Your Rights

Overview of the situation of an asylum seeker.

The information below is intended to give you the opportunity to familiarise yourself with the practicalities of asylum in Iceland.

What is asylum in Iceland?

When you apply for asylum in Iceland, you are asking the country to protect you from some kind of danger or life-threatening situation in your home country. You are requesting protection from Icelandic government because your own country is unable or unwilling to provide you with sufficient protection. This most commonly means that you are facing threats in your country and are persecuted because one (or more) following reasons: war, your race, religion, ethnicity, gender identity and/or sexual orientation; you are a member of a particular social group, or are persecuted due to your political opinion.

You can apply for asylum as soon as you arrive in Iceland - at the border control - or at any Icelandic police station. Once you have applied for asylum, you will be interviewed by a relevant official in private. You can ask for a translator or, if it makes you feel more comfortable, speak to an official of a different gender (for example, if you are a woman, you can ask to speak to a woman). island.is/en/international-protection-rights-and-applications/how-to-apply

As required by the requirements of international law, each asylum application is examined by the expert panel (asylum commission) and you should therefore try to prepare your evidence well (i.e. news publications, medical documents or similar). The examination process is commonly referred to as the asylum procedure, which in Iceland, if successful, ends with obtaining an Icelandic social security number, or so called "kennitala": if your asylum application is considered genuine and legitimate, you will receive (kennitala) and refugee status.

The Immigration Directorate, often called "UTL", will assign you a lawyer, a free legal aid, who can help you with your application during the asylum process. Make sure that you present all the evidence to your lawyer so that he or she can hand it over.

Note that the process of deciding can take up to a year and you will have a right to appeal (if decision is negative). However, note that during that time some of the rights and services may be limited, including the employment. It is best to familiarize with the rights, services and their limitations as per category listed below.

If your claim is rejected after the appeal (second rejection), you will have the right to go to the court and sue the asylum committee that decided on the second rejection. In that case you will have to cover the costs for the lawyer (can be very expensive, make sure to ask your lawyer for the cost estimate if you are considering to proceed to to the court) and the court process will not postpone or cancel the rejection, which means you will still be expected to leave the country.

If you still need more clarification on the meaning of asylum, please feel free to submit your question to our email address: asylum@redcross.is. But please note that the Red Cross is not deciding about your status (only the authorities of the country can do that) and cannot interfere or represent you in your individual case.

Housing

As an asylum seeker, you are allowed to have private accomodation or stay with the VMST-supported housing VMST. Keep in mind that the rents in Iceland are very high (average amounting to 1800 USD per month).

You cannot chose your housing and the VMST will assign you one based on the best fit criteria aiming to maintain the family unity for those arriving with families.

You will likely have to share your room with more people, and if you are a small family you may share with other small families that are deemed fit to share with you. In case you need to change for any safety or other reason your room/housing, you will have to speak to VMST at your location and submit the relevant request as instructed by VMST. Be ready to provide a justification for your request and explain why it is needed.

Health

Every person goes through a health screening upon asylum claim. The appointment will be made by the Directorate of Labor ("VMST").

We advise you to use the opportunity of health screening to show your medical record and if you have any diagnosis related documentation feel free to share with the nurse. If you need specialists´ appointments you will have to highlight to the nurse. Note that the waiting time may be long and even up to 3 months (this is the same for the Icelanders or anyone in the country).

If you do not have a referral from VMST or from the nurse, you will need to pay for your visit to a specialist – and this may or may not be compensated by the VMST (depending on the urgency of the concern).

Specialists´ appointments

  • Women´s Health, Gynecologist – there is no age limitation for seeking a gynecologist in Iceland. You can seek a referral to one already during the first health screening upon your arrival, and at any later point ask VMST (at your nearest service point from VMST) to give you an appointment with one. Of course, in case of medical emergency, you can always go to the emergency department at your nearest hospital.

Health Emergencies.

If you have an emergency, you have the right to walk into any emergency room and seek attention. Services provided at the emergency or through emergency are paid by the service provider, it means that asylum seekers do not have to pay.

You can also call 112 for an ambulance in case of emergency.

Employment

As an asylum seeker, you do not have a kennitala (Icelandic social security number) and without kennitala it is not possible to make an employment contract in Iceland. Iceland has a strict regulation and control over the employment and workers´ rights. If you do not have a kennitala, you are in a vulnerable position, and the law bans the companies to employ you as a measure of your protection, preventing underpaid labor and exploitation.

During the asylum process it is possible to apply for temporary kennitala / temporary work permit with the Directorate of Immigration ("UTL"). The application must be filled by the employer and, you or the employer will have to pay health insurance as well as other taxes. Note that having the temporary work permit will not be considered in your asylum case – working here is not something the UTL (authority that decides on your asylum claim) will consider as their only concern is the legitimacy of your claim for protection in Iceland. However, if your asylum claim is rejected (after appeal, second degree and final decision), your temporary kennitala will cease to be valid and you will still have to leave the country.

Legal aid

Upon asylum claim, you will be given a lawyer. Given the heavy load of cases, it may sometimes happen that you are not informed that you do have a lawyer. If you do not know if and who your lawyer is, make sure to write to the UTL (Directorate of Immigration), at utl@utl.is. This is the immigration office and they assign a lawyer to you who provides their services for free. However, if you would like to have your own lawyer, note that you can do that but will also have to pay for their services yourself.

You are advised to follow up on the lawyer and the case. You have the right to know the content of your claim as it is submitted to UTL, but also the content of the appeal - for all that you have to stay in touch with the lawyer. The lawyer assigned to your case has the duty to engage you in the process and respond to all your questions or concerns. As is also explained on the website of the Directorate of Immigration, the lawyer´s role is to represent you in the process, submit all the documentation on your behalf and, attend the asylum interview with you and the Immigration Officers. You can find more information on the official website of the Directorate of Immigration (UTL)

Financial support

Upon your asylum claim, you will receive a gray card which is a bank card used by the government to transfer the financial support to you. You will receive the amount weekly – the amount is different depending on the size of the family. Make sure you inform correctly to VMST (Directorate of Labour),the size of your family and age of the family members, or if you are expecting a newborn.

As a general rule, you will receive the amount weekly (usually paid every Tuesday) – the amount is different depending on the size of the family. But as a standard, the following support is provided on one gray card per family:

1. For the first 4 weeks:

  • Each week you will receive 8,000 ISK as a head of the family.
  • Your spouse will receive 5,000 ISK as well as each child.

2. After the first 4 weeks, the head of the family and the spouse / partner will receive another 2,700 ISK on top of the initial 8,000 ISK / 5,000 ISK for the partner. Thus for the rest of your stay as an asylum seeker the head of the household will get 10,700 ISK and the partner will get 7,700 ISK. Each child will receive additional 1,000 ISK on top of the initial 5,000 (therefore, will receive 6,000 ISK per child on the gray card). This additional financial support is intended to meet your personal hygiene needs in addition to basic food or, for example, basic over-the-counter medicine. The limit on the financial support for one family per week is 28,000 ISK - no family can receive over that amount per week.

If you are an expectant mother, you will receve a so called baby pack from the VMST (with diapers, sanitary pads) and after the delivery you need to ask VMST to increase your weekly financial support, taking into the account the cost for the diapers.

Transport (movement)

Transport is managed differently at different locations in Iceland and availability of the bus tickets in essence depends on the capacity and availability of tickets in each.

It is best that you confirm with the VMST in the Open Interview Hours in Domus or in Ásbrú where and how often you can receive the support for transport.

Mental health service

This service is also available and is free for the first 3 appointments. In order to receive it, you have to make an appointment through VMST. You will receive a confirmation SMS on the time and date. However note that due to high demand, it may take some time for the appointment to take place. Up to three appointments with the psychologists are free of charge, and if you will need more than three, you will have to cover the expense for the rest.

  • Mental Health – in Iceland mental health care has a great significance but it is important to note that the ability to meet the demand is limited. As an asylum seeker you have the right to seek the mental health care from the VMST. You will receive appointment details via SMS, however, be ready to wait. The lists are long and some of the asylum seekers reported that in addition to waiting long for the first appointment, there is relatively long wait between the appointments. You will receive information about your next appointment via SMS. In the case of an emergency, you can always call 1717 (the Icelandic Red Cross Helpline) or go to the Psychiatric Emergency Department of Landspitali (see in our locations)

Education

Children from 6 up to 16 years of age have the right and should be in schools. However, due to limited capacity and high demand, it may take sometime to get a placement in school. Speak to VMST at your location at your earliest opportunity to make sure your child is put on the list and attends school.

If your child is at preschool age, it is a possibility that you yourself can go to the nearest kindergarden and ask if there is a place, and if the child could be admited to the kindergarden. But the waitinglist for kindergarden in Iceland is very long so it can be difficult.

Child protection

Social services/child protection unit will be engaged in any child protection issue. If you observe and would like to flag a situation of a child being in danger or needing support, contact the social services at your location.

Legal entry and stay in Iceland outside of the Asylum

The Red Cross frequently receives questions and concerns regarding different interpretations and applications of the laws and regulations about legal stay and citizenship in Iceland. The text presented here is not exhaustive and serves only to give you a general idea and resources where you could access more information as the Red Cross does not have a mandate and the right to interfere in the relevant processes.

If you believe that you do not meet the requirements for asylum / refugee status in Iceland, but still would like to investigate your options to moving to Iceland, you are advised to famliarise yourself with the options of legal entry and stay as described in Icelandic laws.

Of course, it is possible to be legally in the country without seeking the asylum.

If you do not come from one of the countries that do not need a visa to legally enter and stay in Iceland, you would have to apply for a visa. On this website of the Icelandic Government you can easily check if you do need a visa to travel to Iceland Visa would be limited in duration and you would have to be careful not to stay beyond the date indicated with the visa.

Other most common ways to legalize your stay (residence) in Iceland can be found here

It is important to note that there are different requirements that one needs to meet in order to legalize their stay. We advise you to familiarize yourself with the Icelandic Law on Foreigners available on the link here. If you would consider arrival and stay in Iceland outside of the asylum, we advise you to read how the law is applied in practice, how long process can take and other details, on the governmental official website here.

Please note that giving birth to a child of a non-Icelander while in Iceland will not automatically grant the child or to the parents of a child citizenship or asylum. The birth of a child of foreign parents on the territory of Iceland does not mean that the child and/or parents will automatically gain the right to stay in Iceland.