So, you’ve decided to immigrate to Iceland? Congratulations! Please respond to this brief questionnaire to assess your eligibility for a permanent residence permit:
1. Are you married to/related to an Icelander?
2. Are you a citizen of Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom or Switzerland1?
If you answered ‘yes’ to one or both of these questions, welcome to Iceland! Frolic about the mossy lava fields, soak in the geothermal waters and apply for jobs generously.
If you answered ‘no’ to both questions please confine your enjoyment of Iceland to the legally permitted 90 days,2 and promptly return to your country of origin.
What’s that? You don’t want to go home?
Fear not, beloved foreign reader, for you too can (try but most likely fail to) realise your dream of staying permanently in Iceland. Here’s how:
Are you working in Iceland? / Will you be working?
I’ll give it to you straight, my dear prospective permanent residency-permit holder, this category is a tough one to fulfil and takes some advance planning.
Firstly, non-EEA nationals cannot apply for a residence permit once they have already arrived in Iceland. So if you show up here and happen to be offered an incredible employment opportunity with a gallery, a bank, a school or a popular English-language magazine, you had better hope that your would-be employers fancy you enough to wait the 90-day’s required by the Directorate of Immigration to process your residence application (as article 9 of the Act On Foreigners No. 96 /2002 reads, “a foreigner wishing to accept employment, with or without remuneration, or to work as a self-employed person in Iceland, must, in addition to a work permit when this is required by law, possess a permit to stay in Iceland.”) and that there is nobody within the EEA qualified for your job. They get first dibs.
Secondly, you have to fall under one of three categories to be granted a permit on grounds of employment: temporary shortage of labourers, athletes and qualified professionals. Only the latter counts toward a permanent residence permit, the two former are temporary and expire when the work expires. That’s when you have to leave. I’m not saying you have to go home, but you’ve got to get the hell out of Iceland.
Are you a relative of an EEA citizen? / Are you in Iceland to join your family?
So you’ve read the words “relative of an EEA citizen” and naturally you think to yourself “Oh my goodness! My third cousin, twice removed on my father’s side is a Liechtensteiner residing in Iceland! I’m in!” No. No you’re not.
“Relative” in this case means either a spouse or registered partner or a dependent child or parent. So unless you’re the dependent minor offspring of the Liechtensteiner in question, no dice.
Moreover, if you’ve been living in Iceland for 90-days and are madly in love with a fine Icelander and you’ve been co-habitating and all that don’t get your hopes up that you can register as common-law spouses. Couples in Iceland have to have been living together for two consecutive years before they are considered common-law.
But how are non-EEA/EEA pairings supposed to reach that 2-year benchmark if one half of the partnership isn’t allowed to live in the country? Good question. The only option seems to be tying the knot.
Keep in mind that Rósa Dögg Flosadóttir, of the Directorate of Immigration, asserts, “The Icelandic Directorate of Immigration absolutely does not support marriage solely for the purpose of obtaining a residence permit. If there is reason to suspect that a marriage, registered partnership or cohabitational partnership has been established solely with a view to obtaining a temporary residence permit, and no incontrovertible demonstration to the contrary is made, then this shall not confer an entitlement to a temporary residence permit.”
Before engaging in faux-matrimonial bliss, give the Act on Foreigners a read-through. Rósa Dögg pointed out the particularly poignant Article 57, paragraph 2, item ‘g’, which warns that if anyone “intentionally or through gross negligence obtains, or attempts to obtain, a temporary residence permit on the basis of marriage” they will find themselves subject to fines or two years imprisonment.
Couldn’t I just fall off the grid?
If you are so keen on staying in Iceland that you feel the need to just say “to hell with the regulations and permits, I’m staying!” keep in mind the risks you are taking. Aside from the immediate deportation, “an overstay in the Schengen states (not only Iceland) can ban you from entering the Schengen countries for up to 3-4 years,” according to the Directorate of Immigration in response to a general inquiry. “You are on your own when you take a risk like that.”
Chances are slim
From what we can gather here, unless you’re in a legitimate relationship and marry an Icelander or a citizen of another EEA nation who is living in Iceland your chances of being granted a permanent residence permit are slim to none. The laws are in place for reasons, but it sure is frustrating if you’re interested in living here for a relationship or for professional reasons, as the Act of Foreigners denies you the pleasure of doing so based solely upon the country listed on your passport.
Of course, if you’re hankering for a short-term fix, apply for school in Iceland, become an au-pair for a year (both of which will secure you a temporary residence permit… though, one assumes that two years of school whilst living with a sweetheart makes for a legit common-law arrangement the Directorate of Immigration would not confirm or deny this), or just make the most of your 90-days and come back again after another 90 spent outside the Schengen. I know, it’s not the same, but sometimes beggars can’t be choosers.
1 Such is the all-powerful European Economic Area (EEA), plus Switzerland, because what did the Swiss ever do to you? Exactly.
2 If you carry a passport for Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong (HKSAR only), Israel, Japan, Macao (MACAOSAR only), Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, San Marino, Singapore, South Korea, United States of America, Uruguay, Vatican, Venezuela… otherwise you need a visa to begin with. Sorry.
United States of America
Permit Type: Pending… and it’s a secret
Útlendingstofnun just chooses people based on where they were born that has nothing to do with whether they’ll contribute or not, whether they’ll learn Icelandic, whether they have a criminal record. That’s a real slap in the face for me; I was learning Icelandic and I knew that once my degree was over I would be kicked out. I was really trying to fit in here but they make immigration solely about where you’re born.”
United States of America
Permit Type: SF – Residence permit for qualified professionals
Before 2008 I could apply for a residence permit based on being financially independent and able to support myself in Iceland. Once I was here I started a company and then hired myself as an employee and reapplied for a residence permit based on employment.
“It felt really frustrating going through the process and seeing that I really wanted to be here for professional reasons and I really had to struggle, but other people from the EU could just come here if they felt like it. Also I was frustrated at the misinformation I seemed to be given at every step of the process by Útlendingastofnan and AHÚS, almost like it was deliberate. I felt I was misled about my options and I felt like I was being condescended to. A lot of foreigners seem to feel the same way.”
Brazil & United States of America
Permit Type: Citizen
“I came with a US passport, not a Brazillian passport – there are different types of non-EEA people ‘unofficially.’ Back then the restrictions weren’t nearly as tough as they are now. It seemed like as the EU expanded so did the rules.
I worked for deCODE for two years then applied for school. I kept renewing my student visa without realizing that it wasn’t counting toward any permanent residency so after five years I tried to get permanent residency but was told I wasn’t eligible. I was also rejected by the Minsitry of Justice since I had had a speeding ticket so I appealed directly to Alþingi – they evaluate cases individually and since I am well educated and look good on paper I was approved. I never had permanent residency, but I have citizenship. It’s tougher now than when I arrived though. The laws are made to punish people who don’t deserve to be punished.”