‘Leave country by June 10th’: Denmark to American wife of astrophysicist

Rule changes have made it even more difficult for foreign-based Danes to move to Denmark with their spouses.

'Leave country by June 10th': Denmark to American wife of astrophysicist
Photo: Iris

The first family to be affected by the forced removal of a legal exemption to Danish immigration law has been told they no can no longer live together in the country.

Astrophysicist Uffe Hellsten moved to Denmark with his American wife Quynh Doan and two children last summer after a 20-year spell living in California.

But a Danish rule stating that a Danish-plus-non-EU-nationality couple may not move to Denmark if they are considered to have “a stronger attachment to the second country” has resulted in Doan’s application for residence being rejected.

She now has until June 10th to leave the country, reports newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

All mixed-nationality couples where the non-Danish partner does not hold EU citizenship must now fulfil a so-called “attachment requirement” (tilknytningskravet) after a second rule, known as the 26-year rule, which exempted Danes holding citizenship for 26 years or more from their partners being subject to the attachment rule, was abolished by a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling.

The rule discriminated against Danes who were born in the country or arrived at a young age, for example as refugees, but were not granted citizenship until later, ruled the court.

Hellsten and Doan’s case is the first rejection of an application that would have been accepted under the previous rule, reports Jyllands-Posten.

“We came here last summer, it took us a whole year to plan our journey from California to Denmark. We sold our house in California, we bought a house here in Vodskov, and thought we were going to live a family life now. The rules at that time were such that we could move to and live in Denmark as a family without problems, but the day we applied the rules were changed – from one day to the next. And now we’re left with a rejection, and Quynh has until the 10th of June to leave the country,” Hellsten told the newspaper.

READ ALSO: Expats attend Copenhagen demonstration against residency curbs

Association Marriage without Borders (Ægteskab uden Grænser) said that many non-EU couples were concerned about finding themselves in the same situation.

“Uncertainty and doubt are the biggest problem. We can comfort many of them and say that they will probably fulfil the attachment requirement, but not all,” Lars Kyhnau Hansen, spokesperson with the organisation, told Jyllands-Posten.

The government is currently trying to reduce the number of Danes affected by the rule change, reports the newspaper, with a new law change exempting high earners expected to be passed by parliament in May.

But this law change has also been criticised for not being comprehensive enough.

Independent business owners, pensioners and lower-earning skilled workers would still be left facing rejection over residency, says NGO Danes Worldwide.

Around 10,000 of the 200,000 Danes currently based abroad face a similar outcome to Hellsten and Doan should they relocate to Denmark, the organisation’s general secretary Anne Marie Dalgaard told Jyllands-Posten.

“The current proposal leaves far too many Danes abroad without the possibility of returning to Denmark and participating in Danish society,” she said.

Immigration minister Inger Støjberg admitted to the newspaper that the solution was not perfect but was a compromise aimed at helping as many as possible while keeping family reunification rules strict.

“It is the best balance we can offer with the situation as it is now,” she said.

The government could have abolished the attachment rules at the same time the 26-year-rule was rejected by the ECHR, thereby preventing situations like that of Hellsten and Doan, but did not do this.

Denmark should not change its rules to help couples in similar situations, said Martin Henriksen, immigration spokesperson with the nationalist Danish People’s Party.

READ ALSO: Here’s why no one really understands Danish immigration laws

“The individual must give way for the interests of all. The most important thing is for Denmark to have strict immigration policies,” Henriksen said to Jyllands-Posten.

The MP added that he believed the ECHR itself was the cause of the couple’s difficult predicament.

“It is a deeply unfair position that they have been put in, and it is a consequence of Denmark signing a number of international conventions. It is sad that human rights are being used to forbid the Danish parliament to pass laws benefitting its own citizens,” he said.

Henriksen told the newspaper that he felt Denmark should have ignored the ruling and continued to apply the 26-year rule, and should not make any alterations to the attachment requirement.

“… asking us to ease off generally on immigration policy, meaning all sorts of others would be able to come to Denmark, I think would be simply irresponsible,” he said.


How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.