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OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘I was born in Denmark, but my post-Brexit Danish citizenship application was rejected’

It is increasingly hard to become Danish. Even though I was born in Denmark to a Danish mother, have lived in Denmark for most of my life, and am married to a Dane and have two Danish children, my post-Brexit application for Danish citizenship was rejected.

'I was born in Denmark, but my post-Brexit Danish citizenship application was rejected'
In this unrelated file photo, new Danish citizens attend a celebratory event at Christiansborg in 2015. File photo: Linda Kastrup/Ritzau Scanpix

“You have not documented your knowledge and understanding of Danish society, culture and history,” I was told in a letter from the Danish Ministry of Immigration and Integration. I received this letter nearly two years after I had applied for Danish citizenship.

I was dumbfounded. I have gone to school in Denmark since the age of seven, taken two degrees (in teaching and Social Science) in Denmark and have worked in Denmark as a teacher, journalist and academic.

I applied for ‘dispensation’ for the citizenship test and the language test, believing (and having checked) that I fulfilled the criteria for this. I also thought it would be ludicrous for me to have to go through such tests to prove my eligibility, as I have a Danish Master’s Degree, am a journalist in the country and more.

I therefore believed that I was both well-suited and entitled to make my mark as a full member of Danish society.

Apparently, that is not considered to be the case.

Brexit-‘refugee’

But if I am not even eligible for Danish citizenship, as I apparently haven’t proven my Danishness, what does it take to become a Dane both formally, culturally and spiritually?

One of the reasons that I applied for Danish citizenship in the first place was that Brexit will make me a non-EU citizen living in the EU soon. Another reason was that it recently became possible to become a Danish citizen whilst retaining my British passport. But the main reason is that I feel that I belong here.

I had become British almost by accident. I was born in Copenhagen in 1972 to a Danish mother and a British father, but at the time children of British fathers automatically became British citizens, my mother has told me.

Perspective from pluralism

In Denmark and the UK (and elsewhere), nationalism is on the rise and is increasingly becoming the yardstick for measuring who we are. Many of the Right in the UK argue that Brexit would enable them to “win back our country” for “true” (white?) Brits like me. Many people in Denmark argue and vote along the same lines.

I see myself as both English and Danish, but mostly as a person who would rather not be defined by others. In Denmark today, the trend nevertheless seems to be to categorise people and focus on our differences and divisions instead of what unites us.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Want foreigners to fit in, Denmark? Seeing us as equals might help

I have lived in two countries (and travelled in many more), and my family have lived for decades in China and South Africa. This gives me a sense of perspective that enables me to better comprehend the society and cultural setting that I live in.

I believe that the world would be a far better place if more people had a similar sense of perspective, while at the same time following their own voice and not that of an increasingly closed group or nation.

Cultures are dynamic

Otherwise, we seem to end up mentally bound to our respective nations, whilst cutting the umbilical cord to our humanity by believing ourselves to be better than people with a different nationality (or colour or creed), simply because they were born somewhere else.

Cultures are dynamic, multi-layered and absorbent. What is British or Danish today will change tomorrow according to circumstances and according to those who define it.

A hundred years ago it was part of both British and Danish culture that women were not equal to men and did not even have the vote. Today this seems ludicrous, although a sense of inequality and discrimination seems to be creeping back into our cultures as our nations build mental walls around themselves.

So what does being Danish really mean and how do I become a Dane, culturally? And how do I ensure that I and other “new” Danes can help keep Danish culture vibrant and relevant?

One way is to demand the right to be part of defining and forming the culture of the society that I live in and to demand that Danish culture is not cast in stone.

Here I can look to the many other Danes with foreign names and upbringing who have helped define Danish culture:

Oehlenschläger the poet, Reventlow, Monrad and Khader the politicians, Pio the unionist, Schmeichel and Nadim the footballers, Wozniacki the tennis player, Björkstrand the ice hockey player, and Mahmoud and Krasnik the journalists.

READ ALSO: 'No more than 1,000 new Danish citizenships annually': DF as law change talks begin

Sociologist and journalist Peter Kenworthy is a contributing author to “African Awakening: The emerging revolutions”. He has worked for several Danish NGOs in Africa, as a communications officer for a municipality, as a journalist for Danish newspapers and as a freelance journalist for Danish and international magazines and newspapers. He also has a teaching degree and has worked at several schools. 

For members

DANISH CITIZENSHIP

How to apply for citizenship in Denmark

We provide an explanation of applying for citizenship in Denmark, including an overview of the rules, a guide to the application process and useful extra information.

How to apply for citizenship in Denmark
Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

Danish citizenship can only be granted to foreign nationals via legal nationalisation: your application must actually be approved by a parliamentary majority. Accepted applications are normally processed in parliament twice yearly, in April and in October. 

You need to fulfil the conditions for Danish citizenship up until the April or October when your application will be processed and the application needs to be submitted at least two to three months before April or October. 

To be granted citizenship, you must apply to the Ministry of Immigration and Integration for the eye-watering fee of 4,000 kroner (2022). 

Citizenship entitles you to a Danish passport and gives you the right to vote in parliamentary elections, as well as providing a permanent basis for residency in the country.

Danish requirements for citizenship are some of the toughest in the world. In April 2021, the Social Democratic government linked up with conservative parties Liberal (Venstre), the Conservatives and Liberal Alliance on a tighter new agreement around citizenship rights.

You must meet a number of closely-defined criteria and requirements in order to be eligible for citizenship by naturalisation. These fall into six broad categories, all of which will be set out in further detail below.

  • Give a declaration of allegiance and loyalty to Denmark
  • Fulfil prior residency criteria
  • Be free of debt to the public sector and be financially self-sufficient
  • Have no criminal convictions
  • Hold a full-time job or been self-employed for three and a half of the last four years. 
  • Meet criteria for Danish language skills 
  • Pass a citizenship test and demonstrate knowledge of Danish society and values

For children, stateless people born in Denmark, people whose previous Danish citizenships have lapsed and citizens of the Nordic countries, special rules apply. These will not be addressed in this article.

Declaration of allegiance and loyalty to Denmark

It is a condition for acquiring Danish citizenship by naturalisation that you declare allegiance and loyalty to Denmark and to Danish society. You must also declare that you will obey Denmark’s laws, including the constitution, and respect the fundamental values and legal principles of Danish democracy.

How do I do this, you might ask? The answer is, digitally. You sign the declaration online as you file your application on the Borger.dk website. You also reiterate the declaration when you attend the ceremony which confirms your citizenship, once you have been accepted for it.

Prior residency criteria

At the time of your application, you must already have a permit for permanent residency in Denmark for a minimum of two years, and have lived in Denmark for a specified number of years (see below).

People recognised as refugees, equated with refugees, or stateless, need a one year minimum permit for permanent residency.

Being a resident in Denmark means that you live permanently in the country and are registered at a Danish address (where you live) on the national civil registry (Det Centrale Personregister, CPR).

Certain applicants are exempt from one or both of the above conditions, for example Nordic citizens; former Danish citizens; people of Danish descent; members of the Danish minority of Southern Schleswig in Germany; applicants who are residing abroad due to the Danish spouse’s work for Danish interests; and applicants who were born between 1961 and 1978 to a Danish mother and who could have acquired Danish citizenship if their mother had applied for it between 1979 and 1981; and children who apply for citizenship without their parents. You can read more about this here.

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Permanent residency is granted via a number of different routes, depending on the way in which you originally made Denmark your home.

EU free movement

If you are a citizen of an EU country or the family member of an EU citizen, you can be granted permanent residency in Denmark after five years’ legal residency in the country under EU free movement rules. For this, you must make an appointment to hand in your application in person to the Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration (SIRI). SIRI has branch offices in Copenhagen, Odense, Aalborg, Aarhus and Aabenraa.

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Non-EU citizens

If you are not a citizen of an EU country, the path to permanent residency, and thereby citizenship, is longer. To qualify for a permanent residency permit (permanent opholdstilladelse), you must have been legally resident in the country under a limited residency permit (tidsbegrænset opholdstilladelse) for at least eight years (in some cases four years, and exceptions can also apply, for example for persons aged 18 or 19 and people with Danish ancestry).

There are also a number of stringent requirements related to criminal convictions, debt to the state and self-sufficiency, employment history and language skills. These will not be covered here, since they are superseded by the requirements for citizenship itself, but you can find more detail on permanent residency in the articles linked below.

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Length of stay

Normally, you must have lived in Denmark for nine consecutive years (without living elsewhere for more than three months) in order to qualify for citizenship. This period is reduced in some cases: for refugees it becomes eight years, citizens of Nordic countries need a two-year stay and people married to Danes qualify after 6-8 years, depending on the length of the marriage.

Other exceptions are made for those who have taken a significant portion of their education in Denmark, who may qualify after five years. If you moved to Denmark before your 15th birthday, you can become nationalised after you turn 18.

In certain cases, exemptions from residency duration requirements are made, for example if a Danish spouse has worked abroad or due to the applicant being stationed abroad while working for a Danish employer.

Public debt

Overdue repayments to the state, in the form of repayable social welfare payments, child support, excess housing support (boligstøtte), payment for daycare, police fines, municipal loans for paying deposits on rental housing, and unpaid taxes and fees can all result in rejection of a citizenship application.

Self-sufficiency

You are required to prove that you can provide for yourself. That means, for example, documenting that you have not received state social welfare support such as the basic unemployment support, kontanthjælp, or the welfare benefits provided to those granted refugee statues (integrationsydelsen), within the last two years.

Furthermore, you may not have received benefits of this type for more than a total period of four months within the last five years.

Other types of state benefit, such as the state student grant (statens uddannelsesstøtte, SU) and state pensions do not exclude you from qualifying for citizenship.

Unemployment insurance, parental leave and sick leave payouts (dagpenge) received over a total period of over four months will be added to the two years in which you must document that you were not supported by the state. Therefore, these types of benefit (which are partially self-funded) do not preclude you from applying for citizenship, and you can be in receipt of them at the time you apply.

Criminal convictions

From April 2021, a new government agreement meant that anyone who has received a criminal sentence, either conditional or unconditional, will never be able to become a Danish citizen. 

Previous rules allowed people with unconditional sentences of up to one year to be granted citizenship following a suspension period.

Milder punishments such as fines can result in a suspension from applying for a period of at least four and a half years. If someone has been penalised several times, the waiting period is extended.

You must declare while applying for citizenship whether you have committed a crime. If authorities later find (a two-year check is carried out) that you have not disclosed any criminal activities, your citizenship can be revoked.

If a crime was committed abroad, the case will be discussed by the Danish Parliament’s Naturalisation Committee as to whether to grant dispensation.

READ MORE: ‘I’m being punished twice’: How a punch-up is stopping this Scot becoming a Danish citizen

Employment

Before 2021, there was no specific work requirement, as long as the applicant had not been receiving social benefits for the last four years.

The new rules require having held a full-time job or having been self-employed for three and a half of the last four years, and to still be employed at the time of application.

Full-time employment means employment in Denmark with an average working week of at least 30 hours. Employment as part of an education employment agreement with a company is also covered in this. 

Applications are also considered by those who have been employed abroad by a Danish company or in connection with a spouse employed abroad by a Danish company for less than two years.

And those employed abroad for less than one year, where the posting or deployment is significant for the sake of the applicant’s employment in Denmark.

There can be exceptions from this category, such as former Danish citizens, people of Danish descent, and members of the Danish minority of Southern Schleswig in Germany, certain children applying for citizenship without their parents, applicants who have reached the state pension age or have been granted an early retirement pension or senior pension. 

READ ALSO: How can you get a work permit in Denmark if you are not an EU national?

Language proficiency

In general, you must have passed the national Prøve i Dansk 3 language test, the final exam in the national Danish language school system. As such, you will be comfortable with speaking, reading and writing in Danish at the time you apply for citizenship.

READ ALSO: Danish: Is it really so hard to learn?

There are certain exemptions from the language requirements. Residents of Greenland and the Faroe Islands, as well as Swedish and Norwegian speakers, do not need to document Danish proficiency. Dispensation can be given for applicants with certain types of illnesses and disabilities, and different rules apply to children.

The Danish citizenship test

A condition of getting Danish citizenship, is that you demonstrate knowledge of Danish society, culture and history, by having passed ‘Indfødsretsprøven af 2021.’

In April 2021, the existing citizenship test, (indfødsretsprøven) consisting of 40 multiple choice questions, was supplemented with five extra questions about “Danish values” such as equality, freedom of speech and the relation between legislation and religion. 

If you have taken and passed the previous test of 2015, between the test date in June 2016 and the test date in June 2021, this will be accepted as part of your citizenship application.

The Danish citizenship test is held twice yearly, normally at the end of June and the end of November. 

The pass mark is 36/45 and at least four of the five Danish values questions must be answered correctly. You’ll need to attach a certificate showing you’ve passed when you submit your application.

A few – but not many – exemptions apply meaning some people do not have to take the citizenship test. This includes children under 12 or people from Norway or Sweden, or people from the Danish minority in German region Schleswig-Holstein.

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New Danish citizens attend a celebratory event at Christiansborg in 2015. File photo: Linda Kastrup/Ritzau Scanpix

Where to apply

Applications for citizenship are made via the borger.dk citizens’ self-service website, where you must initially log-in using the MitID system, which replaces the phased-out NemID during 2021. You will then be guided through each step of the application and prompted to upload documentation. Applications can be saved in the system for up to a month. After this, you’ll have to begin from scratch.

You’ll be asked to confirm whether you are using legal representation for your application, then asked to fill in identity information. Some of this – your personal registration number and address, for example – will be automatically filled in. You will also be required to upload a photo of your passport.

Given the hefty application fee, it is important to make sure you have everything in your application correct. It is beyond the scope of this article to cover the many different ways in which personal circumstances and history might affect a citizenship application, but there are options for seeking advice.

You can contact the Ministry of Immigration and Integration for guidance on citizenship rules. Their contact information (including an email address) can be found here.

You also have the option of seeking legal advice. Copenhagen Legal Aid offers such advice to everyone living in Denmark (not just in Copenhagen), and the service is free (depending on your income). You can contact them in person or by telephone.

READ ALSO: ‘I was born in Denmark, but my post-Brexit Danish citizenship application was rejected’

What happens next? 

Once your application is submitted, it’s time to play the waiting game. At the end of 2021, the processing time for applications was approximately 14 months, according to the immigration ministry.

If all goes well and your application is approved by the ministry, you will receive a letter notifying you that you can expect to be accepted for citizenship at the next round of parliamentary procedure, provided you still fulfil the requirements at that time.

Once the new law making you a citizen comes into force, you will be sent a declaration that you have been accepted for citizenship with one final condition: you attend a ceremony, declare that you will uphold Denmark’s laws, values and principles, shake hands with an official and become a citizen.

READ ALSO: Denmark officially ushers in dual citizenship in 2015

Sources: Udlændinge- og Integrationsministeriet (1) (2) (3), Borger.dk, Nyidanmark.dk

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