- Small new country of immigration since the mid-1990s, with 11% foreign-born in 2013 (around 2/3 from the EU and 1/3 from outside EU)
- Number of non-EU newcomers stable during crisis (<1000 per year), with >40% arriving for family reasons, ≈25% for study, fewer for work and small but rising numbers for international protection
- One of the world’s highest employment rates, with slight drop and recovery due to the global financial crisis (82% in 2013)
- Some of the most positive attitudes towards immigrants in developed world, alongside other Nordics and the English-speaking countries
- Significant political changes since the crisis; application for EU membership introduced in 2009 but then withdrawn in 2013 after parliamentary elections shifted the government from left-to-right
- Rank: 23 out of 38
- MIPEX Score: 45
- LABOUR MARKET MOBILITY 51
- FAMILY REUNION 59
- EDUCATION 23
- HEALTH 40
- POLITICAL PARTICIPATION 67
- PERMANENT RESIDENCE 62
- ACCESS TO NATIONALITY 53
- ANTI-DISCRIMINATION 5
Changes in context
Key Common Statistics
|Country of net migration since:||% Non-EU citizens||% Foreign-born||% Non-EU of foreign-born||% Non-EU university-educated||% from low or medium-developed (HDI) country|
|UN 2010 data in 2013||Eurostat 2013||Eurostat 2013||Eurostat 2013||Note: Adults aged 18-64, Eurostat 2013||Eurostat 2013|
Changes in policy
Compared to its fellow Nordic countries, IS is a comparatively small and recent destination country, mostly for EU citizens who enjoy free movement and near-equal socio-economic rights as IS citizens under the EEA agreement. Among Non-EU citizens, family members and international students continue to move to IS in small numbers. IS' recent negotiations for EU membership would have given an impetus to review and develop more coherent integration, residence and anti-discrimination policies, as happened in other accession countries with rather recent histories of immigration.
Conclusions and recommendations
Currently, IS' policies create slightly more obstacles than opportunities for immigrants to fully participate in society. Overall, its integration policies, scoring 45 out of 100 points on MIPEX, seem much less developed or inclusive than policies in other Nordic countries, even DK (59 points in 2014, 49 points in 2010). The inclusive Nordic approach to local democracy is a good start for integration in IS by encouraging immigrants to be local voters and candidates, consulted and organised together. The major gap is anti-discrimination. IS is one of only 4 MIPEX countries (alongside JP, CH, TU) without a dedicated anti-discrimination law and official body to help victims seek justice in cases of racial, ethnic, religious and nationality discrimination. The rest of IS’ gap on integration policy is due to its weaker under-developed infrastructure to support equal opportunities for immigrants in other key areas of life than language learning. Thanks to comprehensive integration policies in countries like FI, NO and SE, immigrants in these countries can overcome specific obstacles to employment, education, health services and other areas. Non-EU immigrants also face slightly more demanding and discretionary procedures in IS than in most Nordic or EU countries to reunite families, settle as permanent residents or naturalise as full citizens.
POLICIES - SUMMARY
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POLICIES - DETAILS
Labour Market Mobility
Non-EU newcomers have few options to improve their skills and careers in their 1st 4 years in IS, unlike in Western Europe and Nordics
Do immigrants have equal rights and opportunities to access jobs and improve their skills?
Newcomer non-EU families and workers face as many obstacles as opportunities to find a job using all of their skills in IS, ranked 26th out of 38 on labour market mobility. Immigrants can generally get basic language training and information about their rights and the recognition of their qualifications and skills. But the legal opportunities to work or study in IS are limited or delayed for newcomer non-EU families and workers. They must be able to find a job without equal access to the labour market, general support or unemployment benefits in IS, unlike in most Nordic and Western European countries. They cannot count on the support of the social safety net or strong targeted programmes, as they could in more established destination countries.
Dimension 1: Access to labour market
- The legal work opportunities for newcomer non-EU families and workers are halfway favourable for their long-term integration in IS
- Non-EU reuniting families and labour migrants must wait 4 years to gain permanent residence and full access to the labour market (more equal access for families in 26 other countries, including most Western European countries and for workers in 14 e.g. FI, NO, SE)
- Non-EU citizens can only exceptionally access public sector jobs, unlike in 15 countries e.g. Nordics, NL, UK)
- These restrictions are relatively rare in Western Europe and Nordics
Dimension 2: Access to general support
- Newcomer non-EU families and workers may get their foreign qualifications and skills recognised, despite the difficulties, but wait years for an equal chance at a degree in IS, unlike in most of Western Europe
- People with foreign academic/professional qualifications or skills and skills can apply for their recognition, although these procedures can be difficult for immigrants, according to IS Human Rights Centre
- Temporary residents do not enjoy equal access to IS public employment offices, higher education and vocational training, unlike immigrants in the majority of MIPEX countries, often thanks to EU law
- Nor can non-EU citizens pay for their studies with the student loans open to IS citizens and their spouses (see instead NO, SE and greater access in Western Europe)
Dimension 3: Targeted support
- IS as a new destination country provides basic information and language training for immigrants that may be insufficient for their labour market integration
- Most Northern European countries, including the Nordics, provide more job-specific/based language training, bridging/work placement programmes and employment mentors/coaches
- Immigrants in IS receive similar information on their rights and recognition procedures as in most MIPEX countries (see www.mcc.is and www.humanrights.is)
Dimension 4: Workers' rights
- Once migrants find jobs, they enjoy the same working conditions and access to unions as citizens in IS and nearly all other countries
- IS is one of the few Western European countries where many non-EU citizens are denied equal access to unemployment and invalidity benefits
- Non-EU families and labour migrants must find jobs without relying on unemployment benefits open to only IS citizens, their spouses and permanent residents
- Non-EU newcomers in IS are only entitled to invalidity benefits after 3 years
What other factors explain whether immigrants find skilled and well-paid jobs?
- High employment rates in IS and across Nordics
- Return to GDP growth since 2011
- Flexible employment protection legislation in IS and across Nordics
- Large share of non-EU newcomers coming with temporary study or work permits
- Exposure to the language not possible before migration, though work possibilities exist for EN-speakers
Most non-EU families are eligible to reunite and settle in IS if they can overcome the demanding income requirement, discretionary procedure and restrictions on their rights
How easily can immigrants reunite with family?
Ranked 22nd out of 38, the family reunion policy in IS resembles the policies in Nordic and Western European countries, except for a few gaps incompatible with EU law. With a few exceptions, non-EU newcomers are eligible to immediately sponsor their close dependent family members, so long as they possess a sufficient income, not counting social assistance. Reuniting families are slightly more insecure in their status and dependent on their sponsor in IS than in most Nordic and Western European countries, due to discretion in the procedure and restrictions of their rights.
Dimension 1: Eligibility
- Many non-EU residents and family members are eligible to apply under IS' favourable definitions of the family, similar to SE and traditional destination countries
- Except for certain labour migrants and international students, non-EU residents can apply immediately for their spouse or partner, whatever their gender, minor children and elderly parents
- Other dependents are only eligible under special circumstances (adult children have more options in 25 of the 37 other MIPEX countries)
Dimension 2: Conditions
- Eligible sponsors must fulfill similar conditions in IS as in most EU countries, except for its restrictive condition on economic resources
- Unlike in IS, sponsors in 22 other countries can use any legal source, including social assistance, to prove they have a 'stable and sufficient' income to provide for their family (see FI, SE, DE, NL, traditional destination countries)
Dimension 3: Security of status
- Families are more insecure in their status in IS than on average in Western Europe, similar to DK, IE and recent accession countries in Central Europe
- The procedure should be quick, but without specific time-limits, which are generally missing in Nordic countries
- Families meeting the legal requirements can still be rejected on relatively vague grounds and suspicions in IS as in most countries, although their personal circumstances are supposed to be weighed in their favour, as in most Western European countries.
- Permits for family members are originally granted for only 1 year (most Western European countries grant permits as long as the sponsor's)
Dimension 4: Rights associated
- Reunited family members face greater obstacles to equally participate in society in IS than in most European countries and face similar risks of losing their legal status
- Family members must obtain work permits in IS (immediate equal right to work for families in 25 other MIPEX countries, including the Nordics and most of Western Europe)
- Families also do not enjoy the same access to social security as their sponsor, unlike in 23 other countries
- Families can secure their own right to stay in IS after 4 years, with exemptions only made under special circumstances (automatic rights for vulnerable groups in AU, CA, NO, NZ, PT, ES)
Are families reuniting?
Relatively few family members reunite with non-EU sponsors in IS (between 100 and 200 every year since 2008). Newcomer families are very diverse, coming from all over the globe. In 2013, the largest numbers in IS came from PH (29), US (13), TH (9) and IN (7). In IS as in most countries, non-EU family reunion is mostly made up of children, not spouses/partners.
How often do immigrants reunite with family?
Non-EU family reunion is relatively rare in the EU. Out of every 100 non-EU residents in the average EU country in 2013, only 2.2 are newly arrived non-EU family members. The rate is relatively similar in IS (2.4), meaning that non-EU family reunion is just as common in IS as in most EU countries. However family reunion was slightly more common in DK (2.7) and much more common in FI (4.6), NO (5.5) and SE (11.1). With very few exceptions, non-EU families have been more likely to reunite in countries with inclusive family reunion policies, such as the Nordic, Benelux and Southern European countries.
IS' basic support for its small number of immigrant pupils may be insufficient to overcome language and social obstacles to equal opportunities in education
How many pupils have immigrant parents?
As a new and small destination country, IS has small numbers of immigrant pupils in its school system. According to 2012 OECD PISA data, foreign-born children (i.e. first generation) make up only 2.8% of 15-year-olds in IS, while the second-generation are estimated at 0.7%. These numbers are much lower than in most Western European countries.
Is the education system responsive to the needs of the children of immigrants?
Like other new and small destination countries, IS offers little targeted support to its small number of immigrant pupils. All immigrant children should be able to access all types of schools, interpreters and information about the school system, a special reception plan, basic language courses, targeted assistance through special funds and an intercultural education. Ranked 28th, IS’ policy does not offer all types of schools the training and support to fully address the new needs and opportunities that these pupils bring to the classroom. The MIPEX data on international trends suggests that education policies are very slow to adapt and generally more targeted in countries with large numbers of immigrant pupils. The Nordic countries take an individualised needs-based approach for all pupils, including targeted support for immigrant pupils.
Dimension 1: Access
- In principle, all immigrants arriving as children should have the same rights as IS citizens to complete their full education in IS
- Other than reception measures targeting pupils' needs (see below), no policy guarantees that immigrant pupils enjoy equal access in practice to pre-primary, compulsory or higher education (see policies in Nordics, Northwest Europe, US)
Dimension 2: Targeting needs
- Immigrant pupils benefit from relatively basic support to learn the IS language and integrate into the mainstream classroom, with limited guidance or requirements for schools using special funds (see stronger policies in other Nordics, EE, traditional countries of immigration)
- Immigrant parents can be informed and advised about the education system through interpreters, translated materials and 2 schools acting as resource centres
- Newcomer pupils benefit from an individualised special reception plan, including basic IS courses and specialist support
- For this, schools can benefit from special funds (Jöfnunarsjóður sveitarfélaga) for high costs to meet their legal obligations, but the requirements and guidance on how to support immigrant pupils is not systematic or common across municipalities (both financial and technical support provided in 12 other MIPEX countries; more teacher training required in 15; higher standards for language courses in 12)
Dimension 3: New opportunities
- IS is one of only 10 countries overlooking the new opportunities for learning that immigrants bring to the classroom
- This means IS ranks alongside only IE and new and poorer destination countries in Central and Southern Europe
- Most countries teach immigrant languages and cultures though often only to migrant pupils, either at school (e.g. foreign language offer or teaching assistants) or through extra-curricular courses (see more accessible & flexible courses in Nordics, AT/CH, AU/CA)
- A few promising initiatives in Nordic and Northern European countries aim to remedy 'white flight' from immigrant schools, communication difficulties with parents and the lack of preparation and diversity in the teaching force
Dimension 4: Intercultural education
- IS' approach to intercultural education is slightly weak at promoting integration
- Schools in most countries are not required or supported to teach all pupils how to live and learn together in a diverse society, esp. in DK, FR and most new countries of immigration
- All pupils should benefit from an intercultural approach in their education as a stand-alone subject taught across the curriculum
- Schools are guided and monitored on how they adapt the curricula, but not specifically on how to recognise and teach diversity in the classroom and school day
- Specific teacher trainings, funds and government agencies could better promote the appreciation of cultural diversity, as in NO, SE, UK and traditional destination countries
Are pupils with limited literacy getting remedial courses?
Around 50% of foreign-born 15-year-olds with low-literacy scores on PISA were enrolled in extra out-of-school literacy courses in IS. These numbers are much higher in countries such as DK, FI, SE, IT, PT, US. Generally, low-literacy foreign-born pupils are more likely to benefit from extra out-of-school literacy courses in countries where these courses are generally available for all pupils and where their targeted education policies are strong for migrants.
What other factors explain whether the children of immigrants excel at school?
- Only 21% of immigrant pupils speak the language at home, similar to FI and lower than NO/SE (1/3) or DK (1/2)
- Few foreign-born pupils arrive after age 12
- High % of GDP spent on education in IS and other Nordics
- Student-teacher ratios relatively low in IS and other Nordics
How well are the children of immigrants achieving at school?
Comparing foreign-born and non-immigrant 15-year-olds with low-educated mothers, the foreign-born in IS are slightly more likely to be low-achievers on PISA math tests, without the basic math skills to succeed in today's society. Only 30% of IS-born pupils with low-educated mothers emerged as math low-achievers, a relatively low level internationally. In contrast, the share of math low-achievers among foreign-born pupils with low-educated mothers was 44%–or 50% higher than for IS-born pupils with low-educated mothers. This gap is high, though not as high as in other Nordic countries. Preliminary analysis by the OECD suggests that IS' gaps in PISA outcomes for immigrant pupils is largely explained by their language difficulties and their family and school's weaker socio-economic profile.
Equal access to mainstream health services that overlook immigrant patients' specific health needs
Is the health system responsive to immigrants' needs?
Migrant health policies are slightly weak in IS, scoring 40/100 and ranking 25th. IS lacks a comprehensive integration policy that improves the responsiveness of health services and policies. As in other highly-developed countries, immigrant patients have similar access to healthcare entitlements in IS as elsewhere and easier access to information and services than in most MIPEX countries. However, like other new small destination countries, health services and policies in IS generally overlook their small number of immigrant patients because they lack the infrastructure to identify and respond to immigrants' specific health and access needs.
Click here to learn more about how MIPEX health was developed with IOM and EU’s COST/ADAPT network through ‘Equi-Health’ project and co-funded by European Commission’s DG SANTE.
Dimension 1: Entitlements
- The healthcare entitlements and gaps for immigrants in IS are similar to those in other Nordic countries and Western Europe
- Newcomer legal migrants and returning IS citizens must pay for health insurance for their 1st 6 months residing in IS before they access the same health benefits as IS citizens (more equal access in NO, SE, FR, NL, CH)
- Asylum-seekers are generally entitled to emergency care and 'necessary' care based on doctors' decisions, while those obtaining work permits are treated the same as legal migrants (see standards in AT and FR)
- Undocumented migrants are excluded from the options for legal migrants to pay private insurance and entitled to emergency care, based on these services' decisions about both access and payments (see recent reform in SE)
Dimension 2: Access policies
- IS facilitates eligible immigrant patients to mainstream health services through strong information measures, ranked 4th internationally alongside FI, FR, JP, CH and US
- Immigrant patients can access websites and brochures in a few key languages about their entitlements and health issues, although this information may not make it directly to service providers and their employees
- 'Patient navigators' with an immigrant background are available to all and a formal entitlement for asylum-seekers (Multicultural and Information Centre in Ísafjörður, Human Rights Office of Reykjavík Municipality and International Office in Akureyri, similar in 17 other countries)
- Under the law, healthcare professionals cannot report undocumented patients to the authorities or be sanctioned for serving them, as in 10 other countries
Dimension 3: Responsive services
- Immigrant patients and healthcare providers can use interpretation to overcome language problems, but IS' cultural competence standards have not been implemented through practices to overcome other problems specific to immigrant patients (see traditional destination countries and new efforts in Nordics)
- Under the law, people without sufficient IS language skills are entitled to a free interpreter, usually delivered by telephone or face-to-face
- Health Directorate guidelines on cultural competence were made in 2001, but not mandatory for healthcare providers
- No other measures have been taken to implement these guidelines through regular trainings, roles for migrants in service-delivery, diversity policies for hiring or adaptations in methods for diagnosis and treatment
Dimension 4: Mechanisms for change
- Migrant health is critically absent from general health policies and standards in IS, as in other small new destination countries (see instead efforts in English-speaking countries, DK/NO/SE, CH)
- IS is even missing basic data and research on immigrants' health and access problems, as this data is not collected in registers or surveys
Foreign citizens in IS are relatively well included in the inclusive Nordic model of local democracy
Do immigrants have comparable rights and opportunities to participate in political life?
EU and non-EU citizens in IS are able and encouraged to be local voters and candidates as well as be organised and consulted at local level. MIPEX finds that these policies are slightly favourable for promoting immigrants' political participatoin in IS, ranked 8th, similar to the other Nordic countries. These countries draw on the well-established tradition of inclusive local democracy through the Nordic Council.
Dimension 1: Electoral rights
- Foreign citizens can vote and stand in local elections after 5 years in IS (3 years for Nordic citizens in 1986 extended to 5 years for all in 2002)
- Local voting rights are extended to non-EU citizens in 17 MIPEX countries, with the Nordics granting the most inclusive voting rights in Europe
Dimension 2: Political liberties
- Immigrants are granted largely the same basic political liberties as national citizens in IS, as in most countries
- However, IS is the only MIPEX country that bans foreign residents from financing associations (other types of restrictions on political liberties only in KR and Central/Southeastern Europe)
Dimension 3: Consultative bodies
- Foreign citizens' chances to inform and improve policies are rather favourable through Reykjavík City's Intercultural Council and slightly favourable through the National Immigration Council
- Immigrant men and women can be appointed to and chair the Immigration Council to respond to proposals from government (similar bodies in 12 other countries, specifically DK and FI)
- For Reykjavík City Intercultural Council's men and women representing immigrants can be elected and chair in order to both respond to and make proposals to the City (similar bodies in 23 countries)
Dimension 4: Implementation policies
- As in most Western European countries, immigrants in IS have basic information and funding opportunities to use their political rights
- Foreign citizens are informed about their voting rights on an ad hoc basis around elections
- Immigrant-run associations can benefit from mostly project-based grants
Path to permanent residence for many non-EU citizens, though slightly more demanding and insecure than in most countries
How easily can immigrants become long-term residents?
Foreign citizens must wait 4 years before they can become permanent residents and fully invest in their integration with the same socio-economic rights and opportunities as IS citizens. This delay is similar in IS and most Nordic countries, although the procedure in IS is more demanding than in the other Nordic countries and more discretionary than in most European countries.
Dimension 1: Eligibility
- As in most Nordic countries, IS’ residence system is relatively flexible to offer a path to permanent residence
- 4 years' continuous residence is required for most non-EU citizens, except for 'shortage' labour migrants, athletes, most types of students, asylum-seekers and trafficking victims who are excluded from permanent residence
Dimension 2: Conditions
- Eligible residents are encouraged to learn the language and apply for permanent residence through relatively standard requirements, except on economic resources
- Applicants pay relatively standard fees and receive favourable support to learn the IS language (pass a test or 150h of courses) through subsidised courses and free learning materials (www.mcc.is)
- The requirement for applicants to prove their economic resources is potentially demanding, complicated and contrary to EU standards (social assistance excluded, except for temporary financial difficulties)
Dimension 3: Security of status
- Immigrants becoming permanent residents in IS are slightly more insecure in their status than in most Western European countries
- Successful applicants obtain a permanent and flexible status in IS as in 26 other countries
- But with family reunion, IS’ permanent residence procedures involves no time limits and several grounds for rejection and withdrawal
Dimension 4: Rights Associated
- Permanent residents can work, study and live in IS with the same social and economic rights as citizens in IS and 29 MIPEX countries
How many immigrants are long-term residents?
The number of permanent residents in IS has increased from around 1000 in 2008 to around 1800 in 2012/3. In 2013, the most groups of permanent residents were citizens of PH (330), TH (219) and RS (153).
How often do immigrants become long-term residents?
Permanent residence has become more common in IS over the years, with rates now similar to the average in Europe (below SE but far above DK).
Access to Nationality
Permanent residents benefit from basic path to citizenship as in other Nordic and European countries
How easily can immigrants become citizens?
Permanent residents in IS benefit from a basic path to citizenship similar to policies in other Nordic countries and the EU.
Dimension 1: Eligibility
- IS' basic eligibility rules are similar to DK, FI and the average Western European country
- Immigrants and spouses of IS citizens must wait for an average period before applying (7 and 3 years respectively)
- 18-or-19-year-olds living there since age 11 can declare themselves citizens of IS, similar to rules in CZ, FI, FR, NL, NO, PT, SE and now DK (for more flexible rules, see FR, PT, SE)
Dimension 2: Conditions
- The requirements are slightly more demanding in Iceland than the average European country
- The language test is sufficient proof of integration and attainable for most applicants through subsidised courses
- But the economic resource requirement is longer and more restrictive than in most countries (see instead FI, NO, SE, UK)
- To prove good character, applicants must ask for references from two Icelandic citizens 'of good standing' (as in only MT, standard forms used in DK, FI, SE)
Dimension 3: Security of status
- While new citizens of IS are protected from withdrawal and statelessness, applicants are more insecure in their status than in most Western European countries
- For example, applicants in most Northern European countries (e.g. NO, SE, BE, DE, NL) have the right to become citizens if they meet all the legal requirements
Dimension 4: Dual nationality
- Like most MIPEX countries (most recently DK), IS facilitates dual nationality for ordinary applicants and, at age 18/19, for immigrant children
How many immigrants are becoming citizens?
Between 300-900 people have acquired IS citizenship every year since 2007.
What other factors explain why non-EU immigrants become citizens?
- Most from countries allowing dual nationality
- Newcomers not yet eligible in new country of immigration
- Sizeable minority from highly developed countries and thus less likely to naturalise
How often do immigrants become citizens?
Over the past few years, it has been relatively common for non-EU citizens to become citizens in IS (7.1 naturalisations out of 100 non-EU citizens), which is similar to rates in FI and NO. Rates are on average higher for non-EU citizen minors in Iceland than in other countries, but lower for non-EU elderly over 65. Citizenship policies are the strongest factor determining the naturalisation outcomes for immigrant men and women from developing countries. Non-EU immigrant men and women are much more likely to become citizens in countries with inclusive citizenship policies.
No dedicated anti-discrimination law and body to help victims access justice in IS unlike in nearly all MIPEX countries
Is everyone effectively protected from racial/ethnic, religious, and nationality discrimination in all areas of life?
In all ways, IS' laws are critically under-developed to fight discrimination. The law exposes IS residents to more racial, ethnic, religious and nationality discrimination than residents in any all other developed countries, with IS ranking last on all dimensions, far behind CH, JP and TU. IS and these 3 countries are the only developed democracies where victims seeking justice cannot turn to a dedicated anti-discrimination law or independent equality body, critically lagging behind the standards across Europe and traditional destination countries. Unlike the EU countries and NO, IS has made no major legal progress on fighting discrimination.
Dimension 1: Definitions
- Besides general provisions in the Constitution, the only comprehensive anti-discrimination law covers gender
- Other grounds are protected through a few basic and fragmented general laws
- The European Commission has found that IS’ legal framework is below the EU’s established standards from the racial and employment equality directives (Directives 2000/43/EC and 2000/78/EC)
Dimension 2: Fields of application
- Residents are potentially exposed to ethnic, racial and religious discrimination in all areas of life, unlike in 30 of the 37 other MIPEX countries (non-EU citizens are also protected against nationality discrimination in 16 countries)
Dimension 3: Enforcement mechanisms
- Potential victims cannot turn to a specific mechanisms to challenge discrimination
- The general mechanisms are the most unfavourable of all MIPEX countries for victims
- Victims must carry the full burden of proof on their own, without an explicit right to legal aid and leading to potentially symbolic sanction
- They can benefit from free interpreters and the support of certain associations (e.g. labour unions), including class actions, as in the majority of MIPEX countries
Dimension 4: Equality policies
- IS is one of only 3 countries (JP and TU) where victims of racial, ethnic, religious and nationality discrimination cannot count on the support of an official equality body to provide them with legal advice and investigations (see bodies in Nordics, IE, UK, BE, NL)
- The government has not taken on any legal commitments to inform the public about discrimination and promote equality through its work (see instead equality policies in AU/CA/NZ/UK/US, FI/NO/SE, FR)
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