Is the Danish work visa law to blame for Chinese chef living in Copenhagen restaurant’s storage room?

A Chinese chef said he was brought to Denmark under false promises after working seven days a week for 30 kroner per hour, and being forced to sleep in a restaurant storage room.

Is the Danish work visa law to blame for Chinese chef living in Copenhagen restaurant's storage room?
An illustration photo showing a menu in Chinese and Danish. File photo: Morten Germund/Ritzau Scanpix

National service broadcaster DR reported on Sunday that after coming to Denmark to work as a chef, 34-year-old Chinese national Huashan Hong was not given a day off for six months.

He was also paid well under the Danish minimum wage and forced to sleep in a restaurant storage room, the broadcaster writes.

The owner of the restaurant, which is located in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro district, told Hong “every month that he would find a place (for me to live), but it never happened,” the chef, who no longer works for the restaurant, told DR.

He was told that he would be provided with a work permit when he first came to Denmark in 2018, but was instead forced to work illegally as a chef and cleaner for up to 14 hours daily, according to the report.

Meanwhile, he slept in a storage room in back of the restaurant and was paid around 30 kroner per hour.

The story has prompted discussion of exploitation of Chinese workers in Denmark’s restaurant industry and criticism of Danish laws that enable this.

A work visa law for non-EU nationals working in Denmark, known as the pay limit scheme (beløbsordningen in Danish), has come into particular focus, notably in employee union publication Fagbladet 3F, which collaborated with DR on the story.

The provision enables companies to hire employees who are nationals of non-EU countries, provided they are paid a minimum of 417,793 kroner per year (roughly 35,500 kroner per month).

READ ALSO: Opinion: Danish odds are stacked against skilled foreign workers

It is this system which is used to apply for working residency permits for Chinese chefs, but they do not receive pay stipulated by the scheme, according to the reports.

The Agency for International Recruitment and Integration (Styrelsen for International Rekruttering og Integration, SIRI) raised concern over potential exploitation of Chinese chefs as long ago as 2015, Fagbladet 3F writes.

“In most [investigated] restaurants, assessment suggested breaches of regulations with employment contracts, including salaries, duties and job titles,” states an internal memo sent by SIRI to the immigration ministry in 2017, the media reports.

As such, SIRI has long been aware of abuse the pay limit work visa system by restaurants hiring Chinese chefs but the issue has not been addressed.

SIRI has declined to comment to Fagbladet 3F regarding the story.

The Socialist People’s Party (SF), a parliamentary ally to the government, on Monday demanded investigations into the issue.

The party called for a focus group to visit restaurants with Chinese chefs in order to check working conditions.

“I think that the minister for employment [Peter Hummelgaard, ed.] should immediately set down a task force consisting of police, workplace inspectors and tax authorities,” the party’s spokesperson for employment Karsten Hønge told Ritzau.

“And (the task force) should visit all of the places where work permits have been granted under the pay limit scheme,” Hønge said.

“I hope that a Social Democratic government will see the seriousness of this. We cannot accept this brutalization at Danish workplaces,” he added.

Minister for Immigration and Integration Mattias Tesfaye said that the conditions described in the DR and Fagbladet 3F reports were not acceptable.

“This is serious social dumping and we must make sure we weed it out,” Tesfaye told DR.

“There must be an awful lot of highly-paid Chinese chefs, or else something is not right here,” the minister added in regard to the used of the pay limit scheme for work visas.

“This is also I have taken the initiative to give (immigration) authorities the muscle to work with the tax authorities to bring these workplaces into line when we suspect something is wrong,” the minister also said.

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Can you travel in and out of Denmark if you lose your residence card?

Non-EU nationals who legally reside in Denmark are issued with a plastic card which functions as a residence permit and must normally be presented when entering the country. What do you do if you misplace it?

Can you travel in and out of Denmark if you lose your residence card?

I’ve lost my residence permit. What do I do?

Everyone who is granted a Danish residence permit receives a residence card – they are issued automatically and delivered by post 2-3 weeks after the permit is granted.

The residence card is proof of your right to reside in Denmark and must be kept on you at all times – although in practice, most people only ever have to produce it when returning to Denmark after a trip abroad.

You can – indeed, should – apply for a new card if you have lost your residence card, but also for other reasons such as a change of name or if you have reached the age of 18 and need the card for the first time.

If you have lost your residence card, you must complete a police declaration form declaring a lost passport or identity document. This can be downloaded via the website of the Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration (SIRI), the agency which processes the application.

It is available in three languages: Danish, English and German. Here is a direct link to the English one.

The declaration must be signed and stamped by the police – so you’ll need to visit your local station. It can then be submitted along with your application for a new residence card. 

You can find a link to the application system along with a checklist for the paperwork on SIRI’s website. Required documentation will include a copy of your passport. Note a fee is payable either using a Danish bank card (Dankort) or the MobilePay app, except in certain cases (like if you are sent a card with erroneous data).

You may also need to book an appointment with your local Borgerservice (Citizens’ Service) to have biometric data recorded for the ID.

If you received your original card within the last 10 years, however, this step won’t be necessary because biometric features (fingerprints and facial images) are stored for 10 years. If you later become a Danish citizen, by the way, this data is deleted.

I’ve applied for a replacement residence card but have a trip abroad coming up soon. What can I do?

If you need to travel outside the country before your new permit is delivered, you can apply for a one-time re-entry permit for a specific trip.

This requires an in-person appointment with SIRI although there is no fee for issuing the re-entry permit. You can book an appointment with your closest SIRI branch office here.

When you go to the appointment, you must bring a passport and a completed and printed application form. The form can be downloaded from SIRI in Word or pdf format.

The re-entry permit takes the form of a visa sticker in your passport.  Conditions apply to its being granted, such as legal residency in Denmark and possession of a valid passport.

Normally, you can only be granted a re-entry permit for a specific trip, valid for 90 days. SIRI will usually ask for documentation of your journey (flight tickets, for example).

If you are already outside of Denmark when you lose your permit, you can submit your application for a re-entry permit at the nearest Danish diplomatic mission. A list of these can be found on the website of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

The application is normally processed immediately when you submit at a SIRI office, but will take longer when applying from abroad.

READ ALSO: Danish residence cards promised to ‘no surname’ foreign nationals