Explained: How Danish visa laws may have been misused to exploit Chinese chefs

Danish working visa laws are being misused to exploit Chinese workers in Denmark’s restaurant industry, according to recent reports.

Explained: How Danish visa laws may have been misused to exploit Chinese chefs
File photo: Thomas Lekfeldt/Ritzau Scanpix

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 in reports by broadcaster DR and trade union media Fagbladet 3F.

The reports have uncovered evidence of Chinese nationals working for well under the minimum wage, for excessive hours and living in sub-standard accommodation.

The beløbsordningen 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).

The wages must be paid into a Danish bank account, and employment conditions must comply with Danish labour standards.

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.

“We are receiving an increasingly high number of (work permit) applications for Chinese chefs and are still seeing examples of rules being circumvented, and as such we will begin to strengthen our application assessments,” Frederik Gammeltoft, head of department at the Agency for International Recruitment and Integration (Styrelsen for International Rekruttering og Integration, SIRI) told DR.

Figures published by the broadcaster show that 588 and 582 Chinese nationals were registered to work in the hotel and restaurant industry in 2017 and 2018 respectively. That represents a huge increase in comparison with the 22 who were registered in 2010.

The authority has now described to DR routes by which the pay limit scheme may have been abused.

Digital login and bank account not administered by work permit holder

Chinese chefs granted permits to work in Denmark may not be in control of NemID, the country’s secure digital login system which allows access to public services such as tax registration, as well as private bank accounts.

“It may be the case that the individual in question is not in control of their own bank account and thereby cannot access their own salary,” Gammeltoft said to DR.

Wages paid back to employer

In some cases, money may have been moved in and out of Danish bank accounts registered to the Chinese nationals, meaning the terms of the pay limit scheme are technically met.

“We have seen examples of the chef being required to pay parts of their wages back to the employer,” Gammeltoft said.

Two workers paid one salary

Another method to circumvent the rules might be to hire a married couple, but only provide a visa and thereby wages for one.

“We have seen examples of chefs that have been given residency permits not receiving the wages they were promised. There may have been instances of the individual being allowed to bring their spouse with them (to Denmark) and they then work two-for-one, so to speak,” Gammeltoft told DR.

READ ALSO: Is the Danish work visa law to blame for Chinese chef living in Copenhagen restaurant's storage room?

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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