Denmark announces extension of refugee apprenticeship programme

The government and private sector representatives have agreed the extension of a scheme in which refugees are provided short-term jobs and training at apprentice salary levels.

Denmark announces extension of refugee apprenticeship programme
Unrelated file photo. Christian Als/Ritzau Scanpix

The IGU (integrationsgrunduddannelse) scheme, which was introduced in 2016, aims to help refugees to access the Danish labour market.

People on the scheme are paid a salary of 50 to 120 kroner (€6.70 to €16) an hour for up to two years. The refugees also take part in skill development or education courses of up to 20 weeks.

Refugees and people with residency via family reunification, who are between the ages of 18 and 40 and have lived in Denmark for less than five years are eligible.

The scheme has previously been criticised by the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party and also arguably conflicts with the so-called ‘paradigm shift’ bill, voted through by parliament last week, which reflects a government change in policy on asylum.

A key aspect of the recent bill is its shift in focus from integration to future repatriation in Denmark’s approach to those who are granted refuge in the country.

READ ALSO: Denmark’s parliament passes 'paradigm change' asylum bill

Nevertheless, the IGU scheme, which has seen 1,860 agreements reached between employers and refugees since its inception, has now been extended until June 2022, the Ministry for Immigration and Integration announced via a press release on Monday.

The agreement was reached between the government and trade organisations including union representative Fagbevægelsens Hovedorganisation (FH), the Confederation of Danish Employers (Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening, DA) and Local Government Denmark (Kommunernes Landsforening, KL).

Minister for Immigration and Integration Inger Støjberg has previously spoken in support of the IGU programme.

“Even though many more newly-arrived refugees have entered employment since the tripartite agreement in 2016, many refugees remain outside of the jobs market. I am therefore pleased that we have, today, reached a very good agreement with labour market representatives to extend the IGU, which is a stepping stone to the jobs market for many,” Støjberg said in the press statement.

“The scheme is a very good resource, which helps to make more refugees self-sufficient so that they can contribute to society on equal terms with everyone else for as long as they are here,” the minister added.

Labour market organisations also praised the scheme in comments included in the ministry press release.

“The IGU is, for many refugees and families, the first step towards being on the labour market under normal conditions – exactly as we hoped. Furthermore, I am pleased to see extra resources provided for better Danish language lessons and for the extension of the IGU period in instances of parental leave or illness,” FH chairperson Lizette Risgaard said.

The scheme is aimed at refugees and others granted residency under Danish family reunification rules who are not yet considered to be ready for employment under normal wage and employment regulations, the ministry writes in the press statement.

It had been due to expire this year after being approved for a three-year trial period in 2016.

READ ALSO: Refugee apprentice scheme a success, Danish immigration minister says

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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.