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.

Iceland’s Population to Reach 400,000 This Year

Reykjavík old historic centre

In the first six months of 2024, Iceland’s population should pass 400,000, Morgunblaðið reports. As it stands, the population is only around 1,000 away from that mark.

The growth in Iceland’s population has been much more rapid than expected. Statistics Iceland projected in 2008 that the population would only surpass 400,000 people in the year 2050. “This projection was very good, even if we’re reaching this goal 26 years earlier than expected,” Professor Stefán Hrafn Jónsson, Dean of the School of Social Sciences at the University of Iceland, told Morgunblaðið. “The projection showed a 0.6 percent yearly growth, but it turned out different. The shifts in Icelandic society were simply larger than expected in the projection.”

Population ageing faster

According to new projections, the population could grow by another 200,000 people in the next 40 years or so. “The latest projection from Statistics Iceland expects us to reach a population of 600,000 in the year 2067 or so,” Stefán said. “There is much uncertainty in such projections like in any projections about the future. That uncertainty grows the further we go into the future.”

Population projections are based on birth rates, mortality rates and migration. Historical developments, such as wars and pandemics, can influence these developments. “Even if births and deaths are biological processes, and therefore both the subject of health sciences, these events and everything that happens in between them are affected by social factors,” Stefán said. He added that Iceland will see an increasingly ageing population, which will put pressure on the healthcare system. The number of inhabitants over the age of 80 could triple in the next 50 years. “But the effects will also be seen in the pension system, the economy, labour market, governance, political ideologies, inequality, crime, customs, traditions, legislation, social services, housing, welfare, domestic and foreign trade, governance of businesses and institutions, markets, disability issues, cultural policy, language, religion, and morality, just to mention a few of the subjects of the humanities and social sciences,” Stefán added. “It could be a real cause for concern in the next decades whether we respond correctly to the ageing of our population.”

Arctic Tern Arrives Early in Iceland

arctic tern kría Iceland

The first two arctic terns of the season were spotted in Southeast Iceland on Saturday morning, according to the Southeast Iceland Bird Observatory. Their arrival is two or three days earlier than usual. Bird enthusiasts across the country are following along with migratory species as they return to their breeding grounds in Iceland.

The arctic tern makes the longest known migration of any animal, travelling between Arctic and sub-Arctic regions, where it breeds, to the Antarctic, where it winters, each year. Birds that nest in Iceland make a round trip that averages 70,900km (44,055mi) every year between their nesting and wintering grounds. The average arctic tern will travel some 2.4 million kilometres (1.5 million miles) during its lifetime, the equivalent of over three roundtrips from Earth to the Moon.

Orca Completes 8,000km Swim from Iceland to Lebanon

A male orca whale belonging to an Icelandic pod was sighted around Beirut, Lebanon, on February 19 and 20. Per a press release issued by Orca Guardians of Iceland, this is a journey of just over 8,000 kilometres (4,970 miles) and is the longest known one-way distance travelled by any ‘killer whale’ to date.

The whale identified as SN113, or “Riptide,” started his journey off the coast of the Snæfellsnes peninsula in West Iceland, where he was last seen in June 2018. He and his pod were later spotted around Genoa, Italy in December 2019 before moving on to Lebanon. Orca Guardians say this is also the first confirmed sighting of an orca in Lebanese waters. RÚV reports that Riptide’s marathon swim has broken the previous record for longest documented distance travelled by an orca by 2,500 km (1,553 miles).

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Orca Guardians head Marie-Thérèse Mrusczok was able to identify Riptide by markings on his dorsal fin and head using photographs of the wandering whale and comparing them to her organisation’s catalogue of 300 individuals. Orca Guardians has some concern for Riptide’s health at this point, as the whale is reported to appear emaciated and is travelling without the other members of its pod, who had been his companions both in Iceland and in Italy.

Orca Guardians report that there are 29 known orca whales that migrate Scotland and Iceland, but that this is the first time an orca has travelled this particular route, from Iceland to Italy to Lebanon. In an interview with RÚV, Marie-Thérèse said that it is, in fact, unusual for an orca to swim into Mediterranean waters at all.

“Orcas have never really been seen before in Lebanon,” she explained. “There were sailors who said they saw them swimming there in the 1980s, but nothing was confirmed. So this is unusual. It was also strange when they were seen in Italy. Orcas don’t usually swim so far into the Mediterranean.”

Orcas Swim from Iceland to Italy

orca iceland italy

Four orcas that were spotted by Iceland’s Snæfellsnes peninsula between 2014 and 2017 have now turned up in Genoa, Italy. This is the first ever record of orcas migrating between Iceland and Italy and is believed to be one of the longest migration routes ever recorded in the world at over 5,200km (3,230mi). RÚV reported first.

Orca groups stick together

The four whales, named SN113, SN114, SN115, and SN116, were first spotted in 2014 by researchers from the organisation Orca Guardians Iceland, which began identifying and cataloguing orcas off the coast of Snæfellsnes in January of that year. The group of four was spotted first in June 2014, visiting the area more regularly the following year, with six recorded sightings. They were then spotted again in 2016.

“In West Iceland, it is no news to us that group constellations are stable over the years and the same groups are seen in the same area at roughly the same time of year,” a post on the group’s Facebook page reads.

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Newborn calf did not survive

In 2017, the group showed up again with a newborn calf. Now, two and a half years later, they have been identified in the harbour of Genoa, Italy. Researchers were able to identify the four Orcas thanks to detailed images of various features, including fins and eye patches.

There is concern regarding the health of the whales, who appear to have lost weight since they were first spotted in the harbour in Genoa. The calf seen in 2017 was reportedly spotted in Genoa as well but has since died. Experts are meeting with authorities in the region to see how the whales can be helped.

Poles Apart

Polish community in Iceland

Nearly one half of all immigrants in Iceland come from a single country: Poland. Polish nationals were among the first foreigners to start settling here in the modern era, initially drawn by work in fish processing plants. In the early aughts, a boom in construction drew them in even greater numbers. In recent years, younger Poles have been flocking to the country for jobs in tourism and other industries. Their community as a whole now numbers 20,000.

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What proportion of Iceland’s residents are Icelandic citizens, and how many Icelandic citizens live abroad?

Viking Festival Hafnarfjörður

According to data from Statistics Iceland, the total population of the country in the last quarter of 2018 was 357,050. Of these residents, 312,740, or 87.6%, were Icelandic citizens while 44,310, or 12.4% were foreign citizens. The largest group were Polish nationals at 17,010, accounting for around 38.4% of all foreign nationals in the country. Danes made up the next-largest group (numbering 3,520), followed by Lithuanians (numbering 2,443). The proportion of foreign citizens has increased sixfold in the last two decades – In 1998, foreign citizens made up just 2.1% of Iceland’s population. Recent statistics show the proportion continues to rise, even as the number of Icelandic citizens in the country increased by 0.4% between December 2018 and June 2019.

A fair number of Icelandic citizens live abroad. According to the National Registry, there were 46,572 Icelanders living abroad as of February 2018. The vast majority, or 61.8%, lived in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Another 13.9% of Icelandic emigrants lived in the US. As of February 2018, Icelandic citizens were registered residents in 118 of the 193 member states of the United Nations.

Goose Flew to Iceland from Scotland in Less Than a Day

A greylag goose named Arnór completed its migratory flight from the Firth of Tay in Scotland to the Fagurhólsmýri moor in Southeast Iceland in 20 hours, RÚV reports. This is an estimated distance of 1,115km (693mi). The gander was tagged with a GPS tracker in Blönduós, North Iceland in July 2018 before flying back to Scotland, and spending its winter just east of the city of Dundee.

According to ornithologist Arnór Þórir Sigfússon, who posted his namesake’s journey on Facebook on Wednesday, the gander is the third greylag to have been tagged with a GPS tracker. The other two were geese named Linda and Linda Björk. Linda was shot by a hunter in Skagafjörður in the fall of 2016; Linda Björk’s transmitter was found in 2017. Its owner’s fate is unknown, although Linda Björk is presumed to be dead.

Meanwhile, Árnor the greylag gander has had a far happier story since being tagged last year. His tracking data shows that he spent some time in the fishing grounds along the southern coast of Iceland before heading to Scotland. He arrived in the Firth of Tay in November and has been wintering there since. Arnór set off on his journey back to Iceland on Monday around midnight and did not stop until he arrived in Fagurhólsmýri. He then rested there for a short time. As of 6 am on Wednesday morning, however, Arnór had already taken off again, and was reported to be flying over the Skeiðarársandur plain and northwest over the Vatnajökull glacier.

Árnor Þórir said he expected that before long, the gander would arrive back in Blönduós, where an eager group of geese enthusiasts were looking forward to welcoming the international traveller.