Published February 7, 2018
The Directorate of Immigration recently refused to grant Icelandic citizenship to a man who was born in Iceland from an Icelandic woman, RÚV reports.
Eggert Einer Níelson, who lives in Ísafjörður with his family, was born in Reykjavík in the 50s but moved with his mother to the United States when he was seven years old. Ten years ago, right after the economic crash, he decided to move back to Iceland with his wife and son and has been working as a music teacher in the Westfjörds for the past seven years.
A flawed law
Because he was born here and his mother was Icelandic, Eggert thinks that having Icelandic citizenship is nothing less than his birthright. He therefore applied for citizenship by descent (jus sanguinis) and country of birth (jus soli). However, a small detail in the system seems to have ruined his chances. When Eggert was born, back in 1957, the law stated that children were to be automatically assigned their father’s citizenship. Eggert’s father is Danish.
Only in 1982 did the law change and children could finally get their mother’s citizenship, too. The 1982 law, however, is not retroactive—and that’s where matters become ridiculous. Eggert is therefore registered as Danish and American but not Icelandic.
Feeling a foreigner in his own country
So far, Eggert has been able to stay in the country by regularly applying for a visa. When his application for citizenship was rejected, however, Eggert was automatically registered by the system as living in the US. He found out only by chance when, after having been hospitalised, he received a bill of 340 thousand ISK (approximately 3300 USD) in hospital fees.
The decision of the Directorate of Immigration is controversial and was harshly criticized online, but it is nonetheless based on the law, as silly as the law itself is. Eggert could possibly have obtained citizenship if he had applied as a foreigner. However, he and his family are considering leaving the country altogether. In his interview with RÚV, where he spoke English, Eggert said to be very frustrated by the system: “clearly we aren’t welcome here,” he commented. “The people are great, but when it comes to governments something is wrong. I’m Icelandic. It’s in my blood, and I feel it in my heart. They cannot take that away from me, no matter what.”