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.
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.
“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.