Plans to scrap Denmark's green card scheme, a programme that has been beset by problems for years, have left foreign professionals scrambling to find a solution.
Many green card holders have joined up with other foreigners to pursue a legal challenge to the government's retroactive application of new rules for permanent residency and many among the roughly 6,000 people in Denmark under the scheme have turned to peaceful protests and advocacy to express their frustration with the political course of action.
Earlier this week, their efforts partly paid off when the coalition of parties that supports ending the programme agreed to a two-year extension for those who came to Denmark under the scheme since 2013. The plan, which has the majority needed to pass parliament, still calls for no new green cards issued to be issue after June 10th of this year and a total elimination of the programme in 2018.
Immigration attorney Åge Kramp, who is working with both green card holders fighting the programme's elimination and other foreigners fighting the government's retroactive application of new permanent residency laws, hailed the concession as a milestone.
“This is the greatest victory I've had as an immigration lawyer,” Kramp told Metroxpress.
But many green card holders currently living in Denmark see things differently.
“This is not a victory. Thousands of families are still affected by this,” Naqeeb Khan, an executive member of the Danish Green Card Association (DGCA) told The Local.
“Those [green card holders] who are here should be granted exemptions and should be treated under the old rules. If the government wants to stop the green card, go ahead. But it is a humanitarian crisis to apply new rules to those who did everything they could to live up to the old ones,” he added.
Khan, who has been in Denmark under the green card scheme since 2013, said many feel jerked around by the government.
“This is the third time in the last one and a half years that green card holders face new amendments in their visa extensions. We've faced one set of tougher rules after another,” he said.
Khan (pictured above) said that many green card holders feel that Denmark doesn't appreciate their contributions to society despite being “the only immigrant category who are highly qualified”.
“Many of [the green card holders] are working in professional jobs, while others are on the way towards professional jobs,” he said, adding that green card holders pay tens of thousands of kroner in taxes while being barred from receiving any public support.
But beyond the financial aspects, Khan and others say there is a human factor being ignored by the Danish government.
“The majority of green card holders are living a family life here in Denmark. They have kids who go to Danish schools and speak Danish fluently. Many of these kids speak Danish better than their own then their mother-tongue,” he said.
Khan said that green card holders who have fought hard to live up to new rules that took effect on January 1st, 2015, including a key clause stating that they must earn more than 315,000 kroner per year, now face a “catastrophe”, even with the new political decision to extend the scheme through 2018.
Ravi Kumar and Arpita Ravi say they left everything behind in India to come to Denmark. Photo: Submitted
“I would have never moved here”
One couple facing a personal upheaval is Ravi Kumar and Arpita Ravi, both from India. The couple came to Denmark in September 2014 when Kumar was approved for a green card. He left a well-paying job at home and quickly found a part-time job while looking for a position within his field of mechanical engineering. Both he and his wife learned Danish and felt like everything was going according to plan until the new rules that were implemented last year.
“I wanted to focus on the Danish language but after the January 2015 amendments, I had to to start working full-time. Off course it disturbed my plans,” Kumar said.
But the government's new change of course has put the couple in a more serious dilemma. Thinking they were going to be able to stay in Denmark under the previous rules, the couple purchased both a flat in the Copenhagen suburbs and a car for commuting. Now that parliament has made it clear that there will be no more green card extensions after June 2018, they face the likelihood of having to sell both at a potential loss.
They said the stress of the situation has affected them greatly.
“If we really have to leave Denmark after June 2018, I wish I would have never decided to move here in the first place,” Kumar said.
“It is a disaster. Our whole life is at stake, as we have started a new life in Denmark after leaving everything in India. I want to finish [my Danish lessons] after which I would be able to start my own physiotherapy clinic,” Ravi added.
“This will destroy my family”
Mehvish Kiran from Pakistan can relate. Kiran came to Denmark in 2013 on the green card scheme armed with a Masters degree in chemistry. She said that her four children have adjusted so well to their new Danish life that there is no way they can go back to Pakistan.
The kids, who range in age from five to 11, are all fluent in Danish and have integrated well into the local community. She said her family will be devastated if they have to leave their home in Ringsted.
“If I have to go back home because of the new rules I would rather claim asylum than destroy everything for my family,” she said.
Kiran has been her family's sole provider since her husband, Rana Shahzad Sarwar Khan, was left unable to work following a severe accident in 2010 that cost him one of his eyes and left him with other serious injuries.
Clock is ticking
Khan of the DGCA said stories like these are all too common among the thousands of green card holders in Denmark. Many risked almost everything they had to come here and start a new life. They all feel like they have worked hard to meet all of the changing demands the Danish government has made over the years only to have the rug swept out from underneath them.
Khan is adamant that a two-year extension is not enough.
“Existing green card holders who are here in Denmark should be allowed to extend their visas without any time limit as long as they fulfil the other requirements,” he said.
His group is desperately trying to sway opinions, meeting with MPs to argue for their right to stay. But time is working against them. The bill to scrap the green card scheme will have its second reading in parliament on Thursday and despite the concession of a two-year extension there is still a solid majority in favour of eliminating the programme.