About the show

Each episode on the investment Immigration Podcast by Uglobal.com, host Salman Siddiqui sits down with leading professionals, attorneys, thought leaders and government officials to discuss the latest developments impacting citizenship and residency by investment. Whether you´re someone who takes part in cross border transactions, works in the investment immigration community or are personally interested in participating in citizenship or residency investment, tune each week to the Investment Immigration podcast to stay up to date on what´s happening in the investment immigration world.

About the host

Salman Siddiqui is the host of Uglobal’s Investment Immigration Podcast series. Siddiqui is a versatile storyteller and embodies the spirit of a true global citizen. His own immigration journey took him to many places around the world, including the UK, Cyprus, Turkey, and Qatar. He has written dozens of in-depth articles and features on global investment immigration programs for the Uglobal Immigration Magazine and website. He is a journalist and creative content editor by training. He earned his master’s in arts degree from SOAS, University of London. He is currently based in Berlin, Germany.

Salman Siddiqui

Episode Transcript

Salman Siddiqui: Welcome to the Investment Immigration podcast by you UGlobal.com with weekly in-depth interviews with the world's leading investment immigration professionals.

Welcome to another episode of the Investment Immigration podcast brought to you by UGlobal.com. I'm your host, Salman Siddiqui, and I'm joining you live from Berlin. So today we are going to talk about a country that we haven't covered in our show, and it's not really talked about much in the investment immigration space. And that country is Iceland.

Now, a lot of people don't know this, but actually, Iceland has options for foreign applicants to gain residency there, but it doesn't have the same kind of options that we see in Portugal or Malta. It's very different. This Nordic island-nation has very different kinds of rules for foreign businesspeople and entrepreneurs, and there are certain different routes for you to come to the country that we are going to explore. And we are also going to dispel the many myths on the Internet about some supposed routes that actually don't exist. So today, to explore all of this, I have a very special guest on the show. Her name is Claudia Ashanie Wilson. She's the CEO at Claudia & Partners and is based in Iceland right now. So welcome to the show, Claudia.

Claudia Ashanie Wilson: Hi. Thank you for having me.

Salman Siddiqui: Please share with our listeners who don't know much about Iceland first, and please give them an overview of the residency options available there, specifically for foreign investors, businesspeople, and entrepreneurs in Iceland.

Claudia Ashanie Wilson: So, in Iceland we have what you could classify as four main categories of work and residence permits. The first one is based on work requiring qualified or expert knowledge, the so-called skilled workers’ residence permit option. Then we have an option which is for the shortage of labor. Then we have work permits for athletes. And we have another work permit category that is based on a collaboration or service contract.

Salman Siddiqui: Are you saying then that somebody who's like a foreign investor or a businessperson, they can't directly come to the country by just saying that I can invest or there's a special investor category of visa for them?

Claudia Ashanie Wilson: So, while we do not have a special investor or businessperson, an entrepreneur category in Iceland for residence permit option or work permit, but our immigration law does provide ways in which foreign investors or entrepreneurs could become a resident of Iceland based on their economic activities and investments. So, over the years, I've assisted many such individuals to immigrate to Iceland because we do not have this category of residence permit. We do not have so-called investment thresholds and so on, but other considerations have to be in place. So, the category of residence permit, which is best suited for such individuals, would be the skilled workers permit category. And how that works is you could either invest in a business here in Iceland and work for that business. So, one of the requirements, which I find is most often the most difficult for individuals, for investors, is that they would have to work for that business here in Iceland and the residents’ requirement because it's a temporary residence permit which is granted for 12 months or up to two years at a time. You cannot reside outside of Iceland longer than 90 days over a 12-month period. So, that can be a challenge for persons who need to be in and out of Iceland on a frequent basis. And as an employee, whether your startup or you've invested in a third-party company, working for that company means that you have to earn a salary and that salary has to be in parity with someone working in a similar position here in Iceland and also in line with the relevant collective agreement, which is negotiated by also the relevant trade unions for that sector.

Salman Siddiqui: I see. Okay. And what about in terms of language? Do they have to meet certain language requirements for this skilled workers’ visa residence permit? Right.

Claudia Ashanie Wilson: So very good question and not at this stage. And it's something that I can't think of many of my clients who've used this option that they actually opt to leave Iceland at the end of it. So, after four years of being on a temporary residence permit in Iceland, you are entitled to what is called a permanent residence permit in Iceland, and that has a requirement of having completed at least 150 hours of Icelandic studies. If you want to advance to becoming eligible for citizenship in Iceland, that's another three years added. So, seven years in total to become a citizen in Iceland. And you are then required to have passed the Icelandic citizenship test.

Salman Siddiqui: That's quite a long process to even get the permanent residency. You're saying that for four years you will have to stay as a temporary resident? So during that four-year period of being a temporary resident, how does that work? Actually, is it like an automatic renewal or would that depend on your investment in a business? How does that work?

Claudia Ashanie Wilson: Right. Very good question as well. So, to qualify for a renewal of the permit, you will have to continue to fulfill the conditions of the initial permit. So, for example, if you continue to have a job, you are earning a salary, but we have some positive developments, which the law changed now just a few weeks ago, which allows now individuals because what happened initially is such permits are tied to the company that hired, whether, again, it's your company or a third-party company or startup, whichever option you've chosen. But with this amendment to the immigration law, then it's no longer your national ID, and your stay in Iceland is no longer connected to the company, but rather it's you have the residence permit and have the option to seek new employment over a period of time. I believe in this case it's one year when you're a skilled worker and six months when you're an unskilled worker, so you don't automatically lose your permit rights. But again, if you continue to fulfill the conditions, which is an amendment to the law as well, that it's no longer just 12 months but two years, you should be able to renew your permit with ease.

Salman Siddiqui: I see. Okay. And before we explore further the advantages of having a permanent residence card in Iceland, I want to also understand from you, for the benefit of our listeners, about what kind of skilled worker the government in Iceland wants. And if you could explain the outlook on immigration from the government's perspective, what are they expecting the kind of candidates and applicants they are interested in?

Claudia Ashanie Wilson: I think there's been enormous focus in recent months on persons in the area of tech and also in health care because there is a shortage in both. I recently read an article that said in the next five years, Iceland needs to produce at least 9,000 skilled workers in the field of tech in order to survive. For many companies to survive here in Iceland or tech companies to survive. So there's an increased effort to get tech experts to Iceland and also in the field of health care. We've seen that this sector has also relaxed its requirements in order and also shortened the process of getting a foreign credential recognized here in Iceland because there is a shortage of healthcare providers. At least there's been an increase in that. And as I've mentioned, it has been very strict for persons from countries outside the European Economic Area (EEA) to obtain a work and residence permit in Iceland. So, the rules, the amendment to the Immigration Act in the last few weeks was an effort to sort of encourage professionals and experts to move to Iceland and want to take part in, obviously our labour market here.

Salman Siddiqui: Right. And that's the sort of trend that we are seeing across Europe where, you know, the tech and of course, the health sector after the post-pandemic, there's a renewed focus on that. That's the kind of trend that we see. But what I want to understand from you is say, for example, somebody is listening to a podcast, and they're like, okay, I want to start up a tech startup in Iceland, or I want to invest my money in an established tech business in Iceland. What is the process, and what do they have to do for that? So, if you could explain that, please.

Claudia Ashanie Wilson: Yes. So, you have those options. Obviously, if you want to start establishing your own company here in Iceland, then you would have to go through the process of registering, establishing, and registering a company, and you choose the company format that best suits you. I often advise clients on which one is best suited for the business model the individual wants to bring to Iceland. And again, because of this requirement of physical presence in Iceland for quite a long duration, at least nine months of that 12 months that you would be having your permit or 18 months over the 24-month period, you will always need to be here. And I can understand that that's a challenge for individuals who just want to invest. So, either way, whether you invest in a company and the purpose obviously is to gain the residence permit because you can invest in a company without having to live or move here. But if the purpose is to gain residency in Iceland, you will always have to work for that company and live here during that time. So, either way, investor or you're doing your startup, that's the requirement. At least I think it's the most important one really for most and the most challenging one, I would say maybe not the most important, but most challenging for investors.

Salman Siddiqui: Right? And this is what I want to understand. So first, they'll apply for the Skilled Worker visa. They'll then come to the country, and then they register their company. That's how it's going to happen?

Claudia Ashanie Wilson: No. So, it's the other way around because the business has, your employer has to exist before the employee. So, if the startup is your employer, then you will need to establish that company. And as it stands, Icelandic rules allow for non-Icelandic citizens to establish companies in Iceland provided that a board member is at least with legal domicile in Iceland. That Icelandic connection has to be there to establish an Icelandic company. And that poses a challenge sometimes for clients who do not have that connection with Iceland to start the company. And when you do register a company, then you're issued with what is considered a temporary system ID number. Because in Iceland, everybody knows the president's ID number and everybody knows everybody's ID number. It's like the Social Security number in the US, but it's just public information, and you will get one of those. But it doesn't guarantee you any social rights because it's a system ID or a temporary ID for the purpose of establishing the business. But once you gain once you've obtained a residence and work permit in Iceland, then you will get a permanent ID, which then gives you access to Icelandic social system.

Salman Siddiqui: I see. Okay. All right. Now, that makes sense. So, this is for establishing a new business. Now, what if somebody wants to invest in an established business? What happens to that?

Claudia Ashanie Wilson: So then you have the option of investing in an established business. But I do note that there are certain restrictions, for example, on certain areas that foreign nationals would have a challenge investing in. So, for example, in some businesses and fields of businesses that are prone to restrictions in the fisheries, foreign nationals can only invest up to 25% of shares of up to 25% in Icelandic companies regarding irrigation rights and waterfalls, and geothermal energy. Only Icelandic nationals can do that and nationals of the EEA without having residency or legal domicile. In Iceland, you're also restricted from purchasing to a certain extent, real estate in Iceland. So even if you purchase it as I believe it was also 25% or 25 hectares, I can't remember the figures now, you would have to also apply for an exemption with the relevant ministry to purchase that property. So, there are restrictions to certain areas that you can actually invest in, even if you want to work with that here in Iceland right now.

Salman Siddiqui: Speaking of real estate, now, as you know, a lot of foreign investors feel very safe in putting their money in real estate. And you mean especially in many EU countries. I've seen that people prefer to put their money, park their money in some villa or some commercial property, which they can then rent out. But say, for example, a foreign investor is interested in doing that in Iceland. Can they, I mean, just in theory they can do that via the skilled workers route? First, they come in, establish their business, and for that purpose of their business, they buy a commercial building for their offices. Can they do that?

Claudia Ashanie Wilson: Exactly. Precisely, yes. So, once your domicile is registered in Iceland, you have a lot of access to purchasing certain businesses or investing in some here in Iceland. So, for an investor who wants to invest in Iceland in real estate, one way is obviously to establish that company, and then the company is investing in that real estate, right? Also, once you gain your legal domicile in Iceland as a personal investor, then you can go ahead and make those investment contributions with the limited restrictions that I've talked about in certain areas.

Salman Siddiqui: Right. And what about buying real estate for personal use? Like a, you know, a villa or an apartment to move their family in?

Claudia Ashanie Wilson: Your domicile is registered here. Then you're a legal resident. Then you have the option to purchase real estate in Iceland for personal use.

Salman Siddiqui: Right. But the difference, I think, which is in Iceland and compared to, say, other countries that we hear, is that just based on your investment in real estate, that cannot be the basis for your residence permit, right?

Claudia Ashanie Wilson: Precisely. Yeah. That's something that is maybe uncommon to some places. But here in Iceland, that is true. The basis for your residency in Iceland is, as I mentioned earlier, is very defined in the Immigration Act. And so, you have these categories, at least with respect to the purpose of working here in Iceland. Those are the only ones that we have at the moment. Perhaps we could add that if you are a student and you are entitled to work 40% during active school term, you can gain a temporary work visa for that purpose as well. And even students have their own startup companies, which they then post-graduation work full-time. And I've had many clients like that before.

Salman Siddiqui: I see. Okay. Let's also talk about the permanent residency, but that we were talking about previously. So, what are the advantages of being a permanent resident in Iceland compared to, you know, a temporary resident? What gives you that additional advantage? Right.

Claudia Ashanie Wilson: So, it gives you huge advantage in many ways. And for investors, that becomes critical because you're allowed to stay outside of Iceland for up to 18 months at a time versus only three months when you're on temporary residence permit options, something that obviously brings you closer to getting citizenship, which provides you with all the flexibility that you need to do that, more access to the Icelandic social system than you would have as a temporary resident.

Salman Siddiqui: I see. Okay. And also, if you could share some trends with us, like what kind of foreign applicants, those who want to establish a business or make some investments? What kind of trends have you observed over the years? Are they coming with their families? Are they single investors who want to start up some business and maybe operate globally from there? If you could share some stories of your clients, that would be great.

Claudia Ashanie Wilson: Yeah, there are a lot of investors that do that. I've had many cases of persons coming with their families and as I've said, at least, the trend is that people stay and continue to invest in Iceland because it is a great place to live and to raise your family. It's safe. And the opportunities are, in my opinion, at least endless as to what you can do here. So there have been able to introduce your own culture to the Icelandic, and that's quite encouraged because I do know of companies that have done that. I can't speak about my clients, but I can speak about obviously things that you see in the media. You know, you have companies that are, let's say, bringing spices to Iceland. There's a spice company here, you know, ones that are bringing even Syrian kebab, the Italian gelato. So it's and then you have companies that are into real estate and software engineering companies, which continues to connect these specialists that are required to come to Iceland and work here. So, there are quite a few tech companies that are owned by persons who have migrated to Iceland.

Salman Siddiqui: Right. And I also want to understand from you what have you observed in recent years. Are they coming from a particular country or has that pattern changed? For example, I heard in different parts that, you know, people from China used to come a lot in the Caribbean, but like in the past year or two, that has gone down. And of course, I'm also interested to know, are Americans coming to Iceland to live there for the long term?

Claudia Ashanie Wilson: Yeah, there's a huge interest from Americans who moved to Iceland for the purpose of establishing their own startup or investing in Icelandic companies. Because I represent just a large group of people from all over the world really. It is often persons that are I think, the Americas and Asia obviously are huge in persons moving to Iceland, at least based on my work I've seen that quite a bit, investing in startups here or in existing companies.

Salman Siddiqui: And do they get any benefits? For example, somebody who comes from the US. What main advantages do they see in Iceland in terms of do they get any tax benefits for their business? Is it because they want to gain access to the EEA, in Iceland? What is the thinking behind it usually, or is it because of some domestic politics situation that they just want to move away from the, you know, that sort of thing?

Claudia Ashanie Wilson: It varies at least because, you know, I listen to my clients for their reason, wanting to move to Iceland. And quite so often it comes up about being safe, feeling safe, and also that, yeah, Iceland is open to new ideas and want to promote that. So for the people that I've represented a lot, it's obviously just expanding their business. But a lot of them talk about wanting to feel safe, and Iceland is a great place for that. Yeah, and also just want to share knowledge and culture, and experience with a growing, developing country.

Salman Siddiqui: Right. And I also want to understand from you how challenging it is for you as a professional to sell Iceland as a destination to your clients, given that, you know, in terms of the weather, it can be challenging for some people. So how do you, like convince them that, no, the options here are worth it?

Claudia Ashanie Wilson: I've been quite fortunate in that way that they somehow find me and they've already made up their mind. So, I think for most people who seek out an immigration lawyer in Iceland, it's because they've already decided that they've done their homework most of the time. And I forgot to mention that a huge part of it is about the Icelandic nature. You'd be surprised as to how many people that's been a very motivating factor about moving to Iceland. And right now we're having a lot of small earthquakes because we're expecting a volcano in the in the next few days. I've been watching the news and it's amazing how excited people are about that. So Icelandic nature is wild as it is. It seems to be a pull factor, too, for people wanting to move here.

Salman Siddiqui: Wow. Okay. People want to see volcanic eruptions. You know, I didn't know that was a pull.

Claudia Ashanie Wilson: You learn something new every day! I can't say that I'm as excited. I'm a little scared, but everybody is excited.

Salman Siddiqui: So, Claudia, thank you for talking to us in our episode. We are coming to the end, but before we go, I'll give you an opportunity to share your thoughts on why foreign applicants who want to establish businesses and invest their money should consider Iceland. You can make your pitch for 30s.

Claudia Ashanie Wilson: Yeah, well, I'm making my pitch. You put me on the spot now. But no, it's like I said, I mean myself, I'm an immigrant, and I've been fortunate enough to have the opportunity I've had here in Iceland. And it's because of the openness of the Icelandic people and, you know, just being open to new ideas and being welcoming to people who want to come and work and invest in the society. Just, you know, our recent amendments to the Immigration Act are a testament to that, that Iceland is encouraging and wants people with skilled workers and investors to move here if they so choose or desire. And it's a great place to live, you know, great to raise a family.

Salman Siddiqui: Thank you so much, Claudia, for sharing your new details about the advantages of moving to Iceland and letting us know about the attraction of a volcanic eruption. So I'm really glad to talk to you.

Claudia Ashanie Wilson: Come and see it yourself.

Salman Siddiqui: Yes, I will someday. And in the end, I wanted to shout out to our listeners that please stay tuned to our show. Please also give us some feedback about what other country's programs you would like to know more about, and we'll be bringing you more episodes and more guests from around the world.

Claudia Ashanie Wilson: Thank you. Thank you. Have a good day.

Salman Siddiqui: You've been listening to the Investment Immigration podcast by Uglobal.com. Join us again soon for more in-depth conversations exploring investment immigration opportunities from around the world.

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