Danish residency laws under scrutiny after child deportations

A series of reports in Danish media of children with foreign backgrounds who have faced deportations over immigration rules have resulted in pushback against current legislation.

Danish residency laws under scrutiny after child deportations
Minister for Immigration and Integration Inger Støjberg. File photo: AFP PHOTO / ALEX HALADA/Ritzau Scanpix

Reports of several children being forced to leave family, including parents, in Denmark as a result of rejected residency applications have emerged recently.

In one such recent report, newspaper BT was among media to bring to national attention the case of a 13-year-old girl from Thailand, Mint, who – until last week – lived with her mother and Danish stepfather and stepbrother in Køge near Copenhagen.

Mint, who moved to Denmark in 2017 and attended school at seventh grade, the normal level for her age, was refused permission to remain in the country due to not fulfilling Immigration Board (Udlændingenævnet) requirements over integration.

She has since been deported from Denmark and is now in Thailand with her mother.

“We as politicians have a responsibility not to make things difficult for those who want to be part of Denmark,” Mathias Tesfaye, immigration spokesperson with the opposition Social Democrats, said.

A change to Denmark’s Integration Law (Integrationsloven) in 2016 requires all children over the age of eight that move to Denmark to be assessed over their potential for integration before being granted residency.

Previous rules did not require such assessments in cases where a child’s parents were already living in Denmark and children followed them to the country within two years.

But the rule change has resulted in a number of decisions requiring apparently well-functioning children or teenagers, such as in the case of Mint, to leave Denmark, even though their parents or guardians have residency.

The anti-immigration, nationalist Danish People’s Party said it was satisfied with the current rules, but said it would be happy to see power to grant dispensation for individual cases given to the minister for immigration and parliament’s Committee for Immigration and Integration (Udlændinge- og Integrationsudvalg).

“There may be some cases in which the law has an undesired outcome, but that does not change the fact that we stand by this law,” the party’s immigration spokesperson Martin Henriksen said.

“But we will support the addition of a dispensation option,” Henriksen added.

Jacob Mark, spokesperson for immigration with Socialist People’s Party, a smaller party on the opposition left, said that the Integration Law as a whole should be reviewed.

“Good citizens” who speak Danish and have established an everyday life in Denmark should not be sent out of the country on the assumption they cannot integrate into society, Mark said.

“This latest case with Mint is one of many crazy examples. Of course she can integrate.

“That’s why the law must be thoroughly examined and reformed to make it more nuanced than it is today,” Mark said.

BT reports that immigration minister Inger Støjberg has so far declined to comment on Mint's case. Støjberg is reported to have responded to a written question submitted by Mark to the parliamentary integration committee that she had “confidence that the Immigration Agency and independent Immigration Board have carried out thorough assessment” of the case.

“I can certainly understand that the family in the case referred to… would have liked to see a different outcome,” Støjberg also said.

READ ALSO: 13-year-old deportation-threatened schoolgirl allowed to stay in Denmark


Why Copenhagen has taken steps to increase diversity in its classrooms

Copenhagen has since 2010 sought a more even distribution at its schools between children with Danish and minority ethnic backgrounds.

Why Copenhagen has taken steps to increase diversity in its classrooms
File photo: Niels Christian Vilmann/Ritzau Scanpix

In 2010, 16 schools in the capital – 1 in 4 – had a ratio of over 50 percent for children termed ‘bilingual’ (Danish: tosprogede), meaning a language other than Danish is spoken in their home environments.

That number has now been reduced to 9 schools in the city, newspaper Politiken reports. As such, demographics are now spread more evenly between schools in Copenhagen.

According to Copenhagen Municipality, the composition of schoolgoers’ backgrounds is important because 'bilingual' children fare worse at school than ethnically Danish children, on average.

“This is a pleasing development. We want Copenhagen to be a city in which the places where we live and go to school and daycare is mixed. We think this has a big impact with respect to integration and opportunity,” Social Democrat councillor Jesper Christensen, who heads the municipality’s children and youth committee, told Politiken.

The municipality has given greater flexibility in allowing children, particularly those from minority ethnic backgrounds, to attend schools other than their local district school.

That has, for example, enabled children from underprivileged areas in parts of Nørrebro to go to school in Østerbro, a neighbouring and more affluent area.

Nationally, Minister for Immigration and Integration Mattias Tesfaye has previously (when in opposition) said that school classes should have no more than 30 percent ‘bilingual’ children.

The Ministry for Children and Education told Politiken that “it is still (our) ambition that distribution of school students should better reflect that of the general population,” the newspaper reports.

Although little research into the topic exists, a Danish study from 2011 found that the average grades of children in a class is negatively affected when the proportion of ‘bilingual’ children in that class exceeds 50 percent.

Pisa, the OECD's programme for international student assessment, has previously found that children with non-immigration backgrounds who attend schools with over 40 percent ‘bilingual’ students fare worse than equivalents at schools where the proportion is less than 10 percent.

READ ALSO: How do Denmark's Pisa school results compare to other countries?

Mikkel Høst Gandil, an assistant professor at the University of Oslo’s Economics institute, noted in comments to Politiken that the figures should not necessarily “be interpreted as the effect of going to school with many bilingual children”.

“The study cannot tell whether a specific child would fare better if the number of immigrant-background children in her school fell,” he told the newspaper.

The difference in results does not occur if differences in social conditions between students at the same schools are taken into account, he said.

A 2018 University of Copenhagen PhD project co-authored by Gandil and partly financed by Danish think tank the Economic Council of the Labour Movement found that weaker students benefited from attending stronger schools. Meanwhile, stronger pupils were not negatively affected by attending a school with a high proportion of students with weaker backgrounds, Politiken writes.

The project analysed school trends amongst 580,000 children.

READ ALSO: Why Copenhagen is the cheapest city in Europe for international schools