Foreign residents of Svalbard will be allowed to travel to the Norwegian mainland when the country “reopens” on June 1, the government announced Thursday, reversing a ban that infuriated a large percentage of locals who said they felt “trapped” because they faced deportation to their home countries if they attempted to join family members for summer holidays or take other trips.
“When quarantine is no longer required for those traveling from the mainland and to Svalbard, it is natural to open up for those who are permanent residents of Svalbard to be able to travel to the mainland as well,” Minister of Justice and Public Security Monica Mæland said in a prepared statement.
Normal visa and other requirements will apply.
Yann Rashid, a Longyearbyen tourism employee from France who initiated a letter-writting campaign asking local officials to seek a lift to the ban, told NRK he is satisfied with the outcome.
“Given that we are still in the midst of a global crisis, it is understandable that new rules and laws will be introduced and implemented immediately,” he said. “We were always confident that this strange restriction would be fixed, as it was completely illogical. This shows Svalbard is not so disconnected from Oslo.”
Foreign residents make up about 35 percent of Svalbard’s population, steadily increasing since 2009 when they were 14 percent, and many are part of families with mixed nationalties. Aside from complaints the ban was discriminatory, many noted Svalbard is the only region in Norway without any diagnosed cases of COVID-19.
There are still lingering complaints resulting from the crisis, however, about more general laws pertaining to Svalbard residents from non-EU/EEA countries, most notably their ineligibility for unemployment/insurance benefits when laid off. Such concerns were among the main topics of discussion at a community meeting Wednesday intended to be the first of a monthly series to address local policy as Longyearbyen attempts to emerge both from the pandemic and a major shift in its economic/population base.