Every time expats live by the rules and fulfil all the requirements for obtaining permanent residence permit in Denmark, along comes a new set of rules.
Last January, the rules for permanent residency were changed and now immigrants once again find themselves trapped by another set of rules proposed by the new coalition government in the form of bill L154.
In 2015, hundreds of people applied for permanent residence permits after fulfilling requirements such more than five years' residence in Denmark, but were then told to wait for one more year when rules were changed in January 2016. The new proposed bill L154 proposes - amongst other, stricter requirements - that expats wait for two more years, making eight years in Denmark required to obtain a permanent residency permit.
A recent study by a law professor at Aarhus University found that Denmark’s immigration laws have changed 68 times in the last 15 years. This translates to a change in immigration laws every three months.
Frequent changes, constantly tightening the requirements for permanent residency, create a basic sense of uncertainty and lack of predictability. Thus it becomes not only more difficult to live a normal life, but people who think they are on the right track towards getting residency find that they face yet another new set of requirements.
The permanent residency permit provides expats and their accompanying families the opportunity to start their own business, set up a firm, or start a university programme without having to worry about visa extension. This is crucial for peace of mind, without the worries of potentially being told to leave the country should you lose your job, become sick, get divorced, widowed or otherwise become unable to fulfil the strict income requirements.
On December 10, 2015, bill L87 was proposed to the parliament for tightening the permanent residency rules. It was passed through the parliament in January 2016 but adopted retroactively from the date it was proposed i.e. December 10, 2015. This legislation made it mandatory to reside six years in Denmark and work full-time for 2.5 years out of the last three years to be eligible for obtaining permanent residency.
Expats initially expressed their dissatisfaction with this bill but later began attempting to comply with the new requirements. One year later, the new coalition government is proposing even stricter rules. Expats must now wait for two more years and work 3.5 of the last four years to be eligible for permanent residency.
Proposed bill L154 says that an expat has to reside eight years in Denmark to be eligible to apply for permanent residency, replacing the current six years introduced just a few months ago. The requirement in the majority of European countries is usually five years of stay with full time employment to obtain permanent residency. Even under the current rules of six years of stay, Denmark comes out on top for having the strictest requirements.
These changes in permanent residency rules mean that expats must spend much of their time and energy navigating the amended legislations. It becomes so hard that expats sometimes choose to leave the country.
Attracting and retaining foreign labour has become hard
In recent years, Denmark has gained an international reputation as a country that is not sympathetic to foreigners, with the “jewellery law” (smykkeloven) of January 2016 a prime example.
It is not only salary and work environment that foreigners observe before choosing a job in a specific country – they also look for a place where they can eventually settle down and start a home with the security of not fearing deportation at a later date.
A primary reason skilled foreign workers are concerned and uncertain about their future in Denmark is the frequent changes in immigration laws. These have adverse effects, not only on those directly affected but also on the Danish labour market and overall economy.
Karsten Dybvad, CEO of the Confederation of Danish Industry (Dansk Industri), has written that the Danish economy increased by 34 billion kroner ($4.9 billion) from 2010 to 2014 and that some 24 billion kroner (3.5 billion) of that is due to the influx of foreign labour.
This implies that over two-thirds of the growth in Danish economy is due to the contributions of foreign workers. Denmark will need even more foreign labour in coming years as according to Kristian Weise, CEO of Cevea,
“Denmark is facing demographic changes and we will be short of labour in the future. Since 2000 alone, the number of Danish nationals in the working age has decreased by 13.3 percent. Denmark therefore needs foreign labour to support the workforce.”
Foreign workers will strive to obtain permanent residency to get the same rights and opportunities as their Danish colleagues. But if rules for settlement and permanent residency are constantly changed then it will be harder for Danish employers to attract and retain skilled foreign staff. Danish employers will even struggle to retain Danish nationals with foreign spouses who do not meet requirements for family reunification.
This consequence of this is reduced economic growth in the country, and people educated by Danish taxpayers putting their skills to use elsewhere in the world.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.