‘Like running on a treadmill’: A programmer’s 10-year struggle with Danish migration

Denmark has changed its immigration laws 68 times in the last 15 years, with one change every three months, often applied retroactively. Naqeeb Khan from the Danish Green Card Association (DGCA), here tells the story of how this has impacted one green card holder over the last ten years in practice.

'Like running on a treadmill':  A programmer's 10-year struggle with Danish migration
A crowd gathers in Copenhagen town hall for the citizenship ceremony in 2020. Photo: Ida Guldbæk Arentsen/Ritzau Scanpix

Ahmed Nawaz is a software engineer, who came to Denmark in 2009, shortly after the country announced its green card scheme. With a freshly obtained masters degree from a Swedish university, he easily got a Danish green card in 2010 and came to the country in 2011.

“When I came to Denmark, I had a plan,” Nawaz says. “I planned first to build up some savings and then to start a family life, bringing my spouse and kids here. I also planned to focus on learning Danish language.

“Everything was going smoothly until the immigrations laws started changing constantly. I have been trapped by these laws changes and their retroactive implementation.”

If Nawaz’s current citizenship application is rejected, it will be the third time he has received a rejection letter due to rules with retroactive effects brought in after his application.

He dates his problems back to Denmark’s 2015 election, which brought an overwhelming victory for the far-right parties, with the Danish People’s Party (DPP) winning a record number of seats.

This immediately led to tightening immigration rules as the DPP had come into parliament with one and only one item on its agenda — to tighten immigration.

But even then, Nawaz could hardly conceive of how miserable this election result would make his life in the coming six years.

Rejection of Permanent Residency application

Nawaz had then been living in Denmark for five years, and met all requirements to apply for permanent residency, which he did on December 15, 2015 paying a fee of DKK 5,400.

“I was focused on my job and my family life. I thought I would receive my permanent residency permit in a few months, after which I would no longer have to worry about extending my visa or getting kicked out of Denmark if I lost my job,” Nawaz remembers.

But his troubles were only just about to start. At the end of January 2016, the Danish parliament passed a new bill tightening permanent residency rules.

These new rules made it compulsory for applicants to have lived in Denmark for six years before becoming eligible for permanent residency.

Although the bill was passed on January 26th, 2016, it was applied retroactively to all applications submitted after December 10th 2015, the date when the bill was presented to the parliament for the first time.

This meant that the compliant application Nawaz had submitted little more than a month previously no longer met the criteria.

Sure enough, a few week’s later, Nawaz received a rejection letter from the immigration office stating that he had not been in Denmark for six years, meaning he did not qualify for permanent residency.

“I felt betrayed as my application had not only been turned down due to the retroactive enforcement of the rules, but I did not even get back the DKK 5400 which I had paid for my application,” Nawaz says.

“But I just continued my life and thought I would apply for permanent residency in a year’s time”.

Residency requirement raised to 8 years in 2017

In March 2017, just as Nawaz was preparing to apply, a new bill was once again presented to the parliament tightening permanent residency requirements, this time raising the residency requirement from six years to eight years.

“I would have to wait for another two years before I could be eligible to apply. This was another shock for me,” Nawaz said.

“As my kids were in school and felt integrated in Denmark, I again committed to continuing my life in Denmark, and decided to apply for permanent residency in two years’ time for the sake of a better and certain future of my kids.”

READ MORE: Denmark is locking every door to immigrants

Rejection of Permanent Residency application in 2018

After two years’ wait, he applied for permanent residency again.

The residency requirement for permanent residency is counted from the time you receive a nummber from the Centrale Personregister (CPR) or from the submission date of your first visa application.

As Nawaz submitted his first green card application in Denmark in October 2010, his residency years should have been counted from then. But when he sent in his second application for permanent residency in 2018, he received a rejection letter in early 2019.

The immigration office argued that he had stayed longer outside of Denmark in his early years in the country, reducing the amount of time he had spent in Denmark. Once again, he received no refund for his DKK 6000 application free.

Permanent Residency in 2019

He again applied in 2019 and then finally received permanent residency in October, after eight and half years in Denmark.

“I finally made it to permanent residency, despite a long process and number of rejections due to changing rules and their retroactive implementation,” he said.

Citizenship Application rejected in 2020

But when, in June 2020, Ahmed submitted his application for Danish citizenship, he again ran into trouble, as he had lost his job in March 2020, due to the coronavirus crisis.

The lockdown made it hard to find a new job, so he started a web development course at Next Copenhagen to increase his career opportunities, which he completed a few months ago. He hopes to start a new job soon.

READ MORE: Denmark’s new citizenship requirements are discriminatory and racist

New citizenship rules and their retroactive implementation

When the Social Democrats came into power in 2019, many foreigners working in Denmark hoped it might make their lives more normal life, but instead the situation has become even worse.

On April 20, 2021, Minister of Immigration and Integration Mattias Tesfaye along with representatives of the Liberal, Liberal Alliance and Conservative parties, announced new and tighten citizenship laws.

Human Rights organisations and experts called them unreasonable, discriminatory and racist.

Among other new requirements, one is that you must have worked for three and half years full-time over the last four years, with the new rule applied retroactively on all applications submitted after 10th April, 2020.

This is why Nawaz fears he can now expect yet another rejection letter from Denmark’s immigration authorities.

“I am devastated to hear about these new rules and their retroactive implementation,” he says.

“It is like running on a treadmill which never ends. I am still studying a web development course, after which I will probably get a job and then I have to work for three and a half years to become eligible to apply for citizenship.

“This means that I will probably get Danish citizenship in 2026, instead of 2022, if I did not get sick or lose my job again, or if the rules are not changed again.”

Read more: ‘Dictatorial to impose new citizenship laws on those who have already applied’

Nawaz is now living with his wife and two children at the outskirts of Copenhagen. His eldest child is in the eighth class, while the youngest is in 6th.

“I am not only worried about my future in Denmark but that of my kids,” Nawaz says. “Although they are well integrated, I am afraid that what has been happening to me over the last decade might happen to my children one day. It makes me scared for my children’s future.”

Nawaz is one of hundreds in a similar situation.

The Green Card Holders’ association believes that the only fair and moral way of implementing these rules would be to apply them three years from, rather than applying them retroactively.

This would allow everyone to fulfil the requirements, and save Nawaz from getting his 3rd rejection letter from Danish immigration.

Ahmed Nawaz’s name has been changed out of fear that going public might negatively affect his citizenship application. 

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Do children born in Denmark automatically get Danish citizenship?

A Danish passport comes with many benefits, and the country allows dual citizenship. But what are the rules for the children of foreign nationals born in Denmark?

Do children born in Denmark automatically get Danish citizenship?

Denmark allows dual citizenship, meaning it is possible for foreign residents to gain Danish citizenship without giving up their old citizenship, if their country of origin also permits dual citizenship. There are a few benefits that only Danish citizens have, such as an absolute right to live and work in the country and the right to vote in Danish parliamentary elections.

Some jobs are only open to Danish citizens as well: you must be a Danish citizen if you wish to be elected to parliament or join the police.

In addition to this, Danish nationals hold EU citizenship, which gives them the right to free movement in EU member states, making it easier for them to live and work in other parts of the bloc.

Danish at birth

Unlike in other countries such as the United States, people born in Denmark do not automatically gain Danish citizenship.

Danish citizenship is granted at birth to children who have at least one Danish parent, regardless of whether the child is born in Denmark or not. For children born before July 1st 2014, this depends on the law in force when the child was born and other requirements may need to be fulfilled.


Dual citizenship

On the September 1st 2015, a new Nationality Act meant foreign residents could gain Danish citizenship without giving up their old citizenship.

It also meant that former Danish citizens who lost their Danish nationality by acquiring a foreign nationality could become Danish citizens again by making a declaration to the Ministry of Immigration and Integration. The new timetable to make this declaration is between July 1st 2021 and June 30th 2026.

Children born abroad: The 22-Year Rule 

Children born abroad to a Danish parent but who have never lived in Denmark, or visited for a lengthy period of time (adding up to at least a year which has to be documented) lose their Danish citizenship at the age of 22, unless it means the person becomes stateless.

Danish children born abroad must therefore apply to retain their Danish citizenship before the age of 22. If they are still living abroad at the time, their connection to Denmark will be assessed. This takes into account the number of visits to Denmark and level of Danish.

The Princess Rule

Children born in marriage to a Danish mother and a father of foreign nationality during the period of January 1st 1961 to  December 31st 1978 did not obtain Danish nationality by birth. As an alternative, Danish mothers had the option to make a declaration by which their child obtained Danish nationality.

Children born during this period whose mother did not make a declaration to this effect may apply for Danish nationality by naturalisation according to the “Princess Rule”.

Does a child born to foreigners need a residence permit?

If you are a child born in Denmark by foreign national parents, you need to apply for a residence permit.

The requirements for qualifying for a residence permit are more relaxed than for children born abroad. The child needs to either be registered as a family member to an EU citizen if under the age of 21, or registered under family reunification if the parents are not EU citizens.

The child’s residence permit will expire when the parent’s residence permit expires and can also be extended with the parent’s permit. It may also be possible for the child to obtain a permanent residence permit aged 18 by meeting more lenient requirements.

READ ALSO: What’s the difference between temporary and permanent residency in Denmark?

When can my child gain Danish citizenship?

If your child is born in Denmark but neither parent is Danish, they have to wait until one parent is granted citizenship.

Danish requirements for citizenship are some of the toughest in the world and you must meet a number of closely-defined criteria in order to be eligible for citizenship by naturalisation.

The wish to include a child in the application has to be stated and they must be under the age of 18, have Danish residency, not have committed any crime and be unmarried. No fee is payable for minors. Children aged 12 or over must give their consent to becoming Danish.

READ ALSO: How to apply for citizenship in Denmark