Foreign residents from non EU/EEA countries who’ve been laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic are eligible for a total of three million kroner in grants to cover airfare and other travel costs to their homeland under a program to be administered by Longyearbyen’s municipal government between Sept. 1 and Nov. 15.
The finalized details of grant program, first reported Tuesday by Svalbardposten, officially implement a controversial plan drafted by Norway’s Ministry of Justice and Public Security during the summer in response to local pleas for assistance to such residents, who are exempt from Norway’s unemployment and health insurance benefits. The grants will provide funds for eligible residents and their family members.
Norway’s government approved seven million kroner in special short-term assistance in late spring. A portion of that was paid out as short-term emergency assistance to applicants, but that program lasted only until June. With the extreme local economic impacts of the pandemic continuing for what is likely to be well into the future, the government opted for the additional aid to send foreigners home instead of helping them remain in Svalbard under shaky circumstances.
“The pandemic is still ongoing and there are still workers who are not back at work,” states the legislation drafted in late July by the ministry, which has administrative oversight of Svalbard. “Norwegian authorities facilitate a certain level of welfare benefits in Longyearbyen. The low tax level and the fact that immigration legislation does not apply for Svalbard makes the framework conditions for the local community in Longyearbyen special.”
Svalbard’s reduced level of taxes and welfare benefits is a key reason for the archipelago’s “self-sufficiency” rule requiring all people living here be able to support themselves financially and otherwise. While the governor can expel people from Svalbard for being unable to meet that requirement, those who accept return-home grants are not given that classification.
“It is important to emphasize that those who receive grants and travel are not banned from Svalbard,” Anne Jahre, the city’s acting director for upbringing and culture, told Svalbardposten. “The person in question is completely free to return. The condition is that you must be able to support yourself with a job. This is not an expulsion scheme.”
The governor’s office will coordinate with the city by purchasing tickets and assisting with practical matters such as visas, the newspaper reported.
Grants are intended to fund airfare and other direct transportation costs, plus a transportation allowance of 800 kroner per adult and 1,100 kroner per child.
To be eligible, applicants must:
• Be a resident of Svalbard formally laid off from employment. They cannot “”have allowed themselves to be laid off for the purpose of receiving a grant.”
• Paid Svalbard taxes in 2020.
• Not be in a household with sufficient resources to support themselves or travel home.
• Do not have family/cohabitants who will remain in Longyearbyen.
• Travel within one month of receiving a grant.