Increasingly international: Percentage of foreigners in Longyearbyen, Ny-Ålesund doubles in less than a decade


A total of 29.7 percent of residents in Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund are foreigners, a total that has more than doubled in less than a decade in a steady increase that appears likely to continue, according to a report released last week by Statistics Norway.

There were 2,214 residents in Svalbard’s Norwegian settlements as of Jan. 1, with ten fewer Norwegian and 79 more foreigners than a year ago, according to the report.

In 2009 there were 2,085 residents in Norwegian settlements, 1,792 (86 percent) of whom Norwegians and and 14 percent (293) foreigners, according to the agency.

The decline in Norwegian residents since then is more stark when separating northern Norway (a decline of 17 residents) and southern (a gain of seven). Furthermore, the totals include seven births to northern families – meaning the immigration/emigration for northeners was 72/96 (a loss of 24) while for foreigners it was 161/84 (a gain of 77).

The change in the ratio of Norwegians to foreigners has been attributed to the elimination of nearly all coal-mining related jobs during the past few years while the tourism industry has gone through a surprisingly rapid during that time. Tourism’s rise has ensured the city’s popular didn’t suffer a significant loss, which many feared when the mining layoffs were announced, but both the new businesses apeearing and the people applying to work for them are foreign.

Svalbardposten reported last week the number of tourism operators registered in Svalbard has doubled from 65 in 2013 to 130 in 2017. Of those, 30 are registed with addresses in Longyearbyen.

The trend is at odds with the Norwegian government’s declared goal of maintaining a strong presence of Norwegians in the archipelago. The same trend of an increasing ratio of foreigners is also occurreding at The University Centre in Svalbard, with a goal of 50 percent of in-country students going unmet.

The current population in Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund includes 546 residents from northern Norway,  1,009 from southern Norway and 659 from other countries.The total includes 1,189 men and 1,025 women.

The largest age group is 20-44 (1,187 residents) but, in a sign of changing times, there are 38 residents 67 years old or older (there were virtually none a decade ago).

There were 514 residents in the Russian settlements of Barentsburg and Pyramiden (down from 532 a year aog ago, but still higher than at any time since the beginning of 2009 due to a rapid rise in tourism after years of mining struggles). There are ten residents at the Polish research station at Hornsund, a number that has only occasionally changed since 2003.