Immigrants make up one fifth of the Icelandic workforce, but most cannot vote. Hallfríður Þórarinsdóttir, an immigration expert and director of the Mirra research centre, says the nation needs to adapt to its changed make-up.
Hallfríður says the number of immigrants in Iceland has risen by 85 percent in 20 years and that society has changed massively as a result, but that immigrant voices remain weak. She says that political parties pay the immigrant community little attention.
Most immigrants are from European Economic Area countries, meaning they have the right to stay indefinitely and might therefore never bother applying for Icelandic citizenship, which in turn means they will never have the right to vote under current rules.
“One of the reasons immigrant issues are not at the fore of political debate could maybe stem from the fact that the minority of them have the right to vote in parliamentary elections. As a result, their polling power counts for nothing. There are no votes from immigrants even though they number 60,000 here and one in five workers, the vast majority are still foreign citizens,” says Hallfríður.
She says it is interesting to put the voicelessness of immigrants into a historical context. “Once upon a time it was the case in Iceland that women didn’t get to vote and had to fight for the right to vote and the right to vote was also restricted by age and social standing, and one can maybe ask if this is an unintentional continuation of that, and whether there is political will across parties to re-examine this legal provision so that immigrants who have lived here for a certain number of years would be given voting rights.”
About the election
All Icelandic citizens (ríkisborgarar) aged over 18 are eligible to vote.
The Multicultural and Information Centre has created a comprehensive election website in English, which can be seen here.
With just over two weeks to go until the 25th September election, RÚV English is covering politics almost every day under the “Election 2021” tag. There will be an election special of The Week in Iceland on 20th September, and live election night coverage.