Danish family reunification rules panned in report as Danes fail language test

Denmark's family reunification rules have received strong criticism in a new ministerial report, in part because native Danish partners are forced to take language tests which they regularly fail.

Danish family reunification rules panned in report as Danes fail language test
Illustration photo. A new report to Denmark’s immigration ministry has offered broad-ranging criticism of the country’s family reunification rules. Photo by Jason Coudriet on Unsplash

A report from the Ministry of Immigration and Integration, obtained by newspaper Ekstra Bladet, shows a poor pass rate amongst native Danes who must meet language requirements for their foreign partners to be granted residence in Denmark.

Family reunification rules include ‘integration requirements’ for sponsors, which apply even to Danes born and raised in Denmark. 

These include a mastery of the Danish language equivalent to a 9th grade level in Folkeskole — the last year of mandatory education in Denmark, when children are about 16 years old. The test which must be taken is known as Dansk 3.

Rules for family reunification were last updated in 2018, when requirements became stricter. Former immigration minister Mattias Tesfaye earlier stated that the language requirement for partners was in place because too many Danish citizens of non-Danish heritage were not good enough at Danish. It should be noted that a similar Danish language test must be passed in order to be granted Danish citizenship via naturalisation.

READ ALSO: Denmark to cut wait for family reunion after losing European court case

The report found that 19 percent of ethnic Danes who apply for spousal reunification fail to meet that standard, resulting in a rejection of family reunification claims, Ekstra Bladet writes. For Danish citizens of other ethnic backgrounds, 27 percent can’t pass. 

The ministry’s report was authored by a number of organisations and authorities and includes criticism of the requirement for Danish nationals of Danish heritage to demonstrate Danish language proficiency.

“It is a quite unfair demand to place on a Dane who his lived all their life in Denmark and attended elementary school but not taken further education as such, but has otherwise managed very well,” one organisation, the Foreningen af Udlændingeretsadvokater (Society of Immigration Rights Lawyers), says in the report according to Ekstra Bladet.

The criteria for family reunification of non-EU citizen spouses in Denmark is set out on the websites of the authorities responsible for applications, the Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration (SIRI) and the Immigration Service (Udlændingestyrelsen).

Broadly, a range of criteria can apply to the foreign partner and to the Danish sponsor. In practice, the criteria can prove extremely difficult to live up to and easy to fall foul of.

An affected Danish national who spoke to The Local in 2021 described, for example, how a requirement for a bank deposit termed the ‘bank guarantee’ posed a hefty financial burden; that partners are not permitted to work while their cases are being processed, worsening their ability to prove self-sufficiency; and that a loss of employment for either couple could result in family reunification being withdrawn.

The report, which was initiated by Tesfaye earlier this year, also criticises several other aspects of the rules, Ekstra Bladet writes.

These include demands on the employment and education circumstances of the applicant Danish spouses and a housing rule which can block family reunification based on the address of the Danish partner.

The bank guarantee requirement is criticised for being unfit for purpose and an administrative burden for local authorities, echoing arguments already made against the rule in the past.

Further, a high demand on documentation is also criticised because many source countries do not have a similar level of registration and documentation to Denmark. This can make it difficult for genuine couples to supply all the required documentation asked for as proof of their relationship.

Parliament’s committee on immigration rules, the Udlændinge- og Integrationsudvalg, is scheduled to review the ministry report next week, Ekstra Bladet reports.

Minister for Immigration and Integration Kaare Dybvad Bek said in earlier comments to the newspaper that an adjustment of the rules was “not out of the question”.

“I am therefore also looking forward to reading the report and calling a meeting for discussion of this with parliament’s other parties,” he said in a written comment.

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

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Why do Danes let their babies sleep outside in strollers?

Danish parents often let their babies take daytime naps outdoors in their strollers. The practice can seem odd to visitors, so why is it so popular in the Nordic country?

Why do Danes let their babies sleep outside in strollers?

Denmark trended on social media this week when a Tiktok post, later also shared on Twitter, showed a series of videos of Danish strollers or prams parked outside on streets.

A number of the clips in the video show empty strollers parked outside kindergartens, but others presumably do indeed have sleeping babies in them.

This should not come as a surprise, given it’s common practice in Denmark to put babies and toddlers down for their naps outdoors, usually in their strollers.

Some social media commenters expressed shock at the video, with a fair few calling it bad parenting.

This week’s Tiktok and Twitter posts are not the first time Danish babies napping outside has caught international attention.

Back in 2013, newspaper Jyllands-Posten reported that the “BBC is surprised that Scandinavian children sleep outside” in response to an article by the British broadcaster titled “The babies who nap in sub-zero temperatures”.

“The Scandinavian custom of letting infants sleep outside is causing a stir,” the paper wrote.

Research cited in both the British and Danish articles suggests that there may be benefits to letting children sleep outdoors.

That includes a study from Oulo University in Finland based on a survey of parents.

“Babies clearly slept longer outdoors than indoors,” lead researcher Marjo Tourula told the BBC. Indoor naps lasted between one and two hours while outdoor naps lasted from 1.5 to three hours, the survey found.

“Probably the restriction of movements by clothing could increase the length of sleep, and a cold environment makes swaddling possible without overheating,” Tourula said.

Swedish paediatrician Margareta Blennow told the BBC that the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency had found conflicting results.

“In some studies they found pre-schoolers who spent many hours outside generally – not just for naps – took fewer days off than those who spent most of their time indoors,” she said, adding “in other studies there wasn’t a difference”.

District nurse and author Helen Lyng Hansen told newspaper Ekstra Bladet in 2013 that babies sleeping outside “is a tradition we have in Denmark.”

“It’s part of our culture that we have an idea that it is good for children to sleep outside and get fresh, red cheeks. But there’s no evidence to say that it makes children healthier,” she said.

A page on district nursing advice website says that “there are not yet any scientific studies that can prove that sleeping outdoors makes a difference. But the experiences of parents and experts suggests that children seem to sleep well outside.”

All experts stress that it is important for babies and small children to be appropriately dressed for sleeping outside.

Newborn infants are not put outside to sleep, with most parents waiting until around five to six weeks of age, particularly in colder seasons. Health service advice says infants weighing under 3 kilograms should sleep indoors. Children who have a fever or are otherwise sick should also not sleep outside, according to general advice.

Temperatures below minus 10 degrees Celsius or very misty conditions are not suitable for outside sleeping and naps outside should not last more than around 2 hours.

In Denmark, the standard outfit for children sleeping outside in winter is a woollen sovedragt or full-length suit on top of up to three layers of their regular clothes or pyjamas. They will also wear gloves, a scarf and an elefanthue or non-face-covering balaclava.

A design of blanket from the brand Voksi, referred to as a Voksi pose (“Voksi bag”) is the most popular choice for outdoors sleeping. The blanket can be folded and fastened to enclose the baby and has a hood-shaped part at the top.

The child is usually then placed under an outer blanket or rug and inside the stroller, which has rain covers pulled over if needed.

These layers are gradually reduced during the warmer seasons.

Although images of prams parked on streets are perhaps the most striking feature of the practice, this is not where most Danish babies sleep. Gardens, balconies and kindergartens are far more common places for parents or carers to put young children down for a nap.

That’s not to say a little one sleeping in a pram outside a café or similar public place isn’t unheard of. When this happens, the parent will be sat somewhere in view or use a baby alarm.

That parents nevertheless feel comfortable leaving children to sleep on the street can seem unbelievable to those witnessing the practice for the first time.

“There’s also something about us living in safe Denmark,” retired district nurse and author Sigrid Riise told Ekstra Bladet in 2013.

“We have always dared to leave our children outside, even though we have begun to keep an eye on them more in recent years,” she said.