Over the past couple of years, it has become evident that green card holders have unjustly become the soft target of anti-immigration policies. I agree that green card scheme is flawed. However, given the human cost to the green card holders, if the government wants to cancel it, it must be done in a humane way without creating victims of the scheme.
Green card holders say that Denmark is breaking its promise by threatening to scrap the scheme altogether. Photo: Mazhar Hashmi
Editor's note: A majority of parliament supports scrapping Denmark's green card scheme, a programme that has been beset by problems for years. New rules governing the scheme took effect on January 1st, 2015 and were applied retroactively to all green card holders. Supporters of the scheme, including the influential Confederation of Danish Industry, argue that the changes are working and that the scheme should not be scrapped until the effects of the overhaul are fully reviewed in 2017 as originally planned.
With parliament likely to vote in favour of dropping the scheme, green card holders are attempting to rally support and will hold a protest at Copenhagen's Town Hall Square on Thursday. This op-ed was originally written as an open letter to Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen and has been reprinted with the author's permission.
There is an ongoing discussion in the parliament over abolishing the green card scheme and completely withdrawing the rights of extensions of all current green card holders.
Although I think you believe that the arguments in support of this move are justified, as a green card holder I believe that our viewpoint should also be taken into consideration.
I will endeavour to share the reality faced by the green card holders, highlight the problems with the scheme that are leading to the perception presented in parliament and propose solutions which may be considered to avoid human displacement, psychological and emotional distress and harm the sanctity of contractual promises made by the Danish government to green card holders such as myself.
It has been said that the green card scheme is a failure; I ask you if you have considered why this is the perception? All green card holders are by definition highly educated, holding at least a Master’s degree or professional qualifications in high skill industries such as medicine, engineering, IT, research etc.
We bring substantial financial resources into the country when we arrive to support ourselves, injecting a significant amount of money into the Danish economy. We do not take any government or municipal financial benefits, while paying direct and indirect taxes like all citizens of Denmark. We are not a financial burden on Denmark.
Green card holders have been invited to Denmark as qualified professionals for the Danish labour market, at our own expense. We have uprooted ourselves and come to Denmark to contribute to the economy, health and expertise of the country, to settle down for a long period of time with the prospect of permanent residence.
The candidates are asked to bring with them a considerable amount of money to support themselves and families during the first year (as per rules prior to January 1st, 2015). This is under the assumption that green card holders would be able to settle into jobs within the first year. In order to support this scheme there should have been a strong infrastructure in place, to facilitate engagement of this “invited” talent into the local labour market.
However, the infrastructure currently in place for this does not serve the purpose. Some examples are as follows:
1. Insufficient and misleading information: The first source of information for us is the nyidanmark.dk website, which has over-simplified information in English and in most cases it is misleading (not in accordance with the actual rules in practice)
2. Job centres are not briefed nor geared toward handling green card holder job placements; they have little or no knowledge of the green card scheme.
3. The majority of employers are not aware of the green card scheme so naturally they have no clue that there is a pool of highly-skilled workers already in the country.
4. Even though at the time of application all documents and correspondence are requested in English, there is a definite language barrier that welcomes all green card holders when they actually arrive. Danish is a very rich and challenging language to master, and it is gracious that three years of free language education are provided. However, these programmes need to incorporate real and supportive public interactions to improve proficiency in a shorter time.
Those of us on the green card scheme have already been subjected to constantly changing visa rules (which are retrospectively applied), difficulty in breaking ground with the first job and the stress of taking on odd jobs despite being highly qualified (no green card holder enjoys not working in his or her field). This creates a state of unrest and desperation amongst green card holders and some within Denmark's business community take unfair advantage of our desperate situation.
After having been in Denmark for two years and having contributed more than half a million kroner to the Danish economy, I am still keeping all the promises I made to the Danish government, including not taking any financial help from the state. As a green card holder I am independent of state’s monetary support thus no burden whatsoever.
In spite of the hurdles, there are numerous success stories of the green card scheme. These need to be replicated, but the onus does not lie solely with the green card holders, the Danish government too has a role to play.
Now I will endeavour to suggest some solutions. I recommend starting with these fixes:
1. If you really wish to abolish the green card, introduce a transition period of at least two years so the current green card holders can transition into other schemes or make other arrangements suitable to their family's needs. Do not create refugees from within Denmark.
2. Honour the terms stated in the visa approval letters of the current green card holders.
3. For extensions, consider the household income of Danish green card holders rather than just that of the primary applicant.
4. The government must inform employers, especially the ones open to hiring from abroad, that there is a significant pool of international highly skilled migrants available and they should be a priority when filling open positions.
5. Make ten hours unpaid jobs in customer services roles a mandatory part of learning the Danish language.
Our surrounding communities, comprised of both Danes and internationals, are the main factors facilitating and driving our integration into Danish society. It is highly commendable. I am a part of this community and on the way to establishing myself.
Making such an abrupt decision to cancel the green card scheme with no rights to extensions for current residents who are green card holders will be a terrible blow to my career and family life.
Mariam Bintehassan is an IT and marketing professional from Pakistan who has been working in Denmark as a digital marketing manager on the green card holder scheme since 2014.