emerged.” 

Einar Freyr Elínarson

“It’s because of the work of these new residents that the municipality is in a good financial position.”

There was one specific development in 2022 that helped Vík’s foreign residents be heard. An amendment to Iceland’s election legislation meant that foreign residents could now vote in municipal elections after having lived in Iceland for three years (previously it had been five). In Mýrdalshreppur, this meant that suddenly, 42% of all eligible voters were immigrants. “The number of foreign residents on the electoral register quadrupled,” Einar reflects. “It was a whole different game. Suddenly this group could make demands of the municipality for services that were important to them. Building a new gym became a campaign issue, something that no one was thinking about eight years ago. The biggest demographic among foreign residents is 20-40 years old, this is a service that is really important to them.” 

polish immigration iceland

Once he became mayor, Einar quickly saw that to gain residents’ trust, he needed to make sure his involvement in the council was hands-on. “I decided that I would attend all the English-language Council’s meetings. I go to every single one and I give them a report on what’s happening in the municipal council. And it’s been really good for me as well to get their perspective on things. The issues we discuss in the municipal council affect all residents, including foreign residents.”

Doctors, drones, and dialogue

As Tomasz reviews the issues the council has discussed over its inaugural year, I can see they range widely: bringing more doctors to Vík, regulating drone flying within the town, preparing welcome brochures for new residents, and making Icelandic language education more accessible. Local residents often work long hours and finding the time and motivation for Icelandic classes can be a challenge – especially when their jobs mostly involve serving foreign tourists in English. “If you want to have true access to Icelandic society, learning Icelandic is key,” Tomasz says. “I had the idea that the municipality could hire a teacher who could be available at different times to accommodate shift workers. The problem is how to frame it since no one has done it before. But it’s also exciting, because why not? Let’s see where it takes us.”

In its role as an advisory body, the council has made proposals that are followed up on by the municipal council. Although the English-language Council technically does not have any executive power, Tomasz argues that soft power can be even more effective. “If we ask something of the municipal council, we cannot be ignored. We definitely have influence. I think this soft power is better when you’re trying to convince people of something, you create connections. If you push too hard, you create more divisions in the community.” 

Housing

When I ask Einar about the biggest issue facing Vík, his answer is clear. “Housing. Whatever housing goes on sale, employers buy up immediately, because they want to grow their companies. And in order to grow their companies, they need to hire people, so they buy housing so they can rent it to their staff.” In contrast to the capital area, most workers who have settled in Vík live in housing provided by their employer, Einar explains. “And the municipality is no exception there. We’ve had to buy a lot of apartments in the last few years just to be able to hire people for the office and the schools. And we’re in the same position as the companies: we can’t continue to house someone if they stop working for the municipality.” It’s a vicious cycle, and it’s not ideal for any of the parties involved, Einar explains. “It’s a bad situation for the worker, who is completely dependent on their employer for housing – they’re stuck working for the same person. And the companies would also rather invest their money back into the business or pay out dividends.” By building more rental housing, Einar hopes Mýrdalshreppur can change this system. New rental apartments have come on the market recently and the municipality just signed a contract to build 200 more units over the next ten years.

vík í mýrdal
vík í mýrdal
vík í mýrdal

More secure housing independent of employment contracts will also help reduce resident turnover, Einar suggests, which could in turn help diversify the economy. “A lot of the new residents in this area are highly educated. They could easily do something totally different from working in tourism if they weren’t at risk of losing their housing.” Another important factor is ensuring good services. “Foreign residents are lacking a big part of their support network here. If they have kids, they need to know there will be space for them in the preschool, because Grandma and Grandpa aren’t around to watch the kids if something comes up.”

housing construction in vík

The preschool

When I enter the preschool, it’s naptime. I tiptoe through the hallways in search of its director, Nichole Leigh Mosty, hopeful that she, at least, is still awake. Originally from the United States, Nichole has been living in Iceland for over 20 years. Much of that time has been spent working in the fields of diversity and inclusion, in both Reykjavík and Ísafjörður (the Westfjords) and directing organisations such as the Multicultural Information Centre and W.O.M.E.N. in Iceland (the Women of Multicultural Ethnicity Network). Nichole took on the position of Vík’s preschool director last June. The immigrant community here differs from the others she’s gotten to know.

preschool in vík

“The other day, the Prime Minister said that if anyone could have perfect equality, it’s Iceland. So why don’t we?”

“In Reykjavík, there is a lot of diversity among immigrants. There are university-educated people who are working in their field; there are people like me, ‘two-decaders´ who have settled in, and not necessarily around a particular industry; there are people who receive refugee status who settle there because that’s where the services are. In Ísafjörður, there are immigrants who have been there for a long, long time. Here, it’s a whole different reality: there are a lot of people who are newbies, fresh to the country.” While the length of time most immigrants stay in Vík may have lengthened since 2015, Nichole still sees a lot of turnover. “And maybe that’s OK. Maybe we need to also think about short-term inclusion. Not necessarily just integration, but inclusion: how do we include people who come for a little while? Because there’s a lot of wealth in having young people here with new ideas,” she observes.

The fact that most of Vík’s new residents work in the tourism industry presents specific challenges when it comes to integration. “I have families here who work very hard in the summer and then take their vacation in the winter. So I’ll lose children out of the preschool for six, seven weeks. That might be great for the family, but it’s a huge gap in language development.” The preschool recently elected a new parent’s council, where two out of the three members are of foreign origin. “I’m really happy they came to me and asked if they could be involved. I want it to be a learning opportunity for them about how things work in the local community, but also for us, to learn what they’re thinking. Like, for example, why they still go to the doctor in Poland.”

Nichole Leigh Mosty

“I’m here because I believe something really special can happen in Vík if we all look at the community we have, look at the community we want, and work together to make it.”

As for the English-language Council, Nichole sees it as a good first step towards greater integration and inclusion in Mýrdalshreppur. “People are proud of the fact that it’s here. People are proud to be a part of it. And that’s a really important first step. But as for the next steps: how do we get the community more involved in the council? And how do we bring what happens in the council back out to the community?” Nichole stresses the importance of the council being involved in shaping policy within the municipality, particularly a policy on integration, which is still lacking.

When I ask Nichole what motivates her to continue to fight for inclusion, her optimism is apparent. “After the Women’s Strike the other day, the Prime Minister said that if anyone could have perfect equality, it’s Iceland. So why don’t we? There are so many possibilities to get it right.” Nichole points out that the changes in Vík benefit long-time locals just as much as Iceland’s newcomers. “The town is booming. Everywhere you walk, they’re building something.” The preschool is no exception: it will soon be housed in a new building, the first phase of which is set to be completed by December. “Growth is happening. The question is, what do you do to include these new people in the community that they are basically funding and keeping alive?”

The running track

As I step out of the preschool, I wander to the running track at the edge of town. Two women are strolling around it, one pushing a baby carriage. During the pandemic, this municipality had one of the highest birth rates in Iceland. I think about how Einar framed his hopes for the future of Mýrdalshreppur. “I want the municipality to invest because it’s in a good position to invest right now. Many of the new residents are paying full taxes but they are young people without families, which means they are using very few services. As people settle here and have children, they go to school, the operations become more costly. The opportunity to build for the future is now.”

vík í mýrdal

I wonder what others in Iceland can learn from the developments in Vík: both its challenges and the enthusiasm and vision of its community leaders. I hope they won’t wait until immigrants become the lion’s share of voters to ask these questions. If they do, they’ll lose valuable time. As I return home to Reykjavík, Nichole’s last words to me echo in my head. “People should watch what happens in Vík.” I know I will.

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.”

Does Iceland have many foreign residents? What are the wages and working conditions like for foreign workers?

reykjavík iceland esja

Yes, Iceland has a significant number of foreign residents. The latest figures from Statistics Iceland show that immigrants comprise around 18% of the total population of Iceland.

The Icelandic economy has grown quickly in the years following the 2008 banking collapse, largely driven by the tourism industry. However, given Iceland’s small population pool, the recent economic expansion is largely dependent on foreign labour.

Of Icelanders with a foreign background, Poles make up by far the largest group. As of 2022, some 20,896 were living in Iceland, or 34.2% of the total immigrant population. The second- and third-largest groups are comprised of people from Lithuania and Romania respectively.

Employment opportunities mean that Iceland's immigrant population is largely clustered around the capital region, though residents with a foreign background also make up a notable part of the Westfjords. One of the least-populated regions of Iceland, tour-related services have become a large part of this region's economy.


Though Iceland is an attractive destination for many, there are also realities to immigration.

For example, a 2018 study by the University of Akureyri found while the average monthly salary in that year for full-time workers was 721,000 ISK [$5,168; €4,727], 60% of immigrants made only 400,000 ISK [$2,866; €2,623] or less per month.

Besides statistics, there is of course also a subjective element to the immigrant experience. Iceland is a small community with a unique language. For some, this is a major attraction to life in Iceland, but for others, it can be alienating. Some may also find themselves working largely English-based jobs in the tourism and service sector, and never truly integrating to Icelandic society.

Unfortunately, there have also been increasing incidents of wage theft, in which employers withhold earnings from workers who may not be in a position to press their rights. Read about the rights of workers here, in English.

This is of course a large issue with many facets. Read our coverage of social issues, and check out our coverage of Iceland's largest immigrant population below.

Prospective immigrants to Iceland may also find this Ask Iceland Review helpful: How can I move to Iceland?