‘It’s really hard to live here in Denmark without working’

The restaurant manager refused a work permit because his salary was deemed too high to be believable has told The Local of the struggles he is facing as he battles to overturn the decision on appeal, while his lawyer has complained of his client's 'crazy' treatment.

'It’s really hard to live here in Denmark without working'
Ramesh Subedi had his work permit application rejected because SIRI viewed it as too high to be believable. Photo: Private

Editor’s note: Article updated on March 2nd, 2023 to include comments from SIRI.

Ramesh Subedi, from Nepal, was hired as kitchen manager at the Klubben restaurant in Copenhagen, after studying business administration at Roskilde University. But the Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration (SIRI), rejected his application for a work permit. 

The rejection and Subedi’s appeal has become a high-profile work permit case in Denmark, with the Politiken newspaper among Danish media to have written about his situation. 

Siri rejected Subedi on the basis of formodning, which translates to “presumption” or “suspicion”, meaning the case officer thought the salary he was being offered, which met the 448,000 kroner per year minimum for the Pay Limit Scheme, was unrealistically high based on the position in question and his qualifications.

The Pay Limit scheme allows work permits to be granted to applicants who have been offered a salary above a government-set amount by a Danish employer.

When The Local spoke to Subedi, he said life had been difficult since the rejection, as he was forbidden from working and had been forced to move out of his apartment as his rental contract was linked to his visa. 

“It’s really hard to live here in Denmark without working. It’s already been three months,” he said.

Subedi, his pregnant wife and three-year-old son are now at risk of becoming homeless as they are unable to rent a new apartment without a salary. 

“We are borrowing [an apartment] from relatives and they are on holiday. So we are living in their apartment, but they are coming back,” he said. “If we [apply] for an apartment they [landlords or housing associations, ed.] ask me to show my salary for the agreement, but I can’t work so I can’t show them the salary.”

He said his treatment by the Danish authorities had been “disappointing”, and had had an effect on his pre-school age son, who was born in Denmark in 2019 and has not lived in any other country.

“It’s really hard. My son is three years old and he goes to kindergarten. He’s really happy to go there and it’s really disappointing,” he said. “Without working it’s really hard to live here and my wife is pregnant and taking psychiatric help with these things.” 

What he found frustrating, he said, was the way his case had been decided without anyone speaking to him in person.

“I hope they will have another look at the case and [that I can have] a meeting with them so they can see we are working in a good way. So I really hope they will look at the case again and allow us to stay on,” he said.

Subedi’s lawyer, Anders Boelskifte, complained that no one from SIRI had visited the restaurant or interviewed Subedi before deciding on the case, and said the agency had no real backing for the presumption that Subedi’s salary had been set artificially high.

READ ALSO: Denmark set to permanently ease work permit rule as bill reaches parliament

“They accuse [the restaurant owner] of doing something illegal in order to give him a legal basis for staying,” he said.

But Subedi’s predecessor in the role of kitchen manager, he pointed out, had received an even higher salary. He also argued that Subedi was very difficult for the restaurant to replace, increasing his value to the business.

“But when you’re losing an employee, you also have [to ask] what is the value for you? What can you get instead? Can you get someone to replace him?,” he said.

He said that he also had evidence that another non-EU national with a comparable qualification background, salary and position to Subedi’s had been approved under the Pay Limit Scheme. 

“SIRI has to review this case. They have to review it because this is new information of importance,” he said.

If SIRI had any suspicions about the veracity of the salary, he continued, the agency could simply have checked Subedi’s bank account to make sure he was genuinely being paid the sums that Klubben claimed.  

“SIRI has full power to go into the bank account of the applicant and check what is coming in. They can see that and then after one month, two months, five months then say, ‘okay, does it fit with the figures you mentioned to us?’. They can say ‘okay, then you get the permission’,” he said. 

SIRI told The Local in a written statement that it assesses in Pay Limit Scheme applications “whether there is a certain suspicion that it is not a case of genuine employment or that the purpose is solely to obtain residence in this country which the alien would otherwise not be able to obtain.”

“In such cases, the application is rejected,” the agency wrote.

The “formodningsafslag” law, introduced in January 2021, was introduced to prevent abuse of the Pay Limit Scheme, particularly in cases where restaurants hired Chinese chefs, SIRI said.

READ ALSO: Explained: How Danish visa laws may have been misused to exploit Chinese chefs

The law allows SIRI to reject applications that fulfil the regular criteria related to salary and employment terms “if there is a certain suspicion that the factual employment circumstances do not fit with those outlined in the application,” it continued.

These can include a “certain suspicion” (vis formodning) related to the applicant’s education and employment history, previous applications for Danish residence permits and the salaries considered to be normal for the business and sector in question, it said.

“We always conduct a concrete and individual assessment of the relevant information of the case,” SIRI wrote.

“In the legal descriptions there is no suggestion that a labour shortage or domestic difficulties acquiring in-demand labour can be seen as a criteria in the assessment of whether a job offer is genuine,” it stated.

In a written response earlier provided to Politiken, SIRI said with specific reference to Subedi’s case that it had deemed his educational background to be unrelated to his duties at the restaurant and his experience in the sector to be relatively limited.

Boelskifte initially contacted the parliamentary ombudsman to file a complaint about how the application had been processed but was told that the ombudsman could not address the complaint until it had made its way through the lower appeal system via Udlændingenævnet, the Immigration Appeals Board.

Even convincing SIRI to stay Subedi’s deportation until his wife had given birth had been difficult, he said.

“It was really stupid. It’s really crazy how many details they wanted to have about the pregnancy. But then they finally said, ‘okay, they can stay here until two months after the time of birth’,” he said.

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

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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.