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Positive prejudices benefit Icelandic immigrants

Positive prejudices benefit Icelandic immigrants

| Text: Guðrún Helga Sigurðardóttir

Being Icelandic can be an advantage if you're looking for somewhere to live and work in Norway. Icelanders themselves believe their historical roots in Norway are often the reason they’re well received by Norwegians. One anthropologist thinks Icelanders have an advantage over other immigrant groups in Norway.

The number of Icelanders in Norway has doubled since the 2008 finance crash. Guðbjört Guðjónsdóttir, a a research student at the University of Iceland, is looking at Icelandic immigration to Norway and attitudes towards Icelanders compared to attitudes towards other immigrants.

In her anthropological study Guðbjört Guðjónsdóttir focuses on how, unlike other nationalities, Icelanders are considered to belong to Norwegian society, and how they compare themselves to people from the rest of the Nordic region, Europe and non-Western countries. She also looks at how Icelanders are being welcomed in Norwegian society, what they think about their immigration to Norway and how they are being met, including in the Norwegian labour market. 

Guðbjört Guðjónsdóttir has interviewed 32 Icelanders who moved to Norway after the economic crash and eight Icelanders who already lived there. She has also followed the Norwegian online immigration debate. 

A warm welcome

The study is ongoing but Guðbjört Guðjónsdóttir has already presented preliminary results. She says that Icelanders feel they have enjoyed a warm welcome in Norway. They say they have a good reputation in the labour market and that Norwegians feel they are working hard.

“Icelanders meet positive attitudes among Norwegian employers,” says Guðbjört Guðjónsdóttir.

Some of the Icelanders reckon their nationality benefits them.

Icelanders are met by “positive prejudices” according to Guðbjört Guðjónsdóttir. One of the participants in her research compared it to a game of cards where the cards had been dealt in the Icelanders’ favour. Later it depends on the individuals how they make use of the advantage they have been given. Nationality can be an advantage, in other words.

In her research, Guðbjört Guðjónsdóttir lists the Icelanders’ descriptions of how they were welcomed. Some were met with scepticism but this soon changed when it became clear they were from Iceland, she explains.

Icelanders have sometimes used their nationality to make their stay in Norway easier. Icelanders who have been lived in Norway for a longer period of time have advised new arrivals to say they are from Iceland when looking for a place to live, as they feel this will help. Some also see this as an advantage when looking for work.

“But many also think their nationality doesn’t play any role at all, especially if there is tough competition for a job,” says Guðbjört Guðjónsdóttir.

Welcome back home!

Steingrímur Ólafsson has lived in Stavanger for just under two years. This past year he has trained to be a materials manager for the international oil company Songa Offshore’s platforms. Steingrímur Ólafsson has always felt welcome in Norway.

“Norwegians are usually positive towards us Icelanders. When I had just arrived in Norway they sometimes said “welcome back home,” explains the Stavanger resident.

Steingrímur Ólafsson thinks the Icelandic people’s Norwegian origins make it easier for them to come and live in Norway than for immigrants from distant countries. He points out that Icelanders speak a language not dissimilar to Norwegian, they share the same culture and have a similar social structure as Norway.

“It is no big problem for Icelanders to adapt to Norwegian society,” he says.

He does not think there is any discrimination in Norway or that Icelanders would knowingly exploit their nationality. He points out that committed workers who behave in a nice and sensible way will always be popular in the workplace. It matters little, then, where you come from.

Not immigrants

Guðbjört Guðjónsdóttir has studied the online immigration debate. She says Icelanders sometimes are held up as the opposite of Muslims. One online contributor might welcome Icelanders while he or she displays anti-Muslim prejudices.

“Contributors to online debates sometimes highlight the family bonds between the Icelandic and Norwegian peoples by saying things like Icelanders are just Norwegians who emigrated to Iceland and who have now returned to Norway,” says Guðbjört Guðjónsdóttir.

But there are also online debate contributors who defend Norwegian Muslims.

Icelanders are not considered to be immigrants to Norwegian society, according to Guðbjört Guðjónsdóttir. And Icelanders themselves don’t consider themselves to be immigrants, even though they have moved to Norway.

“It is a paradox that Icelanders who have just landed in Norway are welcomed back home while others who are born and raised in Norway but have immigrant backgrounds are often considered to not belong in Norway,” she points out.

“So there is basic discrimination in society,” says Guðbjört Guðjónsdóttir.

Immigrant or not?

The number of Icelanders in Norway has increased from 3,849 in 2008 to 7,565 in 2012. Anthropologist Guðbjört Guðjónsdóttir says that migration research has so far not focussed on immigration from a Western neighbouring country like Iceland to another. In daily debate Icelanders are hardly considered to be immigrants despite the fact that they really are, show preliminary results from her soon to be published dissertation.

Iceland was a part of Norway until 1814. Norway, meanwhile, was in a 434 year long union with Denmark. Until 1536 it was a personal union under the same monarch. Later Norway, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands were included as Danish provinces.

Denmark fought on the French side during the Napoleonic wars. Swedish crown prince Karl Johan beat the Danish forces. Denmark was forced to give up Norway, which joined Sweden in a personal union. Denmark kept Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, however. 

In 1918 Iceland gained independence from Denmark but remained in a personal union sharing the Danish king. Iceland became a republic in 1944.


Ingólfr Arnarson is considered to be the first person to settle down in Iceland. He arrived from Norway in the year 874. The painting is was made in 1850 by Johan Peter Raadsig


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