The Minister of Justice permits temporary protection due to mass flight
The Minister of Justice has decided, following local and international consultations, to immediately activate Article 44 of the Foreign Nationals Act No 80/2016, in light of the mass flight following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This decision is taken in keeping with the EU’s decision to initiate the same kind of action, as provided for in Directive 2001/55/EC on temporary protection in the event of a mass influx of displaced persons. The reception of refugees in Iceland will cover the same defined groups as determined by the EU. This method is first and foremost intended to make it possible to aid those who flee from Ukraine swiftly and effectively, namely by granting them temporary protection, without the reception and aid overwhelming Iceland’s protection system.
The UN Refugee Agency has issued notifications on the mass flight from Ukraine and has estimated that up to 4 million people will flee the conflict in the coming days and weeks. The Ministry of Justice has worked closely with the Schengen member states, including in preparation for the pending activation of Directive 2001/55/EC on temporary protection in the event of a mass influx of displaced persons.
Article 44 states that “A foreign national who is a member of a group which flees a specified region and arrives in Iceland, or is in Iceland when the provisions of the article are applied, may upon application for international protection be granted protection on the basis of a group assessment”, i.e. collective protection. This means that foreign nationals will be granted a residence permit on humanitarian grounds under Article 74 of the Foreign Nationals Act No 80/2016.
Such a residence permit is issued for one year at a time, with the possibility to renew or extend it for up to three years from the time a permit was first issued. After that time, a permit may be issued under Article 74 that can become the basis for a permanent residence permit. One year after such a permit is issued, i.e. the fourth year from the issuance of the first permit, a permanent residence permit may be issued, provided that conditions for holding the permit still exist and other requirements are met.
Access to services
A residence permit granted to individuals on these grounds entails the same rights and access to services as a residence permit on humanitarian grounds, in keeping with Article 74 of the Foreign Nationals Act. It entails access to housing, maintenance, social services, health care services and access to the labour market. These rights are, for the most part, the same as those that individuals will receive in other European countries on the basis of Directive 2001/55/EC.
Right to employment
Under the current Foreign Nationals’ Right to Work Act, No 97/2002, those who receive a residence permit on humanitarian grounds only receive conditional access to the Icelandic labour market, which is based on the requirement that an employer must apply for a work permit for the person in question. Ukrainian refugees will therefore have access to the Icelandic labour market. A Bill of Amendment to the Foreign Nationals Act, which is now being prepared by the Ministry of Justice, proposes to amend these provisions of the Foreign Nationals’ Right to Work Act so that all persons who receive a residence permit on humanitarian grounds will receive a work permit along with the residence permit, automatically and without intermediaries.