In an era of escalating global competition, highly skilled labour is vital. Like many other developed countries, Denmark is largely dependent on foreign highly skilled professionals.
Karsten Dybvad, the CEO of the Confederation of Danish Industry (Dansk Industri - DI) has written that from 2010 to 2014 there was an increase of 34 billion kroner to the Danish economy. Some 24 billion kroner of that is due to the influx of foreign labour. This implies that over two-third of the growth in Danish economy is due to the contributions of foreign workers.
Similarly, research from independent think-tank DEA has shown that international students with advanced degrees added 165 million kroner to the Danish economy from 1996 to 2008. This contribution is much bigger today as the number of international students has risen significantly since 2008 onward. The DEA research found, however, that only 40 percent of international students who completed a degree in Denmark remained in the country after graduation.
In recent years, Denmark has effectively attracted and recruited foreign skilled workers. According to an analysis from trade journal Ugebrevet A4, foreigners accounted for 25,872 of the 41,381 new jobs created between 2013 and 2015.
Researchers and business analysts from DI and the Economic Council of the Labour Movement (Arbejderbevægelsens Erhvervsråd - AE) see this as a positive development. AE head Lars Andersen told Ugebrevet A4 the figures were a sign of “better integration of immigrants and their descendants. There are simply more of them finding work.”
Recruiting and attracting foreign highly skilled labour is crucial but it is also extremely important to retain them. The Ugebrevet A4 research showed that the number of foreign professionals is declining from 2015. There are quite a few reasons for this decline.
Changing immigration rules
It has always been a tough choice for anyone to migrate and settle in a new place, especially one where you face a challenging new language, a nearly impossible housing market, a reserved society and a totally new climate. But on top of all that, foreigner workers in Denmark face constantly changing and uncertain immigration laws.
All of these factors contribute to a decline in the retention of foreign professionals. After conducting focus group interviews with foreign professionals, author and anthropologist Dennis Nørmark found that many highly educated foreigners stay in Denmark for just a short period because of the enormous challenges they face. Many of them leave Denmark in initial stages. Those who go through the initial stages and start settling down then face the changing and ever-tougher immigration laws. Every round of new rules forces them to reconsider their decision to stay in Denmark permanently.
A software engineer acquaintance of mine who came to Denmark with a degree in Information Technology from a Swedish university is currently grappling with the idea of leaving. He’s willing to give up his good job at Accenture after a non-stop series of changes in the immigration laws that have made him feel unwelcome.
“I was jobless in the beginning and struggled a lot here in Denmark. It was hard to find a place to live and a job to survive. After doing odd jobs and learning the challenging Danish language, I managed to find a professional job. Now that I am settled and would like to invest in buying a home, the government is once again changing residency rules. It stresses me and I cannot focus on my career and family,” the software engineer, who asked that his name not be used, said.
From six to eight years
The permanent residency rules were just changed in January, causing many to suffer and pulling the rug out from people who had lived up to the previous set of requirements.
Now the government plans to make the permanent residency rules even stricter as part of its 2025 Plan. The government wants to increase the number of years of stay from six to eight years before one can even apply for permanent residency. This will create an atmosphere of further uncertainty among the foreign professionals.
Hemant Kumar can relate. A graduate in Computer sciences from India, he was a green card holder and now has a permanent residency permit. He is currently working as the regional network manager for a telecom firm here in Denmark.
“I was lucky enough that I was not caught by the January 2016 permanent residency changes, otherwise I would have had to await for at least another year. If these new government plans come into force, it would have meant an additional three-year wait,” Kumar said.
“If that had been the case, I would have not invested in the the flat I bought for 1.4 million kroner in the outskirts of Copenhagen. I might have considered going back to India or left for another country,” he said.
Many foreigners leave
Jon Rose Skaksen, a professor at Copenhagen Business School, wrote the analysis report 'Højtuddannede invandreres bidrag til det danske samfund' (Highly educated immigrants' contribution to Danish society). His report indicated that the average highly-educated immigrant with a family contributes 1.9 million kroner to the tax coffers when he/she settles down in Denmark.
In a subsequent interview, Skaksen went further to say that professional immigrants are a source for solving two of Denmark's biggest problems: low productivity and the financing the welfare state.
Foreign professionals who have lived and worked for more than four years have the ability to invest in real estate in Denmark. Many of them would like to buy a home but refrain from doing so because of the uncertain immigration rules.
“I would like to buy an apartment for my family and am more than willing to invest 200,000 kroner as down payment. The only thing that stops me is the changing immigration laws,” said Irfan Yousaf, who has been in Denmark since 2013.
“I pay the same tax as any other Dane but I am not allowed to vote so my democratic voice is not heard. The government should at least consider our views before discussing and passing any rules which directly affect my family and me,” he added.
If workers leave, the economy suffers
The government just months ago made it so that foreigners must live in an uncertain status for six years. At the very least, foreign professionals already living in Denmark and paying taxes should be allowed to stay under these rules.
The new proposals in the 2025 Plan once again make foreign workers live under a constant cloud of uncertainty and the possibility that a full eight years must pass before one can have the right to permanent residency.
This will have an adverse impact not only on the foreign professionals themselves. It will also be a considerable loss for the Danish economy. The new government proposals on permanent residence, if applied retroactively, will not only violate basic human rights but also adversely impact the image Denmark so wishes to project to the highly-skilled workers it says it both wants and needs.
A better option would be to apply any of these new proposals on those who are yet to choose Denmark as their destination. This would give them the choice of whether to come to Denmark or to take their skills (and tax contributions) elsewhere. It would also finally give foreign professionals an outlook for a steady life, not only boosting productivity but allowing them to invest in the Danish economy in a number of different ways.
Naqeeb Khan is a graduate of University of Glasgow, Scotland and currently resides in Denmark. He is President of Green Human Resources and executive member of Danish Green Card Association (DGCA). He can be contacted at email@example.com.