New figures indicate that joblessness is highest among Iceland’s foreign born population, in some cases over twice that of the national average.
Fréttablaðið reports that while Iceland’s overall unemployment rate measured at 8.6% last February, 19.5% of Iceland’s Polish population is currently jobless. At the same time, many of these immigrants are choosing to stay in Iceland rather than return to their homelands, namely because they would not be entitled to unemployment benefits in their home countries.
The problem extends deeper than this, however. In many cases, accepting social benefits can prevent an immigrant from obtaining citizenship. This essentially leaves these immigrants with a choice between remaining in Iceland with little hope of being able to fully settle so long as they accept unemployment payments, or returning home where they will receive no benefits whatsoever.
The opening of Iceland’s labour market to foreign countries worked well for the country in the boom times. With real estate prices on the upswing and construction growing, many people from eastern Europe came to Iceland in the early to mid 2000s. Poles, being members of an EU country, have the right to come freely to Iceland and then seek work, as opposed to those from outside the EU, who must have a job waiting for them that no Icelander can do or wants to do.
Despite this freedom, many Poles now face harder times than their Icelandic counterparts. Gerður Gestsdóttir, a consultant for the Directorate of Labour, told Fréttablaðið, “If they leave, they have no recourse. It’s a rough situation to hang at the bottom, with little hope of getting work and poor social conditions, or to go home and get nothing.”