It turns out Norway’s “reopening” on June 1 doesn’t apply to all permanent residents, as hundreds in Svalbard will be unable to travel the mainland for non-urgent purposes because they’re from non-EU/EEA countries.
Concerns by Longyearbyen residents hoping to vacation on the mainland this summer were voiced to local officials, media and Facebook pages after being told the Norwegian government’s lifting of coronavirus-related restrictions for domestic travel didn’t apply to them. Such residents, about 300 in all, are already facing additional hardships since they are exempt from the unemployment/health insurance benefits being provided to laid-off employees.
“(I was) planning as a permanent resident who is non EU/EEA citizen to go to Norway for a few weeks this summer assuming the regulations stay the same,” wrote Sara Mollie, a U.S. citizen who is a staff engineer at The University Centre in Svalbard, in a post on a community Facebook page Wednesday that received more than 50 responses within a few hours. “I have emailed (the governor) and they said it wasn’t allowed and I would have to take contact with the Ministry of Justice and Public Security.”
An inquiry to the governor’s office was referred to The Norwegian Directorate of Immigration, which stated “third-country nationals (from Svalbard) cannot holiday in Norway as the rules are now.” The Norwegian government’s revised regulations issued last week state non-EU/EEA residents in Svalbard can travel to Norway to get to their home countries, but not disembark on the mainland.
The regulations allowed non-EU/EEA residents on the mainland to travel to Svalbard for work/residency, but must be quarantined on the mainland for 10 days if they are entering the country from abroad.
Longyearbyen Mayor Arild Olsen told Svalbardposten on Wednesday he became aware of the discrepancy a few days ago, has been in touch with the governor and immigration officials, and “it is obvious that such a restriction is completely unreasonable.” Norway’s government has already stated it will consider relaxing some restrictions still in place on June 15, including opening the border to people from Nordic countries, and Olsen is hoping modifications for Svalbard residents will be considered before or by that date.