L’immigration jetable

Voici donc ce qui arrive à Jonas Moody, journaliste à Iceland Review, après 6 ans de résidence en Islande.

19/02/2009 | 11:00

Iceland’s Disposable Class

I spent the lion’s share of my twenties in Iceland. When I was 23 I moved here and began the arduous process of learning the language (baffling), acclimating to the gastronomy (stinky), and schmoozing the locals (tight-lipped). Now, at the ripe age of 30 I can honestly say I’ve managed fairly well.

I can decline nouns with the best of them (kýr-kú-kú-kýr… ær-á-á-ær), I make a mean plokkfiskur (fish casserole), and I’m slated to exchange rings with my favorite Icelander pretty soon. I didn’t plan to come here and build my life, but as I’ve been told, life is what happens while you’re planning everything else.

But as we were merrily rowing along in our happy life on this chilly, little island, we were suddenly struck by a tidal wave. Some people I have spoken to blame it on the nation’s financial problems, and I hope that’s right. But for the first time, my adopted nation has truly let me down.

I’m not talking about letting the banks grow out of proportion or starting up their great whale hunt again (although both those were some pretty bad ideas). I’m talking about the way the island has begun treating its foreigners since the economic collapse. I should know. I’m one of them.

Speaking from firsthand knowledge: I went down to the immigration office last week to finally get my permanent residency permit. But I was horrified when the woman behind the glass partition told me the laws had been changed and I would not be eligible for a permanent residency permit—in fact, I would not be eligible for any permit.

Despite the fact that I am in a registered relationship with an Icelandic citizen, own a house and car here and have been an active taxpayer for the last six years, I am no longer needed. Because it is best for the economy if all the superfluous people left the country, my life here is being revoked. Canceled. Return to sender. Go back to wherever you came from.

Here’s the back story: For the last six years I’ve been granted a work permit, which allows me to work (and pay taxes, of course) for one year at a time. However, the current permit is only good for the company that hires me, so when Iceland Review had to let go of their writing staff, I essentially lost my right to work.

But thankfully, for the last six years a chunk of my salary has been going to the state unemployment fund so I will be able to survive for a while in this rough job market long enough to find work. This is that fine safety net of socialism that everyone keeps raving about.

When I called the Directorate of Labor to register for unemployment I got a blank stare. After two days of trying to find out why no one would deal with me, I finally got an answer from Thóra Ágústsdóttir, who has the job of telling foreigners that no matter how much they have paid into the system, they are not deemed worthy of receiving anything when they are in need.

As I pour my heart out to her on the phone on how the system ought not to treat people like this, she reverts to the international mantra of bureaucrats: “There’s nothing I can do. This is our policy.”

I’m not one to mooch off the system. In fact, I will have been continuously employed from my first high-school job as a checkout boy at Wholefoods (followed by waiter at Spaghetti Warehouse, Sterling music library shelver, Beinecke book conservator assistant, Yale polo groom, countryside English teacher, strip mall janitor, bank translator) up until the end of this month when I lose my job as a writer at Iceland Review.

That said, I don’t know how on Earth I’m expected to survive here without any income. Neither does the Immigration Office. In fact, despite marriage and home ownership and being able to decline very difficult words like “kýr” and “ær,” if I don’t have an income (or ISK 2.2 million (USD 19,300, EUR 15,300) sitting around in the bank), then according to the Immigration Office I am no longer welcome in Iceland. I’ve been looking for work and have a few prospects, but it’s not like they’re handing jobs out at the door.

It angers me to hear politicians and economists talk about “the imported workforce” as if we’re something that arrived on a cargo ship packaged in a box. As if, when the nation is done with us, they can crumple us up and toss back into the ocean whence we came.

I wish there were someone I could bring my complaints and worries to. The Althjódahús center for foreigners tells me that it’s not fair, but that is the policy. The Ministry of Justice tells me that under “special circumstances” I can plead my case before the general committee of the Althingi parliament and ask them to grant me citizenship (which I will be eligible for at the end of the year anyway—if only I could stay until then).

So I did. I applied for citizenship directly to the parliament. I had heard about this “special” application process before. It made headlines last spring when the fiancé of the then Minister of the Environment Jónína Bjartmarz’s son was given Icelandic citizenship after having been in the country for only 15 months on a student visa.

Granted my boyfriend’s mother is a working woman from Ísafjördur and not a high-ranking minister, but surely with my case the parliament will be able to see that I deserve a shot at continuing my life with my partner and my house and my career. But they thought otherwise. My application to the parliament was rejected. I never got a reason why. I suppose my circumstances aren’t special enough.

So here we are at the end of the line. Unless another job comes through before my permit runs out it looks like I’ll have to pack it in and move it out. I’m still in utter shock that the country would throw away the same people who were welcomed into the nation to build a life here. And it saddens me to know that there are other people out there stuck in the same situation.

Maybe I’m being foolish, but I genuinely hope that something gives and that Iceland doesn’t turn out to be the fair-weather island it’s shaping up to be. I had convinced myself that I live in a just society who appreciates my efforts and contribution, not as a foreigner, but as an individual who has become tied up in the fate of this place.

It may be difficult to see right from wrong now that this cloud of economic distress has descended on the country. But I have faith that the protracted Saga of Jonas Moody & Iceland will manage to pull off a happy ending after all.

Tune into my last Daily Life next week to find out.

Jonas Moody – jonas@icelandreview.com

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