OPINION: Denmark must reform immigration if it wants to solve labour shortage

Denmark must make its immigration laws fairer if it wants to attract skilled foreign workers without subjecting them to years of bureaucratic uncertainty and stress, argues guest columnist Naqeeb Khan.

Fewer skilled foreign workers are likely to see Denmark as a favourable career destination if hostile immigration rules are not reviewed, argues The Local guest columnist Naqeeb Khan.
Fewer skilled foreign workers are likely to see Denmark as a favourable career destination if hostile immigration rules are not reviewed, argues The Local guest columnist Naqeeb Khan. File photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

Danish companies are feeling the effects of labour shortages more than ever.

An April 2021 report by Boston Consulting Group found that there will be nearly 100,000 employees shortage by 2030 for green jobs in Denmark, while Danfoss, a leading Danish manufacturer of green products says it is struggling to provide enough labour to produce the company’s green products.

“It has become clearly more difficult, and we are already fighting today to get the best candidates. We need to be very active and proactive to ensure the right competencies at all levels,” Danfoss CEO Kim Fausing said to newspaper Børsen.

Similarly, The Economic Council of the Labour Movement (Arbejderbevægelsens Erhvervsråd, AE) emphasized in a 2021 publication that Denmark will be 99,000 skilled workers short by 2030 and plans needs to be put in place now to counter these shortages.

Dansk Energi, an interest organisation for energy companies, has said Denmark probably needs more skilled workers if it is to reach the national target of reducing CO2 emissions by 70 percent by 2030.

Welfare is another sector where there is an acute demand for labour. Trade union FOA warned in its 2020 report that there will be a shortage of 40,000 social and health (SOSU) workers by 2029. The Danish Nurses’ union (Dansk Sygeplejeråd) anticipated in 2018 that there will be a shortage of 6,000 nurses by 2025.

Various organisations have suggested inviting foreign workers in response to this mounting labour shortage.

Today, foreign labour comprises a little over 10 percent of the total labour force in Denmark. According to the Danish Chamber of Commerce (Dansk Erhverv), the international workforce raised GDP by 200 billion kroner alone in 2020, corresponding to 8.5 per cent of the national GDP.

While generally opposed to easing rules on foreign workers, the government recently suggested it could be prepared to take steps to allow more foreign labour in response to the shortage.

Employment Minister Peter Hummelgaard voiced his concerns and said that new political efforts will be made to overcome the shortage while in her New Year speech, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said the government was “willing to discuss” the matter.

READ ALSO: More foreign nationals have full time jobs in Denmark than ever before

Denmark has introduced numerous schemes over the years for attracting foreign labour. These have included the pay limit scheme, green card scheme (abandoned in 2016), positive list and establishment card for international students.

Despite all these schemes, Denmark still cannot attract the international workforce it needs.

This is because Denmark has fallen significantly as a career destination for foreign employees. Denmark was in 13th place in 2014, while in 2020 it was 25th on a Boston Consulting Group (BCG) ranking for attracting foreign labour.

That makes Denmark less attractive than the neighbouring Germany, Sweden, and Norway who compete for the same foreign labour for their green transitions and economy, according to the BCG report.

There are quite a few reasons for why Denmark is continuously falling back as a career destination for foreign labour.

Strict visa requirements

Denmark has strict requirements for obtaining a work permit. The pay limit scheme, for example, makes several demands of both employers and foreign employees.

Foreign professionals must have a job offer with an annual income of 448,000, unrealistically high in many sectors. Similarly, the employer must fulfil several requirements before they can invite any foreign labour on the pay limit scheme, making it difficult for employers to hire internationals.

Unfair and retroactive immigration laws

It is a lifetime decision to migrate to a new country, especially when you have a family. One must plan for at least the next five years, while moving to a new country as a foreign employee.

This planning includes considerations of how one will be treated by the immigration laws now and in the future.

READ ALSO: How the dizzying cost of family reunification keeps Danes and foreign partners apart

Denmark has often been the focus of international reporting on its immigration laws, and not for good reasons.

But beyond headline-grabbing stories like ministers celebrating strict immigration laws with cake or the current government stripping Syrian refugees of their residency permits and aggressive curbs on citizenship, other, less spectacular rules are making the country a turn-off for skilled foreign labour.

It can take at least ten years of your life to settle in Denmark even when everything goes as planned, only to have it all thrown up in the air by the controversial decision to retroactively apply new laws.

Broadcaster DR last year reported the case of postgraduate student Katja Taastrøm, who expected to become a Danish citizen but because of new citizenship rules applied retroactively, must now wait for at least 6 more years.

Copenhagen School of Design and Technology graduate Katie Larsen left Denmark due to strict immigration rules after living for five years in the country.

There are thousands of such stories of miseries and frustrations.

With the new discussions about inviting foreign labour, many believe it will be the start of a new era of miseries and frustrations should the current political climate of curbs on immigration and citizenship continue to be espoused by both the governing Social Democrats and the far right.

What can be done to attract foreign workers?

According to a 2017 Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science assessment, 80 percent of foreign graduates from Danish universities leave Denmark within two years of their graduation. That number is likely to have since increased.

To bring Denmark back on top of the foreign workforce career destination list and prevent further miseries and violations of immigrants’ rights, I argue the following measures must be taken into consideration while inviting foreign workers.

  • The requirements for obtaining a work permit should be easier with fewer bureaucratic procedures.
  • The annual income requirement for obtaining visa and later extension should be realistic. For example, for the pay limit scheme, the income requirement should be reduced to a more realistic amount.
  • A special positive list for doctors, nurses and green jobs should be introduced with a quick response rate.

READ ALSO: Why does Denmark take so long to authorise foreign medical professionals?

Even if the above was to be granted, foreign professionals might not, at first, choose to come to Denmark, or they might leave after a few years if fairer immigration rules are not introduced. These could be:

  • Foreign professionals with a job offer should be given a permanent residency permit at their arrival in Denmark, similar to rules in Canada and some other countries.
  • If foreign professionals are given a limited-period visa then the rules for their visa extension, permanent residency permit and citizenship should be mentioned on their first visa offer letter and those mentioned rules should prevail until the applicant has been granted Danish citizenship.
  • Retroactive implementation of rules must not take place at all. 

Without fairer rules, a drive to bring more skilled foreign labour to Denmark is only likely to result in disappointment all round.

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.

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OPINION: Trains are in fashion so why is rail travel across Europe still so difficult?

Would you prefer to travel across Europe by train rather than plane this summer? It’s not nearly as simple as it should be, especially given the urgency of the climate crisis, explains specialist Jon Worth.

OPINION: Trains are in fashion so why is rail travel across Europe still so difficult?

Buried away in the latest report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change about the changes needed in different sectors to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions is this startling graphic (below) – it is in the transport sector where the costs to decarbonise are lowest, and even have cost savings associated with them.

So with spring blossom in the trees and thoughts turning to planning summer holiday trips, why not look for a greener route to the sun – by taking the train rather than the plane?

In terms of the public debate, trains are back in fashion.

On the back of Greta Thunberg’s efforts to shame those who fly, and to push greener alternatives instead, media from The New York Times to the BBC are discussing the renaissance of long distance travel by train in Europe, especially night trains.

One railway company – Austria’s ÖBB – has seized the moment and has ordered a fleet of 33 new 7 carriage night trains, the first of which will be on Europe’s tracks from December this year.

The argument for night trains is a simple one, namely that by travelling at night you save yourself a night in a hotel at your destination, and passengers are happy to make a longer trip while they are asleep than they would during the day – when passengers normally will not spend more than 6 hours in a train.

The problem is that beyond ÖBB’s plans comparatively little is happening in long distance cross border night trains in Europe.

There are dozens of further connections where night trains would make sense – think of routes like Amsterdam-Marseille or Cologne to Warsaw for example – but we cannot hope that the Austrians will run those. The European Commission conservatively estimated in December 2021 that at least 10 more night train routes, over and above those planned by ÖBB, would be economically viable, and running those lines would need at least 170 new carriages to be ordered. But so far no operator has been tempted.

The main players in European rail – Deutsche Bahn, Renfe, SNCF and Trenitalia – have no interest in night trains, and even only limited interest in cross border rail at all.

More profitable national daytime services are their focus. The French and Italian governments have been making noises to push SNCF and Trenitalia respectively to run more night time services but – you guessed it – only on national routes.

A few small private players have sought to run night services – Sweden’s Snälltåget and Amsterdam-based European Sleeper for example, but they have struggled to scale.

All of this is on top of the headaches that cross border rail in Europe has faced for years, namely the difficulty of booking tickets on international trains (sometimes two or more tickets are needed), timetables that are not in sync if you have to change train at a border, and lack of clear information and compensation if something goes wrong. Even finding out what trains run is often a headache, as no complete European railway timetable exists.

The EU nominated 2021 as the European Year of Rail with the aim of drawing attention to what rail can do in Europe, but the year closed with scant little progress on any of this multitude of thorny problems – in the main because the railway companies themselves do not want to solve them.

Helping intrepid cross border travellers find their way around these practical barriers has become a kind of cottage industry in the social media era.

Communities of sustainable transport nerds of which I am a part on Facebook and Twitter help each other to find the best routes and cheapest tickets, and the venerable Man in Seat 61 website acts as a kind of FAQ for international rail. 

There’s nothing quite like waking up on a summer morning and seeing the sun on the Mediterranean or the wooded slopes of the Alps out of the window of a night train. But travel experiences like that are not nearly as simple or mainstream as they should be – and it is high time the railway industry stepped up.

Are you hoping to travel across Europe by train instead of plane but finding it difficult to organise? Feel free to get in touch and with Jon’s expertise we’ll try to help you. Email [email protected]

Jon Worth is a Berlin-based blogger who specialises in European train travel. You can his original post on this subject HERE.