As a result of these major reforms, Iceland scores 56/100, higher than the MIPEX average country (49). Despite Iceland’s significant shift in direction, its new “comprehensive” approach to integration is yet not yet fully favourable for integration. Favourably, immigrants to Iceland can secure their future and settle long-term in the country. Still, Iceland only goes halfway to secure basic rights and equal opportunities for national and foreign citizens. These policies encourage the public to see immigrants as their possible fellow citizens, but not necessarily as their equals or neighbours.
Iceland has started to address these dimensions, much like the ‘Top Ten’ MIPEX countries. Internationally, the ‘Top Ten’ MIPEX countries treat immigrants as equals, neighbours and potential citizens, and invest in integration as a two-way process for society.
These policies matter because the way that governments treat immigrants strongly influences how well immigrants and the public interact and think of each other. Drawing on 130 independent scientific studies using MIPEX, integration policies emerge as one of the strongest factors shaping not only the public’s willingness to accept and interact with immigrants, but also immigrants’ own attitudes, belonging, participation and even health in their new home country.
Iceland has more restrictive policies than other Nordic countries (Finland, Norway and Sweden), with the exception of Denmark.
- Labour market mobility: Slightly unfavourable: Non-EU migrants continue to face obstacles to the labour market in Iceland. Only permanent residents, spouses of Icelandic citizens and TCN spouses of EEA citizens have immediate access to the labour market. However, non-Icelandic citizens can access self-employment and, as of 2019, public sector employment. Non-EU newcomers also continue to have few options to improve their skills and careers, unlike in Western European or other Nordic countries.
- Family reunification: Slightly favourable: Non-EU families are eligible to reunite and settle in Iceland if they can overcome the demanding income requirement, discretionary procedure and restrictions on their rights.
- Education: Halfway favourable: Iceland’s basic support for its small number of immigrant pupils may be insufficient to overcome language and social obstacles to equal opportunities in education.
- Health: Halfway favourable: Even though migrants in Iceland have better information and services than in most MIPEX countries, healthcare entitlements and gaps in general health policies may mean that immigrants do not enjoy the same health access as Icelandic citizens.
- Political participation: Slightly favourable: Foreign citizens in Iceland are relatively well included in the inclusive Nordic model of local democracy. EU and non-EU citizens in Iceland are able and encouraged to be local voters and candidates as well as be organised and consulted at local level.
- Permanent residence: Slightly favourable: Foreign citizens must wait four years before they can become permanent residents, with a secure status and the same socio-economic rights as Icelandic citizens. The requirement for applicants to prove their economic resources is potentially demanding, complicated and contrary to EU standards (social assistance excluded, except for temporary financial difficulties).
- Access to nationality: Halfway favourable: Permanent residents in Iceland benefit from a basic path to citizenship, similar to policies in other Nordic countries and the average EU country. Immigrants need to wait for an average period of 7 years before face demanding naturalisation requirements about their language skills, economic resources and criminal records.
- Anti-discrimination: Halfway favourable: Halfway favourable and significantly improved since 2014, but still below the EU average country, residents in Iceland should be protected from racial, ethnic, religious discrimination thanks to a strong equality body and enforcement mechanisms. Immigrants are still not fully protected from discrimination on the ground of citizenship and in the area of social protection.