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Bank guarantee: Could Denmark change 'demeaning' family reunification rule?

The Local Denmark
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Bank guarantee: Could Denmark change 'demeaning' family reunification rule?
Denmark's bank guarantee requirement for family reunification is again in the spotlight despite pending government plans to relax it. Photo by Dương Hữu on Unsplash

A rule requiring Danes and foreign partners to deposit a large sum of money to qualify for family reunification is again in the spotlight after reports on its administrative costs.

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In its policy paper from December 2022, the coalition government stated it wants to halve the “bank guarantee” (bankgaranti), a requirement which demands couples deposit a large sum of money with municipalities for the foreign (non-EU national) partner to be granted a residence permit under family reunification rules.

According to figures from the Danish Immigration Service (Udlændingestyrelsen), the bank guarantee, which must be paid in order for the foreign partner to be granted residence, is set at an eye-watering 110,293 kroner (€14,800) in 2023.

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It is currently unclear when a bill will be tabled in parliament to implement the government’s planned reduction of the bank guarantee under Danish law. Minister for Immigration and Integration Kaare Dybvad Bek told newspaper Ekstra Bladet in January that a proposal could be ready for hearing “this spring”.

But it has become a renewed topic of discussion after broadcaster DR this week reported that Copenhagen Municipality has not once used any bank guarantee deposits within the last three years, but has spent 2.2 million kroner annually on administration of the rule.

The purpose of the bank guarantee is ostensibly to ensure that municipalities can draw from the fund to pay for costs such as unemployment benefits, if the family reunified person needs them.

But the requirement may have little practical effect because foreign nationals resident under family reunification rules are likely to lose their residence status anyway if unemployed, negating the need for social welfare benefits.

Copenhagen currently has around 4,000 active bank guarantees and the cost of administration of these deposits – around 2.2 million kroner per year – was spent without any of them being used, DR reports based on an access to public records request.

In Aarhus, the municipality uses resources approximate to one full-time employee per year on administration of the scheme, according to DR. Like in Copenhagen, there were no withdrawals in 2022. There were “few” cases where the money was used in Aarhus in preceding years according to the report.

“I’m a supporter of strict immigration rules but it should not be crazy,” the head of Copenhagen Municipality’s integration and employment committee Jens-Kristian Lütken, an elected official with the Liberal (Venstre) party, told DR.

“It looks that way from my chair when we are spending so much money on something where no one is being sanctioned,” he said.

Social Democratic councillor for social issues and employment in Aarhus, Anders Winnerskjold, told DR that “this is an example of something where we say ‘are we actually getting the benefit we think we are’, and we’re actually not because we’re spending more time on it than is needed in reality”.

“I basically agree that we should be careful about creating a flow of people that must be provided for by Danish taxpayers, and as such the intention behind the bank guarantee is good,” he said.

“But you have to say that we’re not really hitting the target here, so there must be other ways to solve this problem,” he said.

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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 many other integration demands placed on third-country partners.

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

Organisation Marriage Without Borders (Ægteskab uden Grænser) says it wants the bank guarantee to be abolished and replaced with the same criteria used for family reunification under EU law.

“On a human level, there are many Danes who feel alienated and find the criteria demeaning because it means in practice that you must demonstrate that your partner is not a threat to Danish society,” the organisation wrote in a social media post.

“Even if the security guarantee is halved (as the government plans), there will still be Danes who ‘can’t afford love’, such as young students,” it also stated.

In a written comment to DR, Bek said that “foreigners who come to Denmark should be self-sufficient and not a burden to the state. The bank guarantee, which was introduced over 20 years ago, helps ensure that”.

“In addition to the preventative effect that the bank guarantee has, it also enables municipalities to recover potential future costs in the event that a family reunified person receives benefits,” he stated.

“It is obviously not a criteria for success that municipalities withdraw money from the bank guarantee. The criteria for success is the opposite: that family reunified persons continue to provide for themselves,” he added.

The minister has previously confirmed that the government wants to reduce the bank guarantee to enable people with lower disposable sums to apply for family reunification.

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