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OPINION: All foreigners in Denmark are NOT criminals

Drew Fisher, from the campaign group Fair Statsborgerskab, argues that the Danish government's rhetoric on citizenship wrongly portrays the new rules as only affecting criminals. The campaign group will on June 17th confront immigration minister Mattias Tesfaye over the new law.

OPINION: All foreigners in Denmark are NOT criminals
People queue at the citizenship ceremony at Copenhagen town hall in 2020. Photo: Ida Guldbæk Arentsen/Ritzau Scanpix

All foreigners in Denmark are criminals. That’s the impression one gets when hearing the comments from some Danish politicians and seeing the headlines in newspapers.

In April, a new agreement was made between the government, Liberal Alliance, the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party to tighten many of the requirements one needs to fulfill in order to be granted Danish citizenship. The headline of the agreement on the Ministry of Immigration and Integration’s own website reads “Broad agreement excludes criminals from obtaining Danish citizenship”.

But this title is misleading and manipulative, not to mention unfair. The premise of this ‘criminal sales pitch’ is entirely wrong.

Firstly, even before this new agreement, it was already impossible to obtain Danish citizenship for anyone who had committed a serious crime warranting a prison sentence of more than one year. These new rules give a life sentence to people who made, and have paid for, stupid mistakes.

Secondly, the agreement on Danish citizenship contains many aspects, some of which are completely out of proportion. The agreement hits law-abiding, hard-working residents in Danish society. In fact, the majority of those impacted by the changes in the new agreement are those who are not currently employed for at least 30 hours a week – students, nurses, and other part-time healthcare workers, stay-at-home parents, and people who have lost their jobs due to corona.

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The board of Fair Statsborgerskab. Standing from Left: Drew Fisher, Kirsten Kock (chair), Elena Petrova, Farid Sahel, Paolo Masulli Sitting from the left: Irina Matytsina, Miriam Thompson (vice chair). Not present: Thomas Borchert

Fair Statsborgerskab, which means “Fair Citizenship”, asked a group of around 500 citizenship hopefuls how the new agreement impacts them. Only 3 percent were impacted by the changes to ‘criminality’, and another 3 percent were impacted by the sudden disqualification of citizenship tests taken before 2016. Over half of the respondents, 56 percent, are impacted by the new employment requirements.

To tighten the requirements on citizenship is one thing, but the government and agreeing parties went a step further and decided that these new rules should affect people who in many cases already applied for citizenship a year ago. Despite the circular (the document which makes the agreement official) being published on the 6th of May 2021, all applications for citizenship received after the 10th of April are impacted. That’s not April 2021, that’s April 2020. This 13-month retroactive application of the rule changes has been, rightly so, heavily criticised.

“The Ministry of Justice’s guidance on the quality of law” writes that retroactive action “should only be used when crucial considerations so require”. It is difficult, if not impossible, to see crucial considerations in the new agreement, which justifies the retroactive effect of the agreement.

Fair Statsborgerskab will confront the Minister of Immigration and Integration, Mattias Tesfaye, with this and other critiques on the 17th of June from 16:00 when we hold a virtual public meeting with him.

During the meeting, three impacted Danish residents will speak to the Minister, and those following along online will have the chance to ask their questions. The meeting will be live-streamed on our Facebook page.

There is a structural issue behind how citizenship is handled in Denmark, and we at Fair Statsborgerskab believe that citizenship should not be granted by parliamentary decisions. The political agreement and the resulting circular on Danish citizenship are not in themselves laws. This agreement takes place primarily behind closed doors. No hearings take place, as in the case of the normal law-making process, and neither research nor experts in citizenship matters are taken into consideration.

The resulting set of rules governs the process by which applicants are selected to appear on a law granting citizenship. Upon becoming a naturalised Danish citizen, your name may have been sent through parliament three times before being signed into law. But the rules on how you got that citizenship only need a majority in parliament to write them up and agree to them.

On the 10th of May, four days after the new circular was published, Fair Statsborgerskab sent a long mail of unresolved questions to the Office of Citizenship (Indfødsretskontoret) to hear how they will interpret the new rules when reviewing applications for citizenship. One month later, those questions remain unresolved, as they are unable to provide us with concrete answers yet.

This is a huge problem, one that came about only because the politicians sitting behind closed doors desperately wanted to publish their new agreement and circular, before the work of civil servants was complete. We can only assume that this rush was so that 16 people whose names were scheduled to be presented for citizenship in April could be removed from the list.

There were people who had applied for citizenship 16 or more months before, and had received letters telling them that they fulfilled all the requirements for citizenship. Suddenly these 16 people were told that the rules had changed and they wouldn’t be getting citizenship after all – and they never could.

For these unfortunate 16, and for all those affected by the tightened requirements, the politicians behind the agreement will fall back on exemptions. “Unreasonable requirement? But applicants can apply for an exemption!” This is again a misleading statement as experience shows that exemptions exist only in theory. The process for exemptions is convoluted, biased, and in no way transparent. Exemptions are reviewed not by civil servants following a set of laws, but by politicians eyeing the ballot box. If someone is lucky enough to have their exemption request reviewed, but it is rejected, that Danish resident has no legal recourse to have their case reviewed by a different panel. They don’t even have the right to receive a reason for the rejection of their application. This kangaroo court has no place in a country run by the rule of law.

We often hear that citizenship is not a right. That might be correct; but in a country run by the rule of law every resident should be assured of the existence of a high degree of legal certainty, that decisions in legal matters are not taken arbitrarily behind closed doors, and especially not affected by the prevailing political mood.

It is paradoxical that citizenship applicants, in addition to fidelity to Denmark and respect for Danish legal principles, must also declare that they will respect Danish values, including Danish democracy, when the parties to the citizenship agreement obviously do not themselves take into account quite ordinary legal principles and democratic rules of the game.

And that’s why we say – like so many others – enough is enough! We hope you will join in with us on the 17th of June when we meet with Mattias Tesfaye and ask him to explain how this process is at all democratic and just. How is this fair?

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DANISH CITIZENSHIP

How to apply for citizenship in Denmark

We provide an explanation of applying for citizenship in Denmark, including an overview of the rules, a guide to the application process and useful extra information.

How to apply for citizenship in Denmark
Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

Danish citizenship can only be granted to foreign nationals via legal nationalisation: your application must actually be approved by a parliamentary majority. Accepted applications are normally processed in parliament twice yearly, in April and in October. 

You need to fulfil the conditions for Danish citizenship up until the April or October when your application will be processed and the application needs to be submitted at least two to three months before April or October. 

To be granted citizenship, you must apply to the Ministry of Immigration and Integration for the eye-watering fee of 4,000 kroner (2022). 

Citizenship entitles you to a Danish passport and gives you the right to vote in parliamentary elections, as well as providing a permanent basis for residency in the country.

Danish requirements for citizenship are some of the toughest in the world. In April 2021, the Social Democratic government linked up with conservative parties Liberal (Venstre), the Conservatives and Liberal Alliance on a tighter new agreement around citizenship rights.

You must meet a number of closely-defined criteria and requirements in order to be eligible for citizenship by naturalisation. These fall into six broad categories, all of which will be set out in further detail below.

  • Give a declaration of allegiance and loyalty to Denmark
  • Fulfil prior residency criteria
  • 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. 
  • Meet criteria for Danish language skills 
  • Pass a citizenship test and demonstrate knowledge of Danish society and values

For children, stateless people born in Denmark, people whose previous Danish citizenships have lapsed and citizens of the Nordic countries, special rules apply. These will not be addressed in this article.

Declaration of allegiance and loyalty to Denmark

It is a condition for acquiring Danish citizenship by naturalisation that you declare allegiance and loyalty to Denmark and to Danish society. You must also declare that you will obey Denmark’s laws, including the constitution, and respect the fundamental values and legal principles of Danish democracy.

How do I do this, you might ask? The answer is, digitally. You sign the declaration online as you file your application on the Borger.dk website. You also reiterate the declaration when you attend the ceremony which confirms your citizenship, once you have been accepted for it.

Prior residency criteria

At the time of your application, you must already have a permit for permanent residency in Denmark for a minimum of two years, and have lived in Denmark for a specified number of years (see below).

People recognised as refugees, equated with refugees, or stateless, need a one year minimum permit for permanent residency.

Being a resident in Denmark means that you live permanently in the country and are registered at a Danish address (where you live) on the national civil registry (Det Centrale Personregister, CPR).

Certain applicants are exempt from one or both of the above conditions, for example Nordic citizens; former Danish citizens; people of Danish descent; members of the Danish minority of Southern Schleswig in Germany; applicants who are residing abroad due to the Danish spouse’s work for Danish interests; and applicants who were born between 1961 and 1978 to a Danish mother and who could have acquired Danish citizenship if their mother had applied for it between 1979 and 1981; and children who apply for citizenship without their parents. You can read more about this here.

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Permanent residency is granted via a number of different routes, depending on the way in which you originally made Denmark your home.

EU free movement

If you are a citizen of an EU country or the family member of an EU citizen, you can be granted permanent residency in Denmark after five years’ legal residency in the country under EU free movement rules. For this, you must make an appointment to hand in your application in person to the Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration (SIRI). SIRI has branch offices in Copenhagen, Odense, Aalborg, Aarhus and Aabenraa.

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Non-EU citizens

If you are not a citizen of an EU country, the path to permanent residency, and thereby citizenship, is longer. To qualify for a permanent residency permit (permanent opholdstilladelse), you must have been legally resident in the country under a limited residency permit (tidsbegrænset opholdstilladelse) for at least eight years (in some cases four years, and exceptions can also apply, for example for persons aged 18 or 19 and people with Danish ancestry).

There are also a number of stringent requirements related to criminal convictions, debt to the state and self-sufficiency, employment history and language skills. These will not be covered here, since they are superseded by the requirements for citizenship itself, but you can find more detail on permanent residency in the articles linked below.

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Length of stay

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

In certain cases, exemptions from residency duration requirements are made, for example if a Danish spouse has worked abroad or due to the applicant being stationed abroad while working for a Danish employer.

Public debt

Overdue repayments to the state, in the form of repayable social welfare payments, child support, excess housing support (boligstøtte), payment for daycare, police fines, municipal loans for paying deposits on rental housing, and unpaid taxes and fees can all result in rejection of a citizenship application.

Self-sufficiency

You are required to prove that you can provide for yourself. That means, for example, documenting that you have not received state social welfare support such as the basic unemployment support, kontanthjælp, or the welfare benefits provided to those granted refugee statues (integrationsydelsen), within the last two years.

Furthermore, you may not have received benefits of this type for more than a total period of four months within the last five years.

Other types of state benefit, such as the state student grant (statens uddannelsesstøtte, SU) and state pensions do not exclude you from qualifying for citizenship.

Unemployment insurance, parental leave and sick leave payouts (dagpenge) received over a total period of over four months will be added to the two years in which you must document that you were not supported by the state. Therefore, these types of benefit (which are partially self-funded) do not preclude you from applying for citizenship, and you can be in receipt of them at the time you apply.

Criminal convictions

From April 2021, a new government agreement meant that anyone who has received a criminal sentence, either conditional or unconditional, will never be able to become a Danish citizen. 

Previous rules allowed people with unconditional sentences of up to one year to be granted citizenship following a suspension period.

Milder punishments such as fines can result in a suspension from applying for a period of at least four and a half years. If someone has been penalised several times, the waiting period is extended.

You must declare while applying for citizenship whether you have committed a crime. If authorities later find (a two-year check is carried out) that you have not disclosed any criminal activities, your citizenship can be revoked.

If a crime was committed abroad, the case will be discussed by the Danish Parliament’s Naturalisation Committee as to whether to grant dispensation.

READ MORE: ‘I’m being punished twice’: How a punch-up is stopping this Scot becoming a Danish citizen

Employment

Before 2021, there was no specific work requirement, as long as the applicant had not been receiving social benefits for the last four years.

The new rules require having held a full-time job or having been self-employed for three and a half of the last four years, and to still be employed at the time of application.

Full-time employment means employment in Denmark with an average working week of at least 30 hours. Employment as part of an education employment agreement with a company is also covered in this. 

Applications are also considered by those who have been employed abroad by a Danish company or in connection with a spouse employed abroad by a Danish company for less than two years.

And those employed abroad for less than one year, where the posting or deployment is significant for the sake of the applicant’s employment in Denmark.

There can be exceptions from this category, such as former Danish citizens, people of Danish descent, and members of the Danish minority of Southern Schleswig in Germany, certain children applying for citizenship without their parents, applicants who have reached the state pension age or have been granted an early retirement pension or senior pension. 

READ ALSO: How can you get a work permit in Denmark if you are not an EU national?

Language proficiency

In general, you must have passed the national Prøve i Dansk 3 language test, the final exam in the national Danish language school system. As such, you will be comfortable with speaking, reading and writing in Danish at the time you apply for citizenship.

READ ALSO: Danish: Is it really so hard to learn?

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.

The Danish citizenship test

A condition of getting Danish citizenship, is that you demonstrate knowledge of Danish society, culture and history, by having passed ‘Indfødsretsprøven af 2021.’

In April 2021, the existing citizenship test, (indfødsretsprøven) 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. 

If you have taken and passed the previous test of 2015, between the test date in June 2016 and the test date in June 2021, this will be accepted as part of your citizenship application.

The Danish citizenship test is held twice yearly, normally at the end of June and the end of November. 

The pass mark is 36/45 and at least four of the five Danish values questions must be answered correctly. You’ll need to attach a certificate showing you’ve passed when you submit your application.

A few – but not many – exemptions apply meaning some people do not have to take the citizenship test. This includes children under 12 or people from Norway or Sweden, or people from the Danish minority in German region Schleswig-Holstein.

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New Danish citizens attend a celebratory event at Christiansborg in 2015. File photo: Linda Kastrup/Ritzau Scanpix

Where to apply

Applications for citizenship are made via the borger.dk citizens’ self-service website, where you must initially log-in using the MitID system, which replaces the phased-out NemID during 2021. You will then be guided through each step of the application and prompted to upload documentation. Applications can be saved in the system for up to a month. After this, you’ll have to begin from scratch.

You’ll be asked to confirm whether you are using legal representation for your application, then asked to fill in identity information. Some of this – your personal registration number and address, for example – will be automatically filled in. You will also be required to upload a photo of your passport.

Given the hefty application fee, it is important to make sure you have everything in your application correct. It is beyond the scope of this article to cover the many different ways in which personal circumstances and history might affect a citizenship application, but there are options for seeking advice.

You can contact the Ministry of Immigration and Integration for guidance on citizenship rules. Their contact information (including an email address) can be found here.

You also have the option of seeking legal advice. Copenhagen Legal Aid offers such advice to everyone living in Denmark (not just in Copenhagen), and the service is free (depending on your income). You can contact them in person or by telephone.

READ ALSO: ‘I was born in Denmark, but my post-Brexit Danish citizenship application was rejected’

What happens next? 

Once your application is submitted, it’s time to play the waiting game. At the end of 2021, the processing time for applications was approximately 14 months, according to the immigration ministry.

If all goes well and your application is approved by the ministry, you will receive a letter notifying you that you can expect to be accepted for citizenship at the next round of parliamentary procedure, 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.

READ ALSO: Denmark officially ushers in dual citizenship in 2015

Sources: Udlændinge- og Integrationsministeriet (1) (2) (3), Borger.dk, Nyidanmark.dk

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