Danish conservative parties want to exclude Muslim countries in foreign labour rules

Four Danish conservative parties are expected on Tuesday to present a proposal to ease Denmark’s labour shortage by recruiting workers from abroad. The proposal would exclude nationals from specified Muslim countries.

L-R Pernille Vermund (Nye Borgerlige), Jakob Ellemann-Jensen (Liberal), Rasmus Jarlov (Conservative) and Alex Vanopslagh (Liberal Alliance) speak to media on January 25th on a proposal to change Danish work permit rules.
L-R Pernille Vermund (Nye Borgerlige), Jakob Ellemann-Jensen (Liberal), Rasmus Jarlov (Conservative) and Alex Vanopslagh (Liberal Alliance) speak to media on January 25th on a proposal to change Danish work permit rules. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

The proposal includes a reduction of the beløbsgrænse (pay limit), which is a key element in restricting labour immigration under current rules because it requires employers to pay a set salary to staff from non-EU countries for them to meet criteria for a work permit.

The parties – the Conservatives, Liberal Alliance, Liberals and Nye Borgerlige (New Right) – want to reduce the minimum salary requirement but will not extend the accommodation to nationals of Muslim countries in North Africa and the Middle East, broadcaster DR reports.

The latter of the four parties, Nye Borgerlige, which is the furthest to the right and known for its hostility towards Muslims, demanded the clause in return for supporting the proposal, according to DR.

While the proposal will be presented fully on Tuesday, Liberal Alliance leader Alex Vanopslagh revealed some key details of it in an interview with DR.

“Our proposal is a permanent scheme with a lower pay limit whereby you can come up here and work, but where it will apply to a slightly lower number of countries,” Vanopslagh said on DR’s radio programme Ring til Oppositionen.

The four parties behind the proposal want to reduce the pay limit to 360,000 kroner annually. In ongoing negotiations over the labour shortage, the government has suggested it should be 375,000 kroner. The current amount is 448,000 kroner.

READ ALSO: Could Denmark ease key work permit rule for foreigners?

The government has pushed for a temporary two-year reduction to the pay limit, while the conservative parties behind the counter-proposal want it to be permanent.

Where the government’s scheme would be extended to all countries, the counter offer excludes “Muslim countries in North Africa and the Middle East” according to Nye Borgerlige leader Pernille Vermund, who described the proposal in a Facebook post.

Speaking on DR radio, Vanopslagh confirmed first that the four parties had agreed to exclude certain countries from the proposal, and then that the exclusion applied to MENA countries.

“We propose (excluding) a number of countries where we in practice avoid some of the countries where there are generally many people over-represented in our domestic crime statistics,” Vanopslagh said.

The Liberal Alliance leader said that his party’s adoption of the policy was “primarily a result of us being four parties which had to agree. For some parties, it was important that not all countries in the world” were included, he said.

Countries encompassed by the scheme would also have to meet two other criteria – a certain level of in- and outgoing investments with Denmark, and no visa requirements in the Schengen zone for their nationals.

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

In comments to DR, Vanopslagh appeared to distance himself somewhat from the apparent structuring of the proposal to exclude people from Muslim countries.

Asked if he shared Nye Borgerlige concerns about people from Muslim countries entering Denmark through the pay limit scheme, the Liberal Alliance leader replied “no”.

“The pay limit scheme is set up so that you must still earn 350,000 [360,000, ed.]. I think that most people who can maintain an annual salary of 350,000 kroner are members of the public who behave relatively well in Denmark,” he added.

The Social Democratic government does not currently have a majority for its version of the proposal, with only two parties – the Social Liberals and Socialist People’s Party – in support.

But the government’s finance spokesperson Christian Rabjerg Madsen told DR he expected conservative parties to eventually vote in favour and called the counter-offer which pushes for an exclusion of specified countries “hypocritical”.

“It’s obvious that we have some parties who want to reduce the pay limit scheme just as we do, and they are taking a step in our direction instead of backing our proposal,” Madsen said.

“The reality is they are selling out the needs of Danish businesses because of considerations which are not serious,” he said.

Excluding certain countries from a reduced pay limit would be “bureaucratically heavy to administrate,” he also said.

“It’s important to be aware that it is not refugees or vulnerable groups who need to be protected who would be the beneficiaries of this agreement,” he said.

Naqeeb Khan, a campaigner for fair Danish immigration rules including for foreign workers, called the proposal from the conservative parties “discrimination”. Khan is a board member with the Danish Green Card Association and president with the Green Human Resources campaign group.

“(The proposal to exclude Muslim countries) is institutionalised racism and violation of the Danish constitution which guarantees equality among all human beings with no regard to the colour of one’s skin and their religion,” Khan told The Local via email.

“I would reject any such invitation to the foreign workforce without first reforming broken immigration policies,” he said.

Editor’s note: article updated to include comments from Naqeeb Khan.

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How have work permit rules been changed in Denmark?

After the Danish parliament last week voted to ease some work permit requirements, we take a closer look at which rules have been changed.

How have work permit rules been changed in Denmark?

Parliament to voted last week to make changes to Denmark’s immigrations rules designed to make it easier to for companies to hire internationally.

The bill, which was submitted to parliament in February by immigration minister Kaare Dybvad Bek, permanently reduces the minimum wage required under the Pay Limit Scheme (Beløbsordning), making it easier for companies to recruit skilled workers from non-EU countries.

It also opens up the country’s fast-track work permit certification scheme to companies with as few as ten employees, extends the job search period for foreign graduates of Danish universities to three years, adds more job titles to the Positive List for People with Higher Education, and extends the Start-up Denmark scheme for entrepreneurs. 

The new rules come into effect on April 1st, after which work permits can be applied for under the new rules.

Pay Limit Scheme 

The Pay Limit Scheme is an arrangement by which work permits are granted to non-EU nationals. Under the scheme, work permits can be granted to applicants who have been offered a wage above a set amount by a Danish employer.

Under the old rules that minimum wage was 448,000 kroner per year. The law change permanently reduces it to 375,000 kroner per year.

Foreign workers can now be given a work permit under the scheme on the lower wage, but it should be noted that that jobs given to non-EU citizens hired internationally are still subject to rules ensuring equivalent pay for the roles.

This means that if the role being hired for was normally paid 425,000 kroner, for example, employers will still have to pay this level, and not the 375,000 kroner minimum. 

Fast-track work permit 

The Fast-track Scheme allows certified companies to employ foreign nationals with special qualifications more quickly and easily than through the standard pathway.

If an employer and employee agree they want the new job to be started quickly, the employer can be given power of attorney to submit an application under the Fast-track Scheme on behalf the employee. It is a prerequisite that the employer is certified to use the Fast-track Scheme.

In short, this means that employers, by registering the scheme, can enable their foreign hires to be granted a temporary work permit so they can start their job immediately after arriving in Denmark, or – if the employee is not exempted from Danish visa rules – get them a permit including an entry visa within 10 days.

The new rules allow companies with as few as 10 employees to register for the scheme, a reduction from the minimum of 20 under the old rules.

Job search period for foreign graduates of Danish universities 

The outgoing rules allow students who have completed and been awarded a Danish Professional Bachelor’s (vocational), Bachelor’s, Master’s degree or PhD degree to can for an establishment card.

This is a residence and work permit that allows the graduated student to stay in Denmark for two years, the period of time the permit is valid, to enable them to apply for jobs and establish themselves on the labour market.

There are certain conditions attached to the establishment card: You must not give up your Danish address or stay abroad for longer than 6 successive months, and the permit does not allow you to work in other Schengen countries.

Under the new rules, all foreign nationals who complete degree programmes with the above classifications will automatically be given a three-year (a longer period than the two years given under the old rules) “job seeking period” in which they have the right to live and work in Denmark.

Positive List for People with Higher Education

The Positive List is a list of professions experiencing a shortage of qualified professionals in Denmark.

Danish Residence and work permits can be granted based on offers of jobs included in the Positive List. Applicants must have an educational background that makes them qualified for the job.

The Positive List is usually updated twice a year, in January and July, but the new rules open up this list to a broader range of applicants.

No information is currently available as to who will be covered by this broader scope, but the now-passed bill which implements the changes mentions that “regional labour market councils” and “specialised a-kasser” [unemployment insurance providers] can conclude there is “a national lack of qualified labour” and that job offers can thereby qualify for the positive list.

Start-up Denmark scheme for entrepreneurs

Start-up Denmark is a scheme for foreign entrepreneurs. Two-year work permits can be granted based on a business idea which must be approved by a panel of experts appointed by the Danish Business Authority. If the business is successful, the permits can be extended for three years at a time.

The scheme can be used by both individuals and teams of up to three people who want to start a business together in Denmark through a joined business plan.

There must be specific Danish business interests that favour of the establishment of the business in Denmark, and normal businesses such as restaurants or retail do not normally qualify under the existing rules.

However, like with the Positive List, the rule changes open the scheme to a broader range of applicants.

While it seems the new rules could benefit a broad target group of potential skilled foreign workers who see opportunities in Denmark, they “may be a game changer for the smaller companies hiring employees within industries with lower salary thresholds where the new hire has only a few years of experience,” Rikke Wolfsen, country manager Global Immigration practice with the Danish section of financial services company EY, told The Local in previous comments about the lower salary thresholds. 

Full details of the new rules and their relevant application pages and materials will be published on the website of the Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration (SIRI), the agency which processes work permit applications, on April 1st.

We will also report additional detail relating to, for example, the Positive List and job seeking period for graduates.