In late January, Icelandic Interior Minister Ögmundur Jónasson presented a bill requiring foreigners from countries outside the EEA Icelandic citizenship in order to purchase real estate.
This could be a protectionist knee-jerk reaction to Chinese investor Huang Nubo’s attempt to purchase land in North Iceland. However, the consequences extend a bit further than just one man.
I completely understand the desire of the country to protect the interests of its people. In fact, the Philippines also has a similar law restricting property ownership (foreigners cannot buy land but can lease land and own condominium units). What worries is that this bill might exclude legally domiciled migrants from reaching for that “Icelandic dream.”
First off, the road to Icelandic citizenship is a rocky one. Let me give you the highlights:
1. You can’t apply unless you’ve been a resident for seven years—unless, you are particularly gifted or unique and therefore eligible for a parliamentary declaration of citizenship, or if you fell madly in love with an Icelander and have been living with him, her or it (in such cases the process is five years).
2. Oh, did I mention that it is also hard to get a residence permit if you are not from an EEA country. Let’s just say, you gotta have a permit even before you arrive in Iceland.
3. Never, ever get a speeding ticket. Minor infractions like a speeding ticket jettisons your chances. I once thought that this was an urban myth until I met TWO migrants who were denied citizenship (your application is put on hold for over a year) precisely because of speeding tickets.
4. You have to learn Icelandic. Part of the applicaton process requires applicants to take a test that is mostly an assessment of Icelandic language skills. Heads up though, you can’t take the test for permanent residency unless you have attended 150 hours of Icelandic language classes.
That’s it in a nutshell. You can find the full Icelandic Nationality Act in English here.
Why is it important for migrants to have a chance at owning real estate? Well for starters, it is after all an investment into the country. It provides roots and a sense of belongingness essential to survival in our second hometown. In more practical terms, real estate allows non EEA migrants to establish a line of credit. You can’t get a credit card in Iceland if you don’t have real estate or know someone who has real estate who can vouch for you.
So, please Mr. Jónasson have a heart. We’re not Huang Nubo with his billions. How about going the route of America and the United Kingdom where foreign investment of real estate is encouraged? If not, how about the Singapore model where foreigners can at least apply to a ministry to buy real estate? You’ve got nothing to lose. Unless, you want more of the money we earn in Iceland to be sent overseas.
At least there, we can buy ourselves a spot of comfort.
Marvi Ablaza Gil – email@example.com