Questions regarding asylum applications and case procedure

Virtual Volunteer

Here you can find Q&A, locations and more.

How do people apply for asylum in Iceland?

Law enforcement agencies all over the country accept asylum applications. The agencies record basic information about the applicant, along with fingerprints and travel route before forwarding the application to the Directorate of Immigration. The Directorate handles the applications and invites applicants for an interview. 

How long is the asylum application process in Iceland?

It depends on various things, the citizenship of the applicant, from where the applicant is coming and the situation of the applicant. Some cases are so-called priority cases, that is it is likely that the applicant will not be granted an asylum in Iceland and every effort is made to finalise the cases quickly so a decision is made as soon as possible.  The authorities aim to finalise applications within 90 days on each level of governance, that is at the Directorate of Immigration on one hand and on the other after a negative decision has been appealed to the Immigration and Asylum Appeals Board. However, some applications are processed in a few days, that is applications from individuals who come from states that the Icelandic authorities define as safe countries of origin or the applicant comes from a state where it is obvious that the applicant's situation justifies granting asylum.

How do I know who my legal representative is?

An asylum seeker meets the legal representative at the first interview at the Directorate of Immigration. The Directorate convenes both the asylum seeker and the legal representative. If an asylum seeker wants to meet the legal representative before the interview, the asylum seeker can come to open interview hours at the Icelandic Red Cross and ask to see the representative assigned to the case.

Can I make an appointment with my legal representative?

Yes, an asylum seeker can come to open interview hours at the Icelandic Red Cross or to the reception at Efstaleiti 9 and ask for an appointment with the legal representative. The representative then contacts the asylum seeker by a mobile phone to set a date and time.

When and where are open interview hours?

Open interview hours are as follows:
Mondays and Wednesdays 12:00-15:00 – Red Cross, Strandgata 24, Hafnarfjörður, bus stop: Fjörður
Thursdays 12:00-15:00 – Red Cross, Smiðjuvellir 8, Reykjanesbær, bus stop: Fjölbrautarskóli (8 minute walk).

Do I have a right to an interpreter?

All asylum seekers have a right to an interpreter in interviews at the Directorate of Immigration. An interpreter is bound by the same confidentiality as other people present at the interview. An interpreter is also available at open interview hours at the Red Cross and appointments with the legal representative. Then an interpreter is called on the phone at a company in the United Kingdom. Interpreters over the phone are also bound by confidentiality. 

Which language is used in interviews at the Directorate of Immigration and the Red Cross?

An interview at the Directorate of Immigration is conducted with an interpreter in the native language of the asylum seeker, however the asylum seeker can decline the use of an interpreter and then English is used. On rare occasions, an interpreter for a specific mother tongue cannot be found and then the interview is conducted in a language that the asylum seeker understands and can use to communicate with. The Red Cross also uses the services of interpreters and seeks to conduct counselling sessions in the language the asylum seeker is most comfortable using.

When will I be called for an interview?

It varies when asylum seekers are called for an interview and it depends on the situation of the applicant. If you come from a state that the Icelandic authorities define as a safe state it can be expected that an interview will take place the next day or a few days after an application has been submitted. If you have, or have had, an application in another European country the interview can take place in a few weeks from when the application is submitted and the same applies to the asylum seekers who first apply here in Iceland. As soon as an interview date and time has been set, you and your legal representative are notified.

Who notifies about interviews and publications of decisions at the Directorate of Immigration and by which means?

The Directorate of Immigration convenes the interviews. The Directorate gives the asylum seeker a phone number and calls to interviews by text messages. If you do not understand text messages you receive, it is important to go to the open interview hours at the Red Cross and have them explained to you. In some cases, a written notification regarding an interview is sent out and the asylum seeker is then asked to sign for it.

What happens if I do not show up for an interview or publications of decisions at the Directorate of Immigration?

If absence is lawful, for example due to illness, another appointment is scheduled. It is important to notify the Directorate if an asylum seeker is absent due to an illness. It can be notified directly to the Directorate or through the legal representative. If the asylum seeker does not have a legitimate reason for the absence, and does not show up for an interview, the Directorate is authorised to make a decision based on the data available in the case and publish it to the legal representative. This only applies if the call for an interview has been in writing.

Can I work while my application is being processed?

No, asylum seekers generally do not have work permits in Iceland. Asylum seekers can though, on rare occasions, apply for a temporary work permit. An application is sent to the Directorate of Labour along with an employment contract, signed by an employer, and a notarised declaration from an accommodation-owner that the asylum seeker lives at the residence. If an application is approved, the asylum seeker no longer has the right to stay at an accommodation provided by the Directorate of Immigration. Asylum seekers with a case being processed according to the Dublin Regulation, will have to have been in the country for three months before they can apply for a work permit. An application is sent to the Directorate of Immigration, which then forwards it to the Directorate of Labour.  

If I work in Iceland, will it help my application?

No, it has no effect on an asylum application. If your asylum application is declined, the work permit will be voided immediately. Usually though, the work permit is valid until the asylum seeker is deported (see the answer above regarding work permits of asylum seekers).

Do illnesses affect asylum applications?

Generally speaking, illnesses do not affect applications, that is if the applicant is sick it will not have a negative effect on the application. It is important to disclose any illnesses so the service that the applicant receives reflects that. Mental illness, signs of torture or other inhumane and ill treatment can matter in an asylum case. It is important to disclose any such information and both the legal representative and a team providing social support at the Red Cross can assist the asylum seeker to convey such information to the authorities. 

Do I get asylum if I give birth to a baby in Iceland?

No, giving birth to a baby does not affect an asylum application. Asylum seekers do not automatically get protection by giving birth to a baby and the baby will not automatically be an Icelandic citizen, even though it is born in Iceland. A baby that is born in Iceland will get the same citizenship as its mother.  

If I get arrested, does it affect my application?

If it is a serious offence, it can affect the application process. Smaller crimes usually do not affect an asylum application, according to law. If you are arrested, it is important that you notify your legal representative that you have been arrested because it is not guaranteed that the representative will be informed by the authorities.

Is my case over when the Directorate of Immigration makes a decision? Can I do something else?

When the Directorate of Immigration has published its decision, it can be appealed to the Immigration and Asylum Appeals Board within a certain deadline. The legal representative from the Red Cross takes the case to the Board. When the Board has made a decision, it can be appealed to the court of law. However, the legal representative from the Red Cross does not handle those cases and the asylum seeker must seek representation outside of the Red Cross and will be charged accordingly. Your legal representative can provide you with a list of lawyers who take on such cases.

Do I have a right to stay in Iceland if I appeal a negative decision regarding asylum?

Yes, if your case is not a priority case. If the case has priority it is not certain that you get to stay in the country during the appeal process.

I have been denied a residence permit on the grounds of the Dublin Regulation and have to go back to the country I first entered in Europe. What happens when I will be sent back to that country?

It depends on the implementation in each receiving state and the status of your application in that country. We cannot answer this question with any certainty, both because it varies a lot and we seldom hear from people after they depart Iceland. You can ask your legal representative if they can find out for you but maybe they cannot.

How do I withdraw my application?

If you want to withdraw your application you shall make an appointment with your legal representative or come to the reception at the Red Cross and ask for an appointment with a legal representative. It is important to state why you need an appointment, that is that you want to withdraw your application. You will be provided with a date and time to be at the Directorate of Immigration along with your legal representative where your application will formally be withdrawn and you will be notified of your legal status.

Questions regarding main necessities

Which service does the Red Cross provide for asylum seekers?

The Red Cross provides all asylum seekers with a legal representative. That is a lawyer who assists individuals in applying for asylum and they go through the process with the asylum seeker. The Red Cross also carries out both social aid work and social activities for asylum seekers and tends to various needs. The Red Cross offers open interview hours, restoring family links and social activities each week. Advertisements for these services should hang up at the communal residencies but the Red Cross also sends out text messages to inform about the services. You can always call the number 570-4000 and ask about the next open interview hour or social activity.

Can I get clothing from the Red Cross?

Yes, it is possible to get clothing cards for the Red Cross clothing stores during open interview hours which take place on Mondays and Wednesday from 12:00-15:00 at Strandgata 24, Hafnarfjörður. Further information regarding clothing donation rules can be found in the Red Cross pamphlet you received when you applied for an asylum.

Does the Red Cross provide financial aid for asylum seekers?

The Red Cross does not provide direct financial aid. It is possible to get clothing at the Red Cross clothing stores and children are provided with toys.

If I return home voluntarily, can I receive financial aid from the Red Cross?

No, the Red Cross does not provide financial aid to return home.

Can I change accommodation?

Generally, the authorities do not permit a change in accommodation. In exceptional cases, if an individual is in an especially vulnerable position for some reason, a request can be sent to the Directorate of Immigration regarding transfer but such a request is rarely granted.

Why can I not cook my own meals at my accommodation?

The Directorate of Immigration provides two kinds of accommodation, on one hand accommodation where meals are provided three times a day and on the other accommodation where the residents cook themselves. If you are staying at an accommodation with catered food, it is not permitted to cook food at the location. The operating licence of the accommodation can depend on this and therefore, this rule cannot be broken.

What do I do in case of emergency?

Call the National Emergency Number 112 and ask for help.

Can I get a bus card?

The general rule is that the Directorate of Immigration provides bus cards for asylum seekers two weeks after an application has been submitted. An asylum seeker located in Reykjanesbær does not get a bus card as the local bus is free of charge.

Can I get a card for the swimming pools?

Only the asylum seekers who are serviced by municipalities can get a card for the swimming pools. Those who are serviced by the Directorate of Immigration only get swimming cards on the recommendation from a doctor that swimming is especially important for health reasons.

Do I get an allowance?

The Directorate of Immigration pays 2.700 ISK every week for adults and 1.000 ISK for children. You have a right to receive an allowance four weeks after you apply for an asylum.

Questions regarding health

What kind of right to health care do I have?

Everyone is required to go through a first medical examination and the Directorate of Immigration makes the appointment for the examination. During the examination, it is good that you notify the doctor if you have any health issues. Apart from this examination, you have a right so see a doctor if you get ill. All emergency services are provided if you have an accident or serious illness, such as broken bones, a heart attack, burns etc. The Directorate of Immigration only pays for medication prescribed for by a doctor. Other medicine, available over the counter in a pharmacy, such as pain killers and anti-acid tablets, is not paid for.

If your case is a priority case and it is assumed the process will only take a few days, you will not go through a first medical inspection.

How can I see a doctor?

Let the Directorate of Immigration or social services (if your accommodation is provided by a municipality) know and you will be guided on how you can see a doctor. In case of an emergency, you should call the National Emergency Number 112.

Who pays for medicine I need?

The Directorate of Immigration pays for prescribed medicine. Other medicine is not paid for.

Do I have a right to dental care?

No, you do not have a right to dental care. If you have a tooth ache, you can get pain killers or have the tooth removed after an assessment by a dentist. If your child has a tooth ache, dental care is provided and the Directorate of Immigration or social services make an appointment for you. In exceptional cases, other services are provided but it depends on an assessment from the consulting physician of the Directorate. You will have to request for such an assessment at the Directorate.

Can I be provided with glasses?

No, glasses are generally not provided for. It is possible to buy cheap reading glasses in book stores for instance. In exceptional cases, glasses are renewed for those who had glasses upon arrival and the old ones have been damaged.

Can I get psychological support?

Yes, if you believe you need psychological support, you will have to send a request to the Directorate of Immigration or social services. Please be advised that the wait for an appointment with a psychologist can be several weeks.

I‘m pregnant. What happens then? Can I be provided with clothing and other things, such as a pram, for the baby by the Red Cross?

The Red Cross provides all pregnant women with a clothing packet for the baby. Children also receive clothing cards like other asylum seekers. Unfortunately, the Red Cross does not have a stock of prams and baby carriages but it can be requested and if they are donated to the Red Cross they will be given to those who need it.

Can a volunteer visit me to chat?

The Red Cross has volunteers who visit certain accommodations and vulnerable individuals and provide active listening and company. If you think you need support, let the Red Cross staff know during open interview hours.

Questions regarding school and education

Can I learn a language in Iceland? Which language?

If social services provide your accommodation, they often offer activity courses. Ask the staff of the social services whether they offer language courses. If the Directorate of Immigration provides your accommodation, no language courses are offered. Red Cross volunteers offer both Icelandic and English lessons and the courses are advertised when they are being held. You will always have to sign up for the courses because often more people want to join than there are places available.

Do my children get to attend kindergarten/school in Iceland?

Primary education is mandatory in Iceland. All children from the age of 6-16 are obligated to attend school. The child shall attend school no later than four weeks after an asylum application has been handed in. The child is required to undergo a first medical examination before starting school. If a first medical examination has not taken place within four weeks from arriving in the country, we urge you to inform the Red Cross. Those who live in an accommodation provided by the social service, can apply for a kindergarten for children under the age of 6 years old. The application is processed the same as for any other children living in the municipality. It is not uncommon in Iceland that children are admitted to kindergarten at the age of 18-24 months old. Please be advised that schools in Iceland close from the start of June until the end of August due to summer holiday. Children cannot attend school during that time.

Can I volunteer for the Red Cross?

Everyone can volunteer for the Red Cross. It depends which projects best suit each person. Notify your legal representative and/or staff organising social activities if you want to volunteer and they will assist you in filling out an application.

Do unaccompanied minors attend school?

If the child is younger than 16 years old it is obligated to attend school. Children who are 16 or 17 years old do not all attend school. Many things can factor into whether a child will attend school, such as the time of the asylum application. The Government Agency for Child Protection handles the cases of unaccompanied minors and it is best to work closely with the Agency when it comes to the schooling of unaccompanied minors.

Questions regarding family

Can my family join me in Iceland?

The right to family reunification is not recognised until an asylum seeker has been granted protection in Iceland. Then the right extends to your spouse and your children under the age of 18.

Who takes care of unaccompanied minors?

The Government Agency for Child Protection is obligated to take care of unaccompanied minors and ensure their welfare. Each child is provided with a representative from the Agency and the child can rely on the representative with everything pertaining to the case. The children who live with a foster family are guided by and taken care of by the foster family. The Red Cross offers special activities for unaccompanied children and they are advertised especially.

Where do unaccompanied minors live?

Unaccompanied minors either live at a reception centre operated by the Directorate of Immigration or with foster families. The different child protection committees that handle each case are responsible for each child's housing.

Do unaccompanied minors live with adults?

The unaccompanied minors who live at a reception centre stay in a special hallway which is in the same building as families live. Therefore, they do not live directly with adults but adults live in the same centre. Children who live with foster families live with adults who have been assigned to take care of them. 

What is age assessment and why is it sometimes performed?

The authorities use age assessment to try to verify that young people who do not have identification documents and claim to be under the age of 18 are in fact minors. In Iceland, x-rays are taken of teeth and they analysed to determine how old the person is.  

Questions for the public


Does the Red Cross have a financial gain from supporting asylum seekers?

No. The Red Cross is a non-profit society and the authorities never pay more for the service than the cost of the service and never above the limit stipulated in the terms of the agreement between the Red Cross and authorities. The Red Cross furthermore provides clothing donations as it also does for the general public in Iceland. The Red Cross volunteers also provide a lot of work that is not paid for especially by the authorities. At any given time, about 60-70 volunteers participate in projects pertaining to asylum seekers.  

Why does the Red Cross provide legal aid service for asylum seekers?

Before the Red Cross took over the legal aid service for asylum seekers dozens, of independent lawyers offered legal aid. The aim of the Red Cross was to build up specialised knowledge in the field and to ensure that all asylum seekers would receive the same good quality legal aid service. To that end, the Red Cross has emphasised foreign collaboration, training staff and team work where each case is dealt with by an experienced lawyer. Before the Red Cross agreed to take on the legal aid service, it was emphasised that the application process would be greatly shortened, of better quality and the basis was that the system as a whole would function in an effective and fair manner.

The work that the Red Cross carries out to benefit asylum seekers, does it affect other projects that the Society carries out?

No, it does not as the nature of the Red Cross is to expand and contract its operations based on the need in the society at any given time. The basis of everything that the Red Cross does is the work of volunteers as it is a volunteer movement. So far, the Red Cross has been successful in recruiting volunteers in all of its projects. Projects are chosen carefully and strategy mapped out based on a needs analysis for the country as a whole but also for the operational areas of each branch. The work that the Red Cross carries out with asylum seekers and refugees has a long history and so far the Red Cross has been successful in carrying out those projects along with its other projects.  

How does Red Cross neutrality fit with legal aid service for asylum seekers?

There is a misunderstanding that legal representatives who work at the Red Cross cannot carry out their duties due to the fundamental principle of the Red Cross and Red Crescent regarding neutrality, and that it especially applies to refugee issues as defending their interests often implies taking a stand regarding unrest in the native countries of refugees and various issues among warring groups on religion, origin and ideology.  

The fundamental principle on neutrality does not mean that the Red Cross is totally neutral, except on the battlefield to nurse the sick and wounded. The Red Cross takes a stand on many issues and the fundamental principles are prioritised so that humanity is above all of the other principles.

The existing contract between the Ministry of the Interior and the Icelandic Red Cross states that the Icelandic Red Cross independently defends the interests of all applicants of asylum in Iceland, which includes legal aid service. A legal representative is required to take care of the interests of their clients and that is based on the situation of the asylum seeker and the reasons for the application in Iceland. The legal representatives always plead the case of their clients, whether their testimony pertains to persecution by the hand of their own government or the lack of will or power to protect the asylum seeker against persecution, armed conflict, random violence or other kind of situation.