Immigration itself to the Faroe Islands is not a new phenomenon; as a fishery nation mobility has also historically been part of society, but in recent years, the proportion of the population born abroad has increased; not least among the people born in either other European countries than the Nordic, and Asian and African born. While a share of these may be children born to Faroese parents while previously living abroad, those born in non-Nordic countries is raising (up from 1% in 2000 to 3% in 2016), while the Faroese population born in other Nordic countries (except DK) is stable (app. 1%) – pointing to an increasing diversity of the residing population.
While the vast majority of the total population in the Faroe Islands holds Danish citizenship – more than 97% - it is quite impressive to see that in a small population such as the Faroese of app. 49.000 people, no less than 89 countries of citizenship are represented in 2016 (www.hagstova.fo). Of the close to 1400 foreign citizenships, Icelandic account for the majority but are closely followed by Philipino, Thai and Norwegian. However, as can be sen from the diagram below, taken as a group, EU countries other than the Nordic countries also account for a significant share.
Since the Faroe Islands are not a member of the EU, the increase in EU residents are to be found in changes to the possiblity to apply for a work permit in the Faroe Islands; a change that is closely connected to the current very low unemployment rate in the Faroe Islands.
Approaching immigration and integration as a Faroese policy field
While the foreign population is thus not significant neither in proportions of the population nor in absolute numbers, the increase in the diversity of the Faroese population has prompted the policy field of integration to emerge in the Faroese political discouse during the past decade. This can be seen both as a recognition of the increased diversity in the Faroese society and to some extend also the changed motivation for foreigners to settle in the Faroe Islands: from being perceived mainly as a question of family reunification of foreign partners and family to Faroese residents to also include labour migrants with no previous ties to the Faroe Islands and – still in the very few numbers though – relocation of people in humanitarian need.
Due to being a part of the Danish Realm the granting of permits to reside in the Faroe Islands is currently handled by the Danish Authorities. As there is some discussion of repatriating the field of immigration fully to the Faroe Islands, the current activities of establishing structures for the immigration and integration policy field at the Faroe Islands can also be seen as an effort to be prepared in case this happens. In addition to general preparatory measures, it can also be viewed as an effort to be pro-active and thus hopefully avoid some of the problem regarding immigration and integration that are witnessed from the other Nordic countries.
The initial formal efforts to address the topic of integration and immigration on the Faroe Islands are the 2008 establishment of the Immigration Office in the Faroe Islands, an agency that in addition to acting as an intermediary between the Danish authorities and the Faroese ministries now also serves as the Faroese entry point for immigration and integretion issues, and the 2010 appointment of a working group by the Faroese Ministry of the Interior and their report published in 2011.
Municipal integration policy came first
While the report from the 2010 working group had several recommendations for an actual Faroese integration policy, Klaksvik municipality became the first Faroese authority to formulate such a policy. It was the outcome of a project process running during 2014/2015, supported by the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and foreseen as a first step also for a national Integration Policy.
Based on research of the circumstances, needs, and requests of the immigrations to Klaksvik Municipality, the policy holds recommendations for concrete programs to be implemented as part of this policy, and it adresses particularly the topics of language learning, information and communication, community involvement and networking, and empowerment of the immigrants. To assist the implementation of the integration policy, an integration commitee, consisting of representatives from the immigrant's community, has been set up, and the mayor meets with this committee to gain feedback and hear of any challenges and concerns on a quarterly basis. The aim of the committee is to provide the immigrants with a formal forum for communicating on a regular basis on integration-related issues.
A robust bottom-up approach to identifying the necessary integration needs
A next step in the Faroese integration work has been the employment (in late 2015) of a Faroese-wide integration officer at the Immigration Office; a permanet position that is tasked with continuing the work on formalising and improving the integration efforts across the Faroe Islands. The first hands-on outcome of this is the publishing of a collected volume on the relevant information for immigrants in English, and the next major task is adressing the accessiblity to language training in Faroese for immigrants.
While these efforts may seem small in comparison to larger and much more complex integration practices in the other Nordic countries , they are significant in that the Faroe Islanders have taken a robust entry to their work on integration and immigration by setting up needed formal structures; researching what are the most immanent needs of the current immigrants; coordinating the (need for) information; and pointing to issues to prioritise on the road ahead.
Furthermore, it is an interesting example of how the local level can lead the initiative – whether as a result of municipal needs and own initiative or an outcome of a strategic decision to setup a smaller-scale ‚test bed' - and the experiences made here then transferred to national level for further implementation.
The Faroe Islands is a self-governing country within the Danish Realm and is home to a population of approximately 49.000 people; of which about 2/5 (app. 20.000) live in the capital of Torshavn. Klaksvik is the 2nd largest town on the Faroe Islands and the municipality is home to nearly 5000 people.
The Faroe Islands consists of 18 islands but most of the large islands are today connected by tunnels. In addition to the tertiary sector, the major economic sectors are fishing and aquaculture, fish processing and construction.
2011 report from the national working group
Klaksvik Municipality Integration Policy