Yeah, those were simpler times.
Today’s immigration laws have been worked over a tad. In addition to the bureaucratic waltz described above, there have been a few changes made, as Minister of Justice Björn Bjarnason explained to Grapevine, “to comply with the regulations of the European Economic Community,” and “to prevent persons from obtaining residence permits through illegal or criminal behaviour.”
Some of these measures have inspired questions and even outrage among both Icelanders and immigrants alike. Two laws in particular – known colloquially as the “age 24 law” and the “age 67 law” – have been criticised by some as being inordinately unfair towards foreigners. Both of these laws are actually changes made to existing laws and, at the time of writing, are only available in Icelandic.
The “age 24 law“: Are forced marriages a big problem in Iceland?
What the “age 24 law” says is that a foreigner’s marriage to an Icelander does not change their legal status until they are older than 24 years of age. The “age 67 law” says that the parents of a foreigner cannot immigrate to Iceland as family members until they’ve reached the age of 67.
I asked Minister of Justice Björn Bjarnason if false and fake marriages are a big problem in Iceland, and he replied:
“As I said in parliament, there have been several instances of suspected forced or false marriages in Iceland – somewhere between 50 and 80 cases have been dealt with by the police, which they didn’t really have the authority to investigate until now [so why were they doing it? –ed.]. Each case was treated individually, so I can’t really go into the grounds for suspicion of each individual case.”
When posing the same question to Ms. Margrét Steinarsdóttir, a lawyer who works for the Intercultural centre, the reaction was slightly different:
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know of any false marriages, but they’re rare. As for forced marriages, I don’t really know of any. I suppose the figure of 50 to 80 cases could be accurate, but even if it was, does that mean we have to discriminate against everyone who comes here?”
Doing like the Danes
The “age 24 law” is strikingly similar to an immigration law passed in Denmark. I asked Mr. Bjarnason if he thought the law was doing well in Denmark:
“Yes, I think it is. Now the Dutch are intending to use the age of 21. We could have used 26, or 21. We chose 24, like the Danes.”
Margrét Steinarsdóttir disagrees with the notion that the age 24 law is working well in Denmark:
“I feel that this law will change because of the recent visit to Denmark by Alvaro Gil-Robles, who is the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. He recommended that the Danish review the exact same rule as it could be in violation of Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights.”
Article 8 states:
“Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.“
Ms. Steinarsdóttir adds:
“Already lawsuits have begun in Denmark, filed by both NGOs and “mixed marriage” couples. These cases could go all the way up to the European Court of Human Rights and, if they will, I have a very strong feeling they would rule in favour of those who filed the suit.”
Mr. Bjarnason dismissed this claim, stating:
“The Danish Minister of Immigration said that the European Commissioner for Humans Rights had issued a political declaration which did not have any legal effect. The Danish law on “mixed marriage” is not the same as the Icelandic. The Icelandic law is not an exact copy of the Danish law although we use the same age limit, 24 years.”
But when asked why Iceland chose the age of 24 for this particular law, Mr. Bjarnason replied:
“Traditionally, Iceland has taken notice of legal trends in Denmark and, after this rule became law there, we copied this law as our own.”
Ms. Steinarsdóttir says:
“One feels that many stipulations of the Law on foreigners are basically vague and open to interpretation, that they’re written in such a way that if the Immigration authorities wanted to, they could effectively close the country.”
How old is old? The “age 67” law:
“Mr. Bjarnason explained:
This rule applies to close relatives who wish to apply for a residence permit as a family member – that is, not on the basis of a working permit. Persons younger than 67 years are not entitled to such a permit. I think this clause in the law has been greatly misinterpreted.”
And if one parent is older than 67 but the other one isn’t? I asked.
“Then only the older parent would be able to come here on the basis of such a permit,” he replied.
Ms. Steinarsdóttir feels differently, stating:
“What some people might not know about this law is that in addition to the parent having to be at least 67 years old, you also have to show proof that you’ve been supporting him/her financially. The law does not say how much money you need to have sent them or for how long, but the minimum support of an individual in this country is 77,083 krónur a month, and the period of support would probably have to be at least one or two years. No justification that I know of has been given for this age limit, but the age of 67 in Iceland, is the legal age for pension for example.”
Mr. Bjarnason concludes:
“The issue is not about marriage but about the right to apply for a residence permit as a family member in Iceland. Marriage does not automatically give a foreigner, younger than 24 years old, the right to such a permit. There are different aspects concerning forced marriages. They do not create the right to a permit to stay, but in these cases the authorities have to prove that the marriage is not based on the free will of both spouses. Of course it is necessary to send out the message that it is unacceptable to live in a forced marriage and I believe that by this law, we have sent a clear message.”
“I’d say the age 24 law has caused major problems to spouses who are not yet 25 years old. Instead of passing a law which discriminates against everyone, forced marriages should be addressed with a community outreach program which educates young women that they don’t have to stay in a marriage that they were forced into, that they can get a divorce, and that the government will protect them.”