The majority of elderly immigrants in Iceland have no right to a pension, while the system remains complicated and access to certain rights is based in large part on nationality.
Barbara Jean Kristvinsson, a specialist in immigration issues, told RÚV that elderly immigrants are in a more disadvantaged position than locally-born elderly people. There are about 300 elderly immigrants in Reykjavík alone.
In order to qualify for a full pension, immigrants must work for 40 years in Iceland, between the ages of 16 and 67. However, very few elderly immigrants meet this condition, and many opt to seek financial assistance for their municipality.
Barbara points out that what country people come from has an effect on what rights they have to a pension.
“For example, people who have been here a particularly short amount of time and are from countries outside Europe have fewer rights,” she said. “People from Europe have more rights, but the rights they do have vary depending on what country in Europe they’re from, and it is difficult to find this out. The system is complicated.”
Elderly immigrants therefore often seek financial assistance, but are less likely to seek out rent assistance, driving services and home assistance services than their native counterparts. This may be because they are not aware of these services, Barbara says.
The complications of the system is something Barbara also pointed out to Grapevine in 2016.
“If you’re over the age of 67, you shouldn’t be getting social welfare payments from the municipalities anymore,” she told us. “You should be getting a pension from the Social Insurance Administration (Tryggingastofnun). But these people don’t have any right to Tryggingastofnun. People are still trying to figure out the legalities of that, and they can be tricky legalities, because these immigrants have to prove that they don’t have rights.”
Barbara also mentioned some of the social effects of being a senior immigrant in Iceland.
“I think that integrating is tough,” she said. “It’s hard enough having to integrate in a foreign country, but try having to integrate into a nursing home, where you’re maybe not going to get your daughter to cook you food from your home. They can’t engage in the usual small talk of getting to know inter-family connections. It’s very lonesome and isolating.”