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 Danish work permit rules are keeping out skilled foreigners living in Sweden

Denmark’s Pay Limit Scheme prevents highly qualified foreign nationals in Sweden’s Skåne region, which neighbours Copenhagen, from taking jobs amid a skilled labour shortage.

How Danish work permit rules are keeping out skilled foreigners living in Sweden

Yue Jie, who goes by the preferred name Sean, has a graduate degree in Strategic Communication from Lund University. Sean told The Local he has been unable to accept a job offer with a Danish company due to Denmark’s work permit rules for citizens of so-called ‘third countries’ —  meaning non-EU or EEA countries.

Although it is possible for Swedish residents to work in Copenhagen without a work permit, this is only available to EU or Nordic citizens.

READ ALSO: Cross-border workers: Who is able to live in Sweden and work in Denmark?

Meanwhile, the number of job vacancies in Denmark remains at one of the highest levels for years, with many sectors affected and companies reporting a lack of labour, including skilled workers.

Figures published by national agency Statistics Denmark last month show that unemployment fell to 72,000 persons between February and March, the lowest level since June 2008. Such a small labour pool means companies find it hard to recruit specialised staff.

Denmark and Sweden work together on some areas in an effort to promote cross-border working in the Øresund region which spans the two countries, but this does not stretch to work and residence permits for non-EU nationals.

READ ALSO: Are international workers the answer to Denmark’s labour shortage?

“Originally from Singapore, I’m finishing my Master’s degree studies at Lund University over in Sweden and I’m currently on the search for jobs as I am due to complete my studies,” Yue told The Local.

“For the last month and a half, I’ve been sending job applications both in Copenhagen and in Malmö as these are the two biggest cities within my geographical vicinity,” he said.

“I’ve been in contact with at least two companies in Copenhagen for job applications and interviews, and at least one of them has even offered me a contract for a summer or part-time job this summer. This means that there is, at this point, nothing stopping me from simply crossing the Öresund Bridge from Skåne to Copenhagen anytime for work,” he said.

“The only issue here is that company requires a CPR number in order to pay out my salary, and a CPR number for non-EU nationals cannot be given without a work permit. Another company that recently interviewed with, the recruiter wants to hire me but she could not based on the requirements of the Danish work permit for non-EU (nationals),” he explained.

“I have the knowledge, skills and competencies, and can easily come to the office with a train commute from Sweden, but they cannot offer me employment based on this requirement alone,” he said.

Although non-EU nationals can apply for work permits in Denmark via a number of pathways, Yue said that the only one under which he can potentially fulfil approval criteria is the Pay Limit Scheme or Beløbsordningen in Danish.

The Pay Limit Scheme sets a minimum salary which businesses must pay skilled non-EU nationals in order for the employee to qualify for a Danish work permit. It is currently set at a minimum annual wage of 448,000 kroner.

The Confederation of Danish Industry (Dansk Industri, DI), a business and employers’ interest organisation representing around 19,000 companies in Denmark, told The Local it wanted to see the minimum wage required under the Pay Limit Scheme reduced, and was lobbying to achieve that objective.

“We at DI are working to reduce the current salary threshold on the Pay Limit Scheme from the present 448,000 kroner to 360,000 kroner,” the organisation’s senior political consultant Søren Kjærsgaard Høfler, who specialises in global mobility, said in a written comment.

“We are doing this with particular focus on attracting skilled international workers from outside of the EU and EEA,” he said.

The Pay Limit Scheme has recently been the subject of political discussions due to Denmark’s labour shortage and the need to attract more international workers. 

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

Under current rules, a work permit can be granted under the Pay Limit Scheme for applicants offered salaries of at least 448,000 kroner a year. No specific educational background or a job within a specific professional field is required.

The government earlier this year proposed that the annual salary requirement be lowered to 375,000 kroner over a two-year period, to allow more international workers into Denmark on the scheme.

DI’s global mobility consultant told The Local that the organisation’s work to smooth the path for foreign recruitment in Denmark was focused on retaining international students from Danish universities. Nevertheless, a reduction of the Pay Limit Scheme’s minimum salary requirement could also benefit other foreign skilled workers.

“Traditionally, we have at DI focused on the options for residence and work for international students who have completed their studies in Denmark. We have made some progress here and we think this is beneficial for Danish companies,” Høfler said.

“We therefore want to make our own education system attractive and relevant for students who are thinking about staying in Denmark after finishing their studies,” he said.

“When studies are not undertaken in Denmark, we fall back on the existing business schemes [used to grant work permits for non-EU and EEA nationals, ed.], which includes the Pay Limit Scheme, which currently requires (a salary of) 448,000 kroner. DI is working to reduce this threshold, which might help in the case in question,” he said when asked about the impact of the scheme on job hopefuls not already in Denmark.

A non-EU national who previously worked in Denmark, but left due to issues caused in part by the Pay Limit Scheme, told The Local her experience made her feel “very frustrated”.

“In early 2019, I was let go from my job in Denmark. I consulted with my union at the time about my chances of finding a job and was told that it would be tough but possible. Thus, I moved to a visa for job-seekers [which allows non-EU nationals to remain in the country for six months to find work, ed.] and began looking for a new job,” said the ex-Denmark resident, who preferred to remain anonymous. The Local is aware of the person’s identity.

Whilst searching for a new job in Denmark, she passed interview stage with an organisation before being rejected. “Later, I learned that the position’s compensation was lower than the Pay Limit Scheme and for that reason (the company) didn’t offer it to me, knowing that I would not be able to take it anyway,” she said.

“I realised that I was stuck because I was not qualified for a position that would pay me enough, while the position that I was qualified for would not pay me enough. I believed the root cause was that my profile (Southeast Asian, educated outside of Europe, humanities major, no Master’s degree, non-Danish speaker, three years of working experience at the time) was not strong enough to procure a job that would satisfy the Pay Limit Scheme,” she said.

“At the time I was very frustrated, especially because if it weren’t me but someone from inside the European Union, they would have been able to get the position (with the company that interviewed me) and continue staying in Denmark. Thus I felt the fact that I was not able to get the position due to my background was unfair,” she said.

“I (also) felt that my life as a single foreigner in Denmark was unstable because the rules governing the Pay Scheme Limit could be changed in the future,” she also noted.

Yue, a communications professional specialised in sales and business development, told The Local that the Pay Limit Scheme was his only hope of being able to work for a Danish company.

“I’m a communications professional, so there is essentially only one category which I can apply under – the Pay Limit Scheme,” Yue told The Local.

“The recruiter that I interviewed told me that the salary for the entry-level position I applied for has a salary below this requirement, thus they cannot hire me,” he said.

The Singaporean told The Local that he wanted “to highlight my situation as a current resident already in Sweden and the nature of such migration/immigration issues within Denmark.”

“If there are any Danish employers out there or international companies in Denmark who are willing to hire me because they recognise that I can be a valuable employee to their organisation, I’m willing to speak with them,” he said.

Sean Yue can be contacted via LinkedIn.