living in Denmark For Members

Why do foreigners leave Denmark when they want to stay?

Sophie Standen
Sophie Standen - [email protected]
Why do foreigners leave Denmark when they want to stay?
Passport control at Copenhagen Airport. Photo: Søren Bidstrup/Ritzau Scanpix

Uncertainty, strict residency requirements and difficulty accessing the labour market are a few of the reasons why some foreign nationals have left Denmark. Here, three people explain why they left to seek opportunities elsewhere.


For some of the approximately 610,000 foreign nationals living in Denmark, an increasing number of  immigration requirements in recent years have caused high levels of stress and uncertainty. Navigating a confusing and expensive immigration system in Denmark has left many immigrants to question the viability of their future in the country.

Due to a nationwide labour shortage in the 1960s, Denmark received an influx of “guest workers” from Turkey, who were mostly welcomed. However, since the implementation of the Integration Act in 1999, immigration and integration has become more of a thorny political issue in Denmark.

In 2015 and 2016, laws were passed which made it more challenging for foreigners to obtain family reunification, permanent residence permits and Danish citizenship. On top of this, a number of controversial laws were introduced in 2018, aimed at promoting integration into Danish society. Such laws gave double sentences for crimes committed solely within designated immigrant ‘ghetto’ areas. Moreover, from the age of 1, children born in ‘ghetto’ areas must spend at least 25 hours a week in nursery to learn Danish values.



Denmark is renowned for equality, respect and high levels of trust. However, some foreigners feel that this level of trust is not reciprocated for immigrants working and living in Denmark.

'You really don’t want to live under family reunification laws'

Kathryn Larsen came from the United States to study her undergraduate degree in Denmark. After graduating, she eventually got a family reunification visa in order to live with her Danish husband. As a part of her visa requirements, she and her husband had to pay 66,000 kroner as collateral to prove economic security. The requirements for economic collateral were increased in 2018 to 100,000 kroner.

Specialising in sustainable construction and architectural technology, Kathryn worked in Slagelse after graduation until she lost her job when the coronavirus crisis hit Denmark.

Kathryn Larsen. Photo: Kel Hudson

As a part of her mandatory integration contract with Slagelse municipality, she had to work for at least 12 months to prove that she was self-sufficient. She lost her job after having completed 11 months of the contract.

She explains, “I could get any job, the problem was there were no jobs in the middle of lockdown in Slagelse. If I didn’t get a job, then I wasn’t integrated, I could be deported.”

“The government doesn’t see us as the bonuses we are”

Faced with the prospect of deportation, Kathryn decided to move to the Netherlands with her husband to complete a Master’s degree in architecture. Under the little-known Malmö loophole, an EU citizen can live for three months or more in a European country for a valid reason with their non-EU partner or spouse. It is then possible to move back to Denmark under European Union family reunification regulations. These regulations are far less stringent.

Kathryn also explains that, while in Denmark, her integration consultant also told her that in order to prove self-sufficiency, “make sure you don’t get pregnant, because if you get pregnant and go on maternity leave, then you are not self-sufficient.” She describes still feeling mad about that, as the state “should not have any say in my family planning.”


In spite of all the difficulties Kathryn has faced with immigration rules, she is still determined to make Denmark her home. “I’ve lived in the country for 5 years and speak Danish fluently.” “I want to be able to build my life permanently in Denmark.”

“They need more of an open heart”

Namrata Hegde came to Denmark when she was 21. After completing a BA in Culinary Arts in India she arrived in Denmark on an internship visa to work as a chef. She married her Austrian-American husband, and stayed in Denmark under family reunification. According to Namrata “the rules are more relaxed if you are married to an EU citizen who is not a Dane.”

However, her husband lost his job during the Covid-19 pandemic. He was also not eligible for A-kasse [unemployment insurance benefits, ed.] because he had not been working for a year.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Should I sign up with a Danish union and get A-kasse unemployment insurance?

Namrata describes working very long hours at the restaurant she worked at, so she had no chance to attend Danish classes. “As a chef, I don’t have the time to study Danish, to be able to apply for permanent residency.”

Unable to claim any unemployment support, both Namrata and her husband decided that it would be easier to move to the U.S. Namrata says “I didn’t want to leave Denmark because I think it’s a very progressive country.”

“If things were a little more relaxed with their immigration, it would go a long way,” she added.

“There was no guarantee they’d accept me”

In 2016, Nick Gates came to Denmark from the US to study an MSc in Global Development at the University of Copenhagen. After graduation, Nick stayed in Denmark on a 6-month residence permit, the so-called establishment card, where he was permitted to work a maximum of 20 hours per week.

After the 6 months were up, Nick explains that it was really hard to “establish himself” with the visa. He explains, “The restrictions for the establishment card were restrictive, meaning it was almost impossible to apply with enough money to satisfy the visa requirements, especially when you could only work part-time.”


Nick eventually decided to leave Denmark after finding better opportunities in the US. He describes the time he was trying to get the establishment card as a “catch-22 situation”, and that “there was no support with getting jobs at all.”

According to Professor Michelle Pace at Roskilde University, “Denmark stands out as a very discriminatory country when it comes to foreigners.” She is the lead researcher on an EU funded research project that aims to identify barriers for foreigners who wish to enter European labour markets.

“Vibrant societies and economies are those that unify in diversity,” Pace says.

However, “there is no doubt that these [immigration] laws are changed to make sure people don’t come to Denmark. This comes to the detriment of those who come to this country with a lot of skills and experience.”

The Ministry of Immigration and Integration did not respond when asked for comment about immigration requirements during the Covid-19 pandemic.

READ ALSO: Why do international students choose to stay in Denmark after graduation?


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

[email protected] 2020/11/06 22:45
As far as l can see all these requisites have just one goal: have the foreigner person understand Danish jokes. It can take years...
  • adseidel88 2021/06/07 19:23
    That alone made me laugh. Tak!

See Also