OPINION: Stop being so hostile to foreign professionals, Denmark. You need us

A work force shortage has been one of the biggest potential obstacles to Denmark’s economy in recent years. But the government's harsh approach to permanent residency does not reflect the need to address the situation, guest columnist Naqeeb Khan writes.

OPINION: Stop being so hostile to foreign professionals, Denmark. You need us
File photo: Malte Kristiansen/Scanpix 2013

According to Kristian Weise, CEO of Cevea, “Denmark is facing demographic changes and we will be short of labour in near future. Since 2000 alone, the number of Danish nationals in the working age has decreased by 13.3 percent. Denmark therefore needs foreign labour to support the workforce.” 

The Confederation of Danish Industry (Dansk Industri, DI) surveyed 465 companies in Denmark and found that 60 percent were facing challenges in filling vacancies.

DI director Steen Nielsen noted that the Danish economy is growing and that for this to continue, companies must have access to the labour they need.

Companies are sometimes forced to refrain from bidding or are unable to deliver an order because they do not have enough employees, the DI director added.

Meanwhile, the Danish Society of Engineers (IDA) has expressed deep concerns over the shortage of professionals in the fields of engineering and natural science. Despite a higher number of university places, there will be still a deficit of around 10,000 people by 2025, DR reported.

Other sectors which could be affected by labour shortages include health and social care, the hotel and restaurant industry and cleaning and construction companies.

The so-called ‘paradigm shift’, a new which reflects the policy of preferring repatriation to integration of refugees, is another blow to the shortage of work force. Some 8,700 employed refugees face being sent home after the law was passed earlier this year, media Mandag Morgen reported.

Despite all these reports, the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party (DF), a parliamentary ally to the coalition government, has come up with a new proposal which will impact the country’s foreign work force. This time, the target is EU residents and highly professional and skilled labour.

The proposed bill is the third one in the parliament in last three years which has aimed to change rules on for changing permanent residency.

In January 2016, parliament passed a bill requiring six years of residency in Denmark for foreign (non-EU) nationals to be eligible for permanent residency.

In May 2017, another bill was passed, this time increasing the residency requirement to eight years. Both bills also saw other residency criteria also tightened.

The new bill, put forward by DF on March 12th, proposes that EU citizens will not be eligible to apply for permanent residency in Denmark until they have lived in the country for eight years, an increase from the existing five-year requirement.

Other tighter rules in the DF proposal include stricter requirements on language skills, and the abolition of a rule which enables expedited permanent residency if other certain conditions are fulfilled.

The proposed bill, B143, violates an EU directive (2004/38/EC), which holds that EU citizens who have resided legally for a continuous period of five years in the host member state have the right of permanent residency there.

According to 2017 figures from the Ministry of Higher Education and Science, 80 percent of foreign graduates from Danish universities leave Denmark within two years after completing their studies.

This is probably because of the uncertain nature of settling down in Denmark: a 2016 Aarhus University study found that immigration rules in Denmark are changed every three months.

Frequent changes and constantly tightening the requirements for permanent residency creates a basic sense of uncertainty and lack of predictability. It not only makes it difficult to live a normal life, but people who think they are on the right track towards getting permanent residency find that they face yet another new set of requirements.

A permanent residency permit provides internationals and their accompanying families the opportunity to start their own business, set up a firm, or start a university programme without having to worry about visa extension. This is crucial for peace of mind, without the worries of potentially being told to leave the country should you lose your job, become sick, get divorced, widowed or otherwise become unable to fulfil the strict income or employment requirements.

Foreign professionals who have been working hard to fulfil the stringent supplementary requirements for expedited permanent residency face having to wait up to four more years if the new bill is passed. EU citizens could be waiting three years longer than they expected to.

If rules for settlement and permanent residency are constantly changed, it will be harder for Danish employers to attract and retain skilled foreign staff. Danish employers will even struggle to retain Danish nationals with foreign spouses who do not meet requirements for family reunification.

This will only result in another upset to an already-challenged labour market in Denmark. The consequence of this is reduced economic growth in the country, shutting down firms and people educated by Danish taxpayers putting their skills to use elsewhere in the world. 

Danish politicians should think twice before Denmark loses elite foreign professionals.

READ ALSO: EU citizen? Here's how your free movement rights apply in Denmark

Naqeeb Khan is a research graduate of the University of Glasgow, Scotland and currently resides in Denmark. He is president of Green Human Resources and an executive member with the Danish Green Card Association (DGCA). He can be contacted via email.

Member comments

  1. It thought this was just me but its true. Their effort to keep people out of the country that is not ethnically danish is effecting people like me. I came here to study and wish to work but the constant changes keep effecting me negatively and i feel id rather go elsewhere take my skills then stay here. For no other reason but that i feel the danish government does not appreciate what i can offer here.

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OPINION: If you can’t go home for Christmas, Denmark is a good place to be

After missing out on seeing his family for Christmas 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, The Local Denmark editor Michael Barrett got to try out Danish Christmas for the first time.

A Danish dining table on Christmas Eve.
A Danish dining table on Christmas Eve. File photo: Vibeke Toft/Ritzau Scanpix

We’d always planned to spend last Christmas in the UK. My daughter was born in March 2020, coinciding with the outset of the global coronavirus pandemic but, as worrying and uncertain as everything was at the time, we were sure it would have all settled down in nine months’ time. We started planning for her to spend her first Christmas with her grandparents, cousin and the rest of our extended family in England.

As we all know, this was far from how things turned out. The autumn and winter of last year saw spiralling Covid-19 cases across Europe and countries responding by introducing more and more restrictions, including on travel.

I’m not sure exactly when we conceded we’d have to cancel our plans to go to the UK for Christmas in 2020, but I do remember the look of resignation on my parents’ faces when I let them know. The writing had already been on the wall for a while by then.

Visiting my partner’s mother in December, I looked out of the window at the greying skies over Jutland, the dim lights of a distant Føtex store and the limp red and white pendants on flag poles as bare as the trees, and nothing felt familiar.

This was because, despite having lived in Denmark for almost a decade and a half, I’d never spent Christmas in the country. Every year I’d head home by the 22nd or 23rd, usually returning just before New Year to enjoy the rowdy firework displays in Aarhus or Copenhagen after a week of putting my feet up and savouring the familiarity and comfort of Christmas at home.

Denmark famously has its own Christmas traditions, comparable but certainly different to the British ones. I knew about them – I’ve exchanged information about national Christmas customs with many Danes over the years – but never witnessed them first-hand.

The big day came around quickly, not least because it all happens on the 24th, not the 25th.

Festivities did take a while to get going, though. Not until 4pm in fact, when ancient Disney Christmas special From All of Us to All of You, known in Danish as Disneys juleshow began on main TV broadcaster DR. Usually I’d have been watching an early-1980s David Bowie introducing The Snowman around now. A cup of warm gløgg (spiced red wine with raisins and almonds) was thrust into my hand, and I missed Bowie a little bit less.

After a couple more glasses of gløgg and wine, we sat down for Christmas dinner: roast duck, brown potatoes, boiled potatoes, gravy and red cabbage. It was of course already dark and a prolific number of candles were lit on the table and around the room, adding to the festive feeling of the star-topped tree, paper hearts and other decorations.

For dessert, we had risalamande, the popular cold rice sweet mixed with whipped cream, vanilla and chopped almonds and served with cherry sauce. By tradition, one whole almond is left in the dessert and whoever finds it wins a present, which is customarily a julegris, a chocolate pig with marzipan filling. This game is often fixed so that a child (or children) wins the prize, but the only child present was a nine-month-old and I ended up finding the almond in my bowl.

Then it was time to dance around the tree and exchange presents. Most of us had too much dessert, so it was a more sedate affair than I expected. After the little one was fast asleep we sat back on the sofas and had a couple more glasses of wine or maybe a few snacks.

It was all over before Santa traditionally lands his sleigh on rooftops and hops down British chimneys in the small hours of Christmas morning.

Danish families with young children often assign someone to dress up as Father Christmas and come round to deliver the presents to excited youngsters before dinner on Christmas Eve.

Maybe I’ll get the chance to audition for the role next year because our Danish-British family will be in Denmark every other Christmas for the foreseeable future – by choice, not restriction. I’m looking forward to it, because my first Danish Christmas gave me a better understanding of why this time of year is loved by so many Danes.

READ ALSO: My five favourite Danish childhood Christmas memories