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What do we know so far about Denmark’s plan to relax family reunification rules?

The agreement for Denmark’s new government states that it plans changes to family reunification rules. Here’s what we know at the time of writing.

What do we know so far about Denmark’s plan to relax family reunification rules?
Sections of Denmark's family reunification criteria could be changed by the new government. Photo by Orlando Allo on Unsplash

The new Danish government could break with years of strict immigration laws by easing family reunification rules.

According to the agreement for the new government, which was presented on Wednesday, two specific areas of family rules are slated for change.

These are the language criteria applied in family reunification cases; and the so-called “bank guarantee” (bankgaranti), a requirement which demands couples deposit a large sum of money with municipalities while the foreign partner is granted residence under family reunification rules.

READ ALSO: New Danish government could relax family reunification rules 

The text of the agreement itself goes into scarce detail. It states that the new government will “adjust the language requirement for [foreign] residents in relation to family reunification and halve the bank guarantee at applications for spousal family reunifications”.

No mention of family reunification was made by Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen or the leaders of the two other coalition parties, Jakob Ellemann-Jensen and Lars Løkke Rasmussen, at Wednesday’s press briefing to present the government agreement.

Of the three, Rasmussen has been most critical of the existing family reunification rules – which his government helped to put into place in 2018.

In an interview with newspaper Ekstra Bladet in October, Rasmussen said that some of the rules, reported by the newspaper to have resulted in nonsensical residence decisions by immigration authorities, were “a mistake”.

Language requirement

It’s unclear how the new government will change the language requirements, but they are one of the most-criticised elements of the family reunification criteria.

A report by the Ministry of Immigration and Integration, obtained by Ekstra Bladet in September, found that family reunification was denied in some cases partly because native Danish partners are forced to take language tests which they regularly fail.

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.

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.

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

Bank guarantee

The “bank guarantee” (bankgaranti) is a requirement which demands couples effectively deposit a large sum of money with municipalities while the foreign partner is granted family reunification.

The new government’s plan for the bank guarantee is clearer than for the language requirements: it wants to halve the amount of the deposit.

According to figures from the Danish Immigration Service (Udlændingestyrelsen), the bank guarantee, which must be paid in order for a foreign partner to be granted residence, is set at an eye-watering 107,394 kroner (€14,430) as of 2022.

After 10 years – the usual point at which permanent residency can be granted – the bank guarantee is no longer required, but it must remain in place until this time.

An affected Danish national who spoke to The Local in 2021 described how the bank guarantee posed a hefty financial burden that made it harder for international couples to live up to the rest of the criteria.

The bank guarantee has also been criticised for being unfit for purpose and an administrative burden for local authorities.

Other rules

The full criteria for family reunification of non-EU citizen spouses in Denmark are 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).

In brief, these include (but are not limited to) criteria relating to age, previous visits to Denmark, education and work history and language skills.

An applicant for family reunification may not work while their application is being processed, despite criteria for self-sufficiency.

Aside from self-sufficiency (the bank guarantee) and language, no other criteria are slated for any changes in the government agreement, but some of them have also been criticised in the recent past.

The ministerial report obtained by Ekstra Bladet in September was critical of 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 Minister for Immigration and Integration, Kaare Dybvad Bek, previously told Ekstra Bladet that an adjustment of the rules was “not out of the question”.

Dybvad Bek has remained in the role of immigration minister following the formation of the new government.

READ ALSO: Denmark changes family reunification practice for parents of Danish children after EU ruling

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Denmark demands tougher EU borders to prevent ‘migration crisis’

Eight EU nations including Denmark called on Brussels to significantly toughen the bloc's borders to "prevent another large-scale migration crisis," according to a letter seen by AFP ahead of a key summit.

Denmark demands tougher EU borders to prevent 'migration crisis'

The overall tone on migration has hardened in Europe since 2015-2016, when it took in over a million asylum-seekers, most of them Syrians fleeing the war in their country.

Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta and Slovakia sent the letter dated Monday to EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU Council President Charles Michel.

They said it was “high time” for a “comprehensive European… approach for all relevant migratory routes” to tackle irregular migration.

The letter called for “additional financial support” within the existing budget to enhance “relevant operational and technical measures for effective border control”.

It also urged “significantly increasing swift returns of third country nationals” and concluding new partnerships and safe third country arrangements.   

Some member states are facing “levels of arrivals and applications equivalent to, or higher than, those seen during the migration crisis in 2015 and 2016,” the letter added.

At the end of January, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said she was confident that asylum reform — under discussion since September 2020 — would be adopted before the European elections in 2024.

The EU has earmarked six billion euros to protect its borders for the 2021-2027 period.

Several countries, including Austria, have called for EU funding to strengthen fences along the bloc’s external borders to reduce the flow of asylum-seekers.

But the commission has so far been reluctant, saying that “building walls and barbed wire” is not the right solution.

EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said last month that member states could sign up to a pilot scheme over the first half of this year to speed up screening and asylum procedures for eligible migrants — and “immediate return” for those not deemed to qualify.

Von der Leyen said she wanted the EU to draw up a list of “safe countries of origin”, and for the bloc to strengthen border monitoring on the Mediterranean and Western Balkans routes migrants use to get to Europe.

READ ALSO: Denmark suspends asylum centre talks with Rwanda