The consequence may be that foreign workers feel less connected to Denmark – and leave. And that is bad for businesses, says the Confederation of Danish Industry (DI), a private interest organisation funded, owned and managed by 10,000 companies within the manufacturing, trade and service industries.
A bill to implement the fees for language lessons had its first of the three parliamentary readings required in the Danish lawmaking system on Tuesday, writes dibusiness.dk.
The bill, which had its first reading on May 8th, is expected to eventually be passed, given it has the majority backing of the coalition government and parliamentary ally DF.
Language is, among other things, vital in keeping talented foreign workers in Denmark, says DI's Head of Global Talent Linda Duncan Wendelboe.
Language is one of the decisive factors determining whether foreign workers settle down more permanently in Denmark – for the benefit of Danish businesses, according to Wendelboe.
“If you don't speak Danish, it can be difficult to follow what's going on and feel like part of the community at a workplace,” she said.
READ ALSO: Danish: Is it really so hard to learn?
The head of DI Global Talent said she is concerned the bill would cause vital foreign workers to leave Denmark.
“I fear that a price tag of 12,000 kroner for Danish lessons will prevent foreign workers from learning the language. And if they don't, we risk having them leave Denmark faster than before,” she said.
Businesses pay dearly when employees leave quickly
The proposal to charge for Danish classes applies to so-called self-sufficient foreigners and is part of an agreement on tax reforms made between the government and parliamentary ally DF.
New data collected by DI shows that more than half of highly-educated foreign workers currently leave the country after just five years.
This is a bad statistic during an economic boom, when it is necessary for businesses to attract – and retain – their foreign workers, Wendelboe said.
“Denmark is highly dependent on the foreign workers who have come here in recent years. It is incredibly expensive for companies when they leave again quickly. That is why many companies including Microsoft, for example, work hard to retain employees. And in this effort, language is one of the cornerstones,” she said.
Also affects spouses and students
If the government and DF's bill is passed, the price of learning Danish will be 2,000 kroner (270 euros) per module with 1,250 kroner (170 euros) as a deposit for each module.
This adds up to a total of 12,000 kroner for the six modules that constitute the Danish language course.
The head of DI Global Talent points out that the charge will also apply to spouses of highly-educated foreign workers – and thereby ultimately have an effect on the entire family's desire to stay in Denmark.
“We fear that spouses who are forced to pay 12,000 kroner to learn Danish will decide not to take the language course and thereby have difficulty settling down here. And we know that they have an important say in whether or not the family decides to stay in Denmark,” Wendelboe said.
The same is true for international students who study in Denmark.
“It is a major benefit for Denmark when international students stay here and work after completing their studies. And here, language also plays a big role,” she says.
Previously, Danish classes have been free for all foreigners.
Trade union 3F says it is concerned that charging for language classes might prevent foreign workers from obtaining necessary language skills. This could impact the work environment and safety at workplaces.
“Foreigners suffer more accidents at work than others, and I'm certain that a lack of Danish skills is one of the reasons. That is also why the courses should be accessible to all,” General Secretary Søren Heisel states in an interview with 3F's magazine Fagbladet.
If the bill is passed, the charge for Danish classes will apply to newcomers to Denmark including those in work, students and EU citizens.
Facts: User-financed Danish language classes
Bill L225 proposes charging self-sufficient foreigners 2,000 kroner per module plus a 1,250 kroner deposit on each module. This adds up to a total of 12,000 kroner for the six modules that constitute a Danish language course.