OPINION: Denmark’s new citizenship requirements are discriminatory and racist

The latest tightening of Denmark’s citizenship rules contains elements specifically designed to target minorities who seek Danish naturalisation. That makes them both discriminatory and racist, argues The Local guest columnist Naqeeb Khan.

OPINION: Denmark’s new citizenship requirements are discriminatory and racist
Danish passports are becoming more and more difficult to qualify for. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

From introducing tough new immigration laws to stripping Syrian refugees of residency permits, and now the new agreement regarding citizenship, Denmark’s Social Democrats have arguably escalated the hardline approach to immigration of the preceding, right wing government. Some opponents have called the Social Democrats a new right wing populist party.

Denmark has some of the tightest immigration laws in the world but with these new citizenship measures, announced this week, it might just have crossed the line into explicitly racist policy.

READ ALSO: Denmark announces new tightening of citizenship rules

The new agreement proposes tightening rules in the following areas, with some points specifically targeting groups like Muslims and non-western immigrants.

Applicants from Muslim and ‘non-Western’ countries 

The new agreement separates Danish citizenship applicants into groups from Muslim countries termed MENAP (Middle East, North Africa, Pakistan plus Turkey); non-Western countries which might include South Asian, South American and other countries; and applicants from Western countries.

Because citizenship applicants’ names are tabled in parliament after over a year of scrutiny for voting, the names are currently arranged alphabetically. The new agreement proposes to separate applicants on the basis of their original nationality.

This new practice was thought up by the extreme right wing Nye Borgerlige (New Right) party but despite that party’s absence in the final agreement, its idea is actualised.

The reasoning behind this idea is ostensibly to enable separate voting on each bill and potential rejection of Muslim applicants in the list. This is contrary to the Danish constitution, which secures freedom of religion.

Residency requirement could reach 11 years (in real time)

Current rules dictate that one has to have lived nine years in Denmark before one can be eligible to apply for Danish citizenship.

Although this rule is not changed in the new agreement, one of the pre-requisites of applying for Danish citizenship is to have permanent residency.

The new agreement states that one has to have permanent residency for two years before one can be eligible to apply for citizenship. Non-EU citizens can apply for permanent residency after eight years of legal residency. The processing time of the application is ten months but can take up to a year, so in this context it takes nine years (there is a four-year fast track which is very hard to apply for as one has to fulfil many requirements).

If obtaining permanent residency permit takes almost nine years, so the citizenship residency requirement will automatically reach 11 years. This will make Denmark the only European country to set such a long-term requirement.

Employment requirement

The new agreement proposes an employment requirement for would-be Danish nationals: three and a half years’ full-time work within the last four years.

This will be one of the most illogical and problematic requirements, especially for young applicants. It will compel young students to leave their education programmes and work full time before they can be eligible citizenship.

It will also force young people born and raised in Denmark, who attended Danish schools and have been an active part of Danish society, to leave their studies after they turn 18 and start full time work. Else, they will have to wait for at least five years as they finish their education and then work full time for three and a half years.

This forces uncertainty and suffering on young people who have been part of Danish society since their birth.

New citizenship test

The current citizenship test contains a total of 40 questions covering Danish history, politics, economics, societal values and norms, culture, lifestyle and current affairs.

READ ALSO: How many Danish citizenship test questions can you answer correctly?

Another five questions on Danish values will now be added. These five questions will be about freedom of expression, equality and especially about religion. The agreement has emphasised that to pass the test one has to correctly answer four of the five extra questions.

Critics have argued that these questions are specifically designed to target Muslims and make them choose between Islam and Danish values. Should this become a reality, it will also violate the Danish constitution which guarantees freedom of speech and religion.


Citizenship interview

Foreign nationals applying to become Danish citizens could also face individual interviews designed to test whether they have “Danish values”. The immigration ministry is to set out a model for the potential future introduction of such interviews, according to the new agreement.

The idea behind the citizenship interview is again to assess individual applicants on how far one has adopted Danish values – contrary to their religious beliefs.

It will at least take a year before citizenship interviews are actually introduced if the agreement becomes a bill and is passed by parliament.

Prison sentence rules out citizenship forever

The new agreement will make future citizenship impossible for people who have been sentenced to prison, either conditionally or unconditionally and for as little as one day.

Rights groups have argued that this will take the chance of a better life from a person who has once committed a crime but later reformed and can contribute to society in a better way.

It will also violate the human rights conventions. Critics have argued that with this requirement, Denmark will go back 100 years because in 1915, Denmark gave the right to vote to prisoners and now it is taking citizenship rights from former prisoners.

The new agreement does show some leniency by agreeing to allow South Schleswig residents to become Danish citizens if their children have attended Danish schools in the northern German province.

But even this concession discriminates by specifying that it applies to “Danish-minded” residents only. That means that if a South Schleswig resident with Turkish or other Muslim background wishes to apply for Danish citizenship even after fulfilling all the requirements, they would be rejected as they would be labelled as non “Danish-minded”.

The parties to the agreement – the Liberals, Conservatives and Liberal Alliance along with the governing Social Democrats – give it a clear majority to pass the presumptive bill.

But left-wing parties, which prop up the minority government, could take a firm stand on the issue if they wanted to stop it. That would probably mean threatening the Social Democrats with a no confidence vote, resulting in dismissal of the current government and ultimately an end to the agreement, at least for a while.

Are the support parties ready to take the big step and turn over the Social Democrat government over its increasingly aggressive stances on citizenship and immigration? It will only be a matter of time before we know.

Naqeeb Khan is a research graduate of the University of Glasgow, Scotland and 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. I really dislike that you throw around terms like “racist“ in your title, yet fail to describe any racism in your article. Media has really destroyed the true meaning of that word by using it however they please, and it just demeans people who have really suffered first hand racism.

    1. @Marc, I believe the article explained well the discriminatory points. But, if not I will try to give them on bullet points:

      – Discriminating by religion when possibly asking a question that goes against Islam values.
      – Separating groups when differentiating Westerns from MENAP (Middle East, North Africa, Pakistan plus Turkey).
      – Systematic racism when setting young immigrants to be required to work at an earlier age instead of pursuing a degree/master’s degree.

      1. Thanks for your reply Pedro, and I agree partly although I still stand with what I said. Discrimination is not racism. They are very different things and people use these words interchangeably incorrectly.

        Most of the points mentioned in the article apply to me if I try to become a Danish citizen.

        1. Hi Marc, I bet if asked you will not be bold enough to name some discrimination to be better than the other to be “good or better then…”? I fully understand WHY! I do an i hate when people do not even try to act like civilized humans and break social norms – “When in Rome…” Honestly, sometimes i see some forms of behavour and if we were not in Denmark but in Aleppo i would beat the crap out of some of those kids to teach some manners (just for the reson that Law works differently in Aleppo and you will not get to jail for that).
          But response government is giving is at best “generalised” and in worst nationalistic. I do agree it has nothing to do with Racist but it clearly is other form of discrimination – nationalism…. And on Germen example we observed clearly that there is a thin line between National Pride and Nazi… And Nazi is in no way better than Racism. Measures should be taken, but not these of a kind.

          Now think 15-20 years ahead, they kick out all Non-Western and all is good. But those politicians in majority never worked a day in their life and know nothing about such therefore! They still need program to get majority of your votes – what comes next?

          Read this:

          “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
          Because I was not a socialist.

          Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
          Because I was not a trade unionist.

          Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
          Because I was not a Jew.

          Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

          Neimoller was German, White and Lutheran – there should be wirsdom in what he wrote.

  2. @Marc, I believe the article explained well the discriminatory points. But, if not I will try to give them on bullet points:

    – Discriminating by religion when possibly asking a question that goes against Islam values.
    – Separating groups when differentiating Westerns from MENAP (Middle East, North Africa, Pakistan plus Turkey).
    – Systematic racism when setting young immigrants to be required to work at an earlier age instead of pursuing a degree/master’s degree.

  3. I’m sure we could find plenty of valid reasons for this change. Maybe Mr. Khan should take a look at that too.

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When are Denmark’s public holidays in 2023?

If you're using your time off to plan some of your holiday activities for 2023, then it's always a good idea to check the dates of the public holidays, and the days they fall on.

When are Denmark's public holidays in 2023?

There are multiple benefits to planning your time off – and your holiday trips – ahead of time.

To start off, you’ll be able to book popular destinations that tend to get fully booked quite quickly (especially if you’re planning on travelling during peak season for tourists).

You’ll also be able to save a lot of money if your time off work involves paying for accommodation or transport – both hotel prices and aeroplane tickets are known to increase as one’s travel date draws near.

Last but not least, planning ahead will help reduce the stress that is usually related to last-minute preparations. So, overall, planning out your holiday time early and having a clear overview of public holidays in Denmark will pay off as early as April – when the Easter holiday season starts.

In this article, we will go through all the public holidays in 2023 and note the days they fall on so that you can plan out all your time off without any doubts.

New Year’s Day: January 1st (Sunday)

In Denmark, there is a host of customs and traditions associated with the celebration of the New Year. You can find out more about them here.

Now that the coronavirus restrictions have been lifted, expect the Danes to go all out when it comes to partying on New Year’s Eve – major cities in particular (like Copenhagen and Aarhus) will be crowded with partygoers once again.

With that in mind, January 1st will mostly be a day of rest, an opportunity for people to sleep in and recover from the celebrations.

Palm Sunday: April 2nd (Sunday)

On Palm Sunday, Christians in Denmark remember Jesus entering Jerusalem. According to scripture, Jesus was greeted by the people waving palm branches on this occasion.

Christians use this opportunity to prepare for Easter celebrations.

While some churches in Denmark will hold services to celebrate this holiday, others will organize processions with believers reenacting Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

You’ll easily recognize this procession as many participants carry palm branches.

Maundy Thursday: April 6th (Thursday)

The Easter period in Denmark includes Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday. These are national holidays in Denmark when schools are closed, and most people do not work.

Maundy Thursday falls on the Thursday before Easter and marks the beginning of the three days of reflection in the run-up to Easter.

The holiday commemorates the Last Supper, and churches hold services to celebrate the occasion.

Generally speaking, Maundy Thursday is a time for Christians in Denmark to reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice and start seriously preparing for Easter.

Good Friday: April 7th (Friday)

On Good Friday, which falls on the Friday before Easter, Christians in Denmark commemorate the death of Jesus and his crucifixion for the sins of humankind.

Expect churches to hold special services on the occasion that are likely to focus on the parts of the scripture that cover the story of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Easter: April 9th (Sunday)

As one of the most important Christian holidays, Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus.

It is a public holiday in Denmark, and churches mark the occasion with a number of services.

The Christian community in the country celebrates Easter through family gatherings and exchanging Easter gifts.

In Denmark, people often exchange chocolate eggs, Easter baskets, and other traditional gifts with friends and family to mark the special day.

Many Danish families also have big meals (often traditional ones) together.

Easter Monday: April 10th (Monday)

Also a public holiday, Easter Monday is celebrated after the Easter weekend – as a day of rest.

As is the case with Easter, people often tend to spend this day with families and friends.

On this day, the Danes that don’t take part in traditional Easter activities tend to opt for spending time outdoors – walks, hikes, and picnics are all popular options.

Some Danish towns also hold Easter events – usually parades or pop-up markets – to mark the occasion.

Great Prayer Day: May 5th (Friday)

The Great Prayer Day falls on the fourth Friday after Easter; it is a day of national prayer observed by the Christian community in Denmark.

The idea for Great Prayer Day came from Hans Bagger, a Roskilde bishop from 1675 to 1693. Within his first two years of service, he implemented three additional days for praying and fasting into a calendar already full of holy days.

When all of that time spent fasting and praying began to interfere with actually getting things done, some of the lesser days were rolled into one of Bagger’s three additions and Great Prayer Day was born. It was instituted into law by King Christian V in 1686.

The holiday gives everyone who works in Denmark an additional long spring weekend, which many young Danes use to attend their traditional confirmation ceremonies.

Ascension Day: May 18th (Thursday)

On Ascension Day, the Christian community in Denmark commemorates the ascension of Jesus into heaven. The day falls on the 40th day of Easter, and many churches in Denmark hold special services to mark the occasion.

These services often include reading the Ascension story from the Bible, and some congregations even organize processions, during which they reenact the ascension of Jesus.

Christians in Denmark take time to reflect on the sacrifice of Jesus and pray

Whitsunday and Whitmonday: May 28th (Sunday) and May 29th (Monday)

Christian holidays Whitsunday (or Pentecost) and Whitmonday commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles.
The Pentecost holiday falls on the 50th day of Easter.

Many churches in Denmark will mark the occasion by holding special services, often including readings of the Pentecost story from the Bible. Some congregations may also hold processions and reenact the descent of the Holy Spirit.

Overall, Christians in Denmark use Whitsunday as a time to celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit and reflect on its role in their lives.

The Pentecost holidays allow for a long weekend, which Danes often use to spend some time outdoors.

Christmas Day: December 25th (Monday)

Christmas is celebrated with a number of traditions and customs in Denmark. The celebration of Christmas Eve is particularly important – in fact, it’s more important than Christmas Day itself (as is also the case in Norway).

Many Danish families will gather for a special dinner on Christmas Eve, after which children will get to open their gifts.

Carol singing is also a popular Christmas tradition in Denmark; people often sing them in churches and in the streets.

Expect to see a number of cultural and community events to mark the Christmas holidays, as well as Christmas markets and street decorations in most cities and towns.

Boxing Day: December 26th (Tuesday)

Boxing Day – also known as St. Stephen’s Day – is not a big deal in Denmark.

Some people will exchange gifts and spend time with families on this day. Others may attend church services to mark the occasion.

Note: This year could be the last time we see Great Prayer Day (Store Bededag) on the above list.

The new government wants to abolish one of Denmark’s annual public holidays – most likely to be Great Prayer Day – in a measure it says will enable more spending on defence.

The change would likely take effect in 2024.