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Migration in Iceland - Statistics & Facts

The most famous wave of immigrants to Iceland came in the ninth century, when Norwegian Vikings brought people from the British Isles with them and settled the island. Hence, a high share of Icelanders today have either Norse or Gaelic ancestry. Throughout most of the country's history, immigration has been sparse due to its location and rough climate. In fact, through the late 18- and early 1900s, many Icelanders emigrated to North America, particularly to Canada; it is estimated that the number of people who emigrated from Iceland to the U.S. between 1870 and 1914 was equal to 20 percent of the total population in the 1880s. More recently, immigration to the country did not reach significant levels until Iceland joined the European Economic Area in 1994, and over the last 20 years, the share of foreign citizens living in Iceland has grown five times larger. As a result of the financial crisis, which hit Iceland hard, many people went abroad to find work; this is reflected in the fact that net migration to the island was negative between 2009 and 2012.

Eastern Europeans and Scandinavians

In 2020, a total of 65,000 foreigners lived in Iceland. Just over 10,000 immigrants came to the country in 2020, which is less than the previous years, mainly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Poles made up the largest group by a clear margin, accounting for almost one fifth of the total number of immigrants. Next to Poland, the other Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway come high on the list, as well as other Eastern European countries such as Lithuania and Romania. The same countries also are high on the list of people emigrating from Iceland in 2020.

Refugees, residence permits, and citizenships

With the influx of refugees to Europe in 2015 and 2016, the number of both immigrants and asylum seekers to Iceland increased, despite its location far away from the main refugee routes into Europe. For instance, the number of asylum applicants in the country peaked in 2016. While only 370 people applied for asylum in the country in 2015, 1,125 did so in 2016. A high share of the applicants were men between 18 and 34 years of age. However, in 2020, only 385 asylums were granted by the Icelandic authorities. Furthermore, the number of people with a long-term residence permit rose sharply from 2016 to 2017. Simultaneously, the total number of citizenships granted decreased. A total of 1,500 refugees lived in Iceland in 2020, the majority of which were Iraqi.

Interesting statistics

In the following 5 chapters, you will quickly find the 29 most important statistics relating to "Migration in Iceland".


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