Foreign residents of Svalbard aren’t being discriminated against – they’re subject to the same coronavirus-related ban on travelling to mainland Norway as all foreigners regardless of what country they live in.
That rather blunt confirmation of the Norwegian government’s new “reopening” travel policies effective June 1 was issued in a statement Friday by The Governor of Svalbard (full text below), following two days of fierce debate and criticism by local residents and officials. The governor’s statement emphasizes it applies to all foreigners, including those from EU/EEA countries, and the only exemptions are for urgent situations such as childbirth and medical treatment.
“In this context, it does not matter whether foreign nationals live with their spouse in Svalbard or anywhere else in the world outside mainland Norway,” the statement notes. “It is not the case that foreign nationals residing in Svalbard are disadvantaged compared to foreign nationals residing elsewhere in the world in terms of access to mainland Norway.”
About 35 percent of Svalbard’s permanent residents are foreigners. While they have a residency number (a.k.a. a “D number”) perhaps other identifying details such as employment/tax records and mailing addresses, those are not considered sufficient under the guidelines to prove residency. The discrepancy has revived calls by local residents and politicians for a government-approved identification card for such residents.
Svalbard is the only district in Norway with no confirmed cases of COVID-19, due at least in part to the toughest travel restrictions in Norway being enacted here due to the lack of local emergency and medical resources. Among other measures, all non-resident foreigners of Svalbard were forced to leave the archipelago shortly after a nationwide quarantine was enacted in March.
Reaction on local social media immediately after the governor’s announcement was heated.
“Long story short – mainlanders are allowed to vacation on corona-free svalbard, bringing with them their germs, but the corona-free Svalbardians are stuck on a prison island?” wrote Peter Betlem, a local tourism worker from Kenya, in a comment on a community Facebook post discussing the policy.
The policy, which Longyearbyen Mayor Arild Olsen said he is asking the government to change because it is “completely unreasonable,” allows foreign residents to travel from Svalbard to their home countries. Those aboard can return to Svalbard, but are subject to a mandatory quarantine period on the mainland.
Foreigners who do attempt to make unauthorized visits to the mainland will be deported to their home countries rather than returned to Svalbard, according to the policy.
The revised travel policy states Norway borders are closed to foreigners until Aug. 20, although a decision about allowing citizens of Nordic countries in will be made by June 15 and for those in other northern European countries by July.
The governor’s statement (translated from Norwegian):
Due to the coronavirus situation, foreign citizens residing in Svalbard will basically not be able to travel to mainland Norway for visits or holidays. This applies to both persons who are subject to visa and nationals of countries with which Norway has an entry agreement and who do not normally need a visa for entry to the mainland, including nationals of EEA countries.
Only an exception will be granted a visit visa and permission to stay in mainland Norway The exceptions apply, among other things, to travel in connection with childbirth and medical treatment, but not holiday stays. For those who already have a Schengen visa in the passport, this will not be valid as the situation is now.
This is regulated by the Regulations on Expulsion and other laws regarding foreigners for the sake of public health. This regulation regulates the entrance to the Norwegian mainland.
We ask that all questions about travel and stay in mainland Norway are addressed to the UDI.
Foreigners with a residence permit without a special entry restriction and specified groups that are covered by the EEA regulations can travel to mainland Norway. See exceptions in the regulations. Those who want to travel to their home countries can do this via mainland Norway. They must then present a ticket to their home country.
The Norwegian authorities, like many other countries, have restricted access to border crossing and the way this can happen as a result of the coronavirus epidemic.
Travel to mainland Norway that was possible before the corona situation is therefore not possible at this time. In this context, it does not matter whether foreign nationals live with their spouse in Svalbard or anywhere else in the world outside mainland Norway. It is not the case that foreign nationals residing in Svalbard are disadvantaged compared to foreign nationals residing elsewhere in the world in terms of access to mainland Norway.