By a vote of 56-50, the government's new ‘integration benefit' for refugees was formally approved on Wednesday. The new measure will result in a significantly lower benefit level being offered to people who have resided in Denmark for less than seven of the past eight years.
The integration benefit will be lowered to the level of Danish student grants, meaning that a single adult with no children will receive 5,945 kroner per month before tax, compared to the current 10,849 kroner unemployment benefit (kontanthjælp) – a 45 percent cut.
Foreigners will also receive a financial incentive to learn Danish, as those who pass the intermediate Danish language exam (Dansk 2) will receive a 1,500 kroner increase to their monthly integration benefit.
Danish citizens who have lived outside of the EU for seven of the past eight years will also be subjected to the new rules.
The government views the cuts as a way to make Denmark a less attractive destination for refugees.
“The government will, as promised during the election, quickly implement a new integration benefit for new arrivals, in order to make Denmark a less attractive destination while making it more attractive to work and contribute to Danish society,” a press release from the Ministry of Employment stated when the idea was first floated in July.
The benefit cuts have been roundly criticized by both the UN – which argues that they violate the UN's refugee convention from 1951 – and over 30 other agencies who say the new benefit is discriminatory and threatens to harm integration efforts. The head of the Danish Red Cross said that the hearing statement he wrote in response to the plans was the most negative thing he has ever written.
Wednesday's vote in parliament followed a 90-minute debate in which opposition parties expressed their resistance to the cuts.
“I think today is a sad day. And I also actually think it is misleading – a form of false advertising – to call this an integration benefit because the result will undeniably be the exact opposite,” Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen of the Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten) said during the debate, according to Jyllands-Posten's report.
Integration Minister Inger Støjberg stood by her contention that the benefit cuts will make Denmark less appealing to asylum seekers.
“We need to stop the massive influx of refugees coming to Denmark,” she said ahead of the vote.
The parties Venstre, the Danish People's Party, the Conservatives and Liberal Alliance voted in favour of the bill, while the Social Democrats, Enhedslisten, the Social Liberals (Radikale), the Alternative and the Socialist People's Party voted against it.
The government has announced plans to publicize the new benefit cuts through advertisements in foreign papers.