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Could Denmark’s election result affect work permit and citizenship rules?

Business organisations in Denmark have urged work permit rules to be eased to help address a labour shortage, while the country’s citizenship rules are amongst Europe’s tightest. Does the upcoming election bring any potential for change?

Could Denmark’s election result affect work permit and citizenship rules?
Consensus on tough immigration rules means work permit reforms - even in the face of a major labour shortage - are a hard sell in Danish politics. Illustration photo: Thomas Lekfeldt/Ritzau Scanpix

This summer saw Denmark approve, after protracted negotiations, a reform to its Pay Limit Scheme, a criteria system used to grant work permits to non-EU nationals.

The agreement means that Danish companies can now hire skilled foreign staff on contracts paying an annual salary of 375,000 kroner, and that the foreign employees can be granted work and residence permits on that basis. The new pay limit is a 16 percent decrease from the previous 448,000 kroner.

The Pay Limit Scheme is one of a number of business schemes used to grant work permits for non-EU and EEA nationals who are unable to move to Denmark under the EU’s right to free movement.

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

While business organisations welcomed the deal at the time (and trade unions criticised it for potentially impacting Danish wages), they later said it did not go far enough to alleviate the country’s labour shortage.

“In the wider perspective, too little has been done for years. During the last two government administrations no honest reform was implemented which would have increased the labour supply. That won’t do [if it continues] in a third successive government,” political director Emil Fannikke Kiær of the Confederation of Danish Industry (Dansk Industri, DI) said last month.

Some parties – particularly pro-business ones on the right wing – have expressed a will to find solutions to the labour shortage by increasing access to skilled foreign labour.

But the issue must be disconnected from immigration before voters accept a change to work permit rules, according to Professor in Political Science Kasper Møller Hansen of the University of Copenhagen.

“This is related to the consensus of a strict immigration policy,” Hansen told The Local at an election briefing.

The governing Social Democrats have pursued strict immigration rules, a policy that is also firmly established amongst opposition conservative parties.

“Even though Liberal Alliance, and sometimes the Conservatives talk about us needing labour, I don’t think they would touch [work permits] because of the connection with the immigration discussion,” he said.

“Immigration, historically, has played this huge role in politics. Somehow, they have to lift this discussion out of politics and make it more of a ‘green card’ discussion,” he said.

“I think you need to lift it out and say ‘this is not really a discussion about immigrants and refugees, it’s about labour shortages and having qualified labour’.

“All the companies are screaming for employment at the moment. I think you have to manage to disconnect it and that doesn’t seem to happen at the moment, and it’s definitely not happening in the (election) campaign,” he said.

Another area in which foreign residents in Denmark might hope an election will bring a fresh political approach is citizenship.

However, the likelihood of changes to Denmark’s citizenship rules – which are among the strictest in Europe – is marginal for similar reasons, Hansen said.

The proportion of Denmark’s adult population which cannot vote in parliamentary elections has grown from 2 percent in the 1980s to 10 percent now. Experts have cited strict citizenship rules as the primary reason for this because foreign nationals who live in Denmark long-term are increasingly unable to meet citizenship criteria.


Left wing party Independent Greens said in November last year that it wants to allow persons who have legally resided in Denmark for at least four years to be allowed to vote in elections.

A similar stance was pronounced by the Alternative party in 2018.

Both of these parties are at the fringes of parliamentary influence, however.

poll this week gave the Independent Greens a 0.6 percent share of the vote, which would not see it over the threshold of 2 percent needed to be allocated parliamentary representation. Alternative is at 2.0 percent, its strongest poll showing since early 2020.

“At the moment Denmark is probably the strictest place to get citizenship in the world, more or less, and it doesn’t seem to be changing” Hansen said.

“Some parties [on the left wing, ed.] might want to open up [for reform] but the (governing) Social Democrats definitely would not,” he said.

If the government eased its position on citizenship, it would be attacked by opposition parties, he said.

READ ALSO: Who are Denmark’s 13 political parties and what election pledges have they made?

Member comments

  1. “The proportion of Denmark’s adult population which cannot vote in parliamentary elections has shrunk from 2 percent in the 1980s to 10 percent now.”

    Does the person who wrote that speak English? A change from 2 percent to 10 percent is NOT shrinkage. It is a 5-times increase! That means that it’s the percentage of those who CAN vote that has shrunk.

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Moderate party downplays importance of joining new Danish government 

After another round of negotiations with acting Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, Moderate leader Lars Løkke Rasmussen says it’s beside the point if his party joins Frederiksen’s vision of a ‘broad, central’ government.

Moderate party downplays importance of joining new Danish government 

Rasmussen, who was Prime Minister before Frederiksen when leader of the Liberal (Venstre) party, led the newly-formed Moderates into parliament in their first election on a platform of installing a centrist government.

The Moderates have a relatively strong hand in the negotiations with their 16 seats from 9.3 percent of the vote share in the election, which took place one month ago.

“For us, it’s not a separate ambition to be part of such a government,” Rasmussen said outside of the prime minister’s official residence at Marienborg on Wednesday.

“Whether we are in or not is less important. But we want to put ourselves in a position where we can influence the content. That’s what matters,” he said. 

“It strikes me that Mette Frederiksen and I go a long way towards sharing the analysis of what’s good for Denmark,” he added.

READ ALSO: What does Denmark’s Liberal party want from government negotiations?

Rasmussen has previously backed a potential government involving the Social Democrats and Liberals along with the Moderates, calling it an “excellent starting point”.

But he said on Wednesday that his party could lend support to a central coalition without being part of the government itself.

The Moderates could be influential “by forming the parliamentary basis for a government which consists of parties from both sides of the infamous political centre,” he said.

Although the centrist party is heavily involved in talks led by Frederiksen, it does not have decisive seats which could give either the left or right wings an overall majority. The left wing ‘red bloc’ took a single-seat victory in the November 1st election, meaning a left-wing government could be formed without the support of the Moderates.

But Frederiksen has eschewed the option of a government reliant on the support of the parties furthest to the left, the Red Green Alliance and Alternative, maintaining her pre-election pledge to seek a coalition across the centre.

There is no majority which could put a ‘blue bloc’ or conservative government in place.

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Danish election result