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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.

READ ALSO:

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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DANISH CITIZENSHIP

How do Denmark’s citizenship rules compare to Sweden and Norway?

We take a look at how Denmark’s citizenship requirements compare to other Scandinavian countries.

How do Denmark’s citizenship rules compare to Sweden and Norway?

Gaining citizenship of one Nordic country grants you rights in the others, such as making it easier to move there, work there, and even become a citizen. So, where is it easiest to become a citizen, and where will you be waiting the longest?

Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

Denmark

Length of stay: 9 years

Normally, you must have lived in Denmark for nine consecutive years (without living elsewhere for more than three months) in order to qualify for Danish citizenship.

This period is reduced in some cases: for refugees it becomes eight years, citizens of Nordic countries need a two-year stay and people married to Danes qualify after 6-8 years, depending on the length of the marriage.

Other exceptions are made for those who have taken a significant portion of their education in Denmark, who may qualify after five years. If you moved to Denmark before your 15th birthday, you can become nationalised after you turn 18.

EU and non EU citizens must have a permit for permanent residency in Denmark for a minimum of two years before applying for citizenship.

Language test

Applicants must have passed the national Prøve i Dansk 3 language test, the final exam in the national Danish language school system. This involves a reading, writing, speaking and listening test which equates to B2 Danish.

There are certain exemptions from the language requirements. Residents of Greenland and the Faroe Islands, as well as Swedish and Norwegian speakers, do not need to document Danish proficiency. Dispensation can be given for applicants with certain types of illnesses and disabilities, and different rules apply to children.

Citizenship test

A condition of getting Danish citizenship is to demonstrate knowledge of Danish society, culture and history, by having passed a citizenship test (indfødsretsprøve).

In April 2021, the existing citizenship test, consisting of 40 multiple choice questions, was supplemented with five extra questions about “Danish values” such as equality, freedom of speech and the relation between legislation and religion. 

The pass mark is 36/45 and at least four of the five Danish values questions must be answered correctly. 

Children under 12, Swedish and Norwegian citizens, and people from the Danish minority in German region Schleswig-Holstein do not need to take the citizenship test.

Other requirements

  • Sign a declaration pledging allegiance and loyalty to Denmark and Danish society and promising to abide by its laws.
  • Be free of debt to the public sector and be financially self-sufficient.
  • Have no criminal convictions.
  • Hold a full-time job or been self-employed for three and a half of the last four years. 
  • Attend a ceremony, declare you will uphold Denmark’s laws, values and principles and shake hands with an official.

You also need to submit paperwork to prove your identity, current nationality, residency and economic activity in Denmark.

Processing time and fees

At the end of 2021, the processing time for applications was approximately 14 months, according to the immigration ministry. The fee is 4,000 Danish kroner (~€537).

After this time, you receive a letter notifying you that you can expect to be accepted for citizenship at the next round of parliamentary procedure (which happens twice yearly), provided you still fulfil the requirements at that time.

Once the new law making you a citizen comes into force, you will be sent a declaration that you have been accepted for citizenship with one final condition: you attend a ceremony, declare that you will uphold Denmark’s laws, values and principles, shake hands with an official and become a citizen.

Photo by lilzidesigns on Unsplash

Sweden

Length of stay: 2-5 years

EU and non EU citizens can apply for Swedish citizenship after living in Sweden for five continuous years with right of residence. 

In some cases, this period can be even shorter.

Nordic citizens who have lived in Sweden for at least five years can become Swedish citizens through notification. This involves filling out a form and sending it to the local country administrative board, with a fee of 475 kronor.

The alternative is to submit an application for citizenship to the Migration Agency, which Nordic citizens can do after living in Sweden for two years. No other requirements below are needed for Nordic citizens.

EU and non-EU citizens who have lived with a Swedish citizen for at least two years can apply for citizenship earlier, after three continuous years in Sweden. However applicants will be asked to show that they have adapted well to Swedish life. This could be shown through learning the language, proving you can support yourself, or through the length of your marriage.

The requirement for continuous residency in Sweden means that if you spend more than six weeks abroad in any given year, it will extend the period of time until you can apply for citizenship.

For non-EU citizens, the process for getting citizenship is just the same as for EU citizens, except there is an additional requirement for a permanent residence permit. Permanent residency for non EU citizens is usually granted after four years of living in Sweden.

Other requirements: No outstanding debts or recent crimes

In addition to length of stay, EU and non EU citizens must have “conducted themselves well in Sweden”, and the Migration Agency will request information on whether you have debts or have committed crimes in the country.

An application can be rejected if a person has unpaid taxes, fines, or other charges. Debts to private companies passed on to the Swedish Enforcement Authority could also impact the application, even if they are paid, as two years must pass after payment to prove you’re debt-free. If you’ve committed a crime, there’s also a qualifying period before citizenship can be granted which depends on the sentence. 

An automated test (in Swedish) can be filled in here to see if you meet those requirements. 

Language and citizenship test: May soon be required

While Swedish language skills and knowledge of Swedish society are not currently a requirement for citizenship, this could change in the future. In January 2021, the Swedish Ministry of Justice and Migration put forward proposals to introduce an A2 language exam for would-be Swedes, with exceptions for vulnerable individuals who have made a reasonable effort to learn the language. There are also proposals for a knowledge test about Swedish society.

These proposals will be subject to a long political process before they can be put into law, so at present the requirements are proof of identity, duration of residency in Sweden, and no record of serious criminal offences or debts.

Processing time and fees

The Migration Agency says applicants should expect an average of 39 months between submitting their application and becoming Swedish. Readers of The Local have reported the process taking anywhere between a couple of weeks to over three years. The application costs 1,500 SEK (~€150).

Photo by Mikita Karasiou on Unsplash

Norway

Length of stay: 6-8 years

EU and non EU citizens can apply for Norwegian citizenship after living in Norway for eight years out of the past eleven years and if they have held residence permits that were each valid for at least one year during that time.

A new rule, which came into effect in January 2022, means that if you have sufficient income, you can apply after six years rather than eight. Currently sufficient income is 319,997 kroner (~€30,520), but this can change annually.

Those with Norwegian spouses, registered partners, or cohabitants can apply after living in Norway for three of the last ten years. 

Nordic citizens over the age of 12 can apply for Norwegian citizenship after two years living in Norway and do not need to fulfil any further requirements below.

Language test

EU and non EU citizens have to pass an oral Norwegian language test at either A2 or B1 level. A2 refers to an elementary level of Norwegian, and B1 is considered semi-fluent. 

The change to the language requirement from A2 to B1 will apply from autumn 2022 at the earliest, according to the UDI

Citizenship test

Applicants must pass a citizenship test (statsborgerprøve), or a social studies test if aged between 18 and 67. The tests must be taken in Norwegian, either Bokmål or Nynorsk.

For the citizenship test, applicants need to answer at least 24 of 36 multiple choice questions correctly to pass. Topics included in the test are history, geography, democracy, welfare, education, health and working life in Norway.

Other requirements

After filling in an online application, applicants have to deliver a series of documents in person, including birth certificates, marriage certificates (if applicable), a full list of entries into and departures from Norway, at least seven years of tax returns, and a police report certifying “good conduct”.

Processing time and fees

It costs 6,500 kroner to apply if you are over 18. However, the fee is cheaper or completely waived if you are a Nordic citizen, previously held Norwegian citizenship, or are under 18 years of age. 

Applications take around 16 months to process but this can vary.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to apply for Norwegian citizenship

Roundup

Even if Sweden decides to include a language and citizenship test in their application process, the country will remain the easiest and cheapest in Scandinavia in which to become a citizen, although there’s a downside – it also has the longest processing time for citizenship applications.

Here’s the roundup.

Swedish citizenship

Application Fee: ~€150 (1,500 Swedish kronor) 

Length of time living in country: 3-5 years 

Language level needed: None, but this may change

Citizenship test: None, but this may change

Other requirements: No record of serious criminal offences or debts

Dual nationality allowed: Yes

Processing time: Around 39 months

Norwegian Citizenship 

Application Fee: ~€250 (2,500 Norwegian kroner)

Length of time living in country: 6-8 of the past 11 years

Language level needed: A2 Norwegian, soon to change to the more difficult B1 Norwegian

Citizenship test: Yes

Other requirements: A full list of entries into and departures from Norway, at least seven years of tax returns, and a police report certifying “good conduct”.

Dual nationality allowed: Yes thanks to a law change in 2020 

Processing time: Around 16 months

Danish citizenship

Application Fee: ~€537 (4,000 Danish kroner)

Length of time living in country: 9 years

Language level needed: B2 Danish

Citizenship test: Yes

Other requirements: No record of serious criminal offences or debts and be financially self-sufficient; sign a declaration pledging allegiance and loyalty to Denmark and its laws; hold a full-time job or been self-employed for three and a half of the last four years; attend a ceremony.

Dual nationality allowed: Yes 

Processing time: 14 months – 2 years

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