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Could Denmark's citizenship campaign actually get the rules changed?

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
Could Denmark's citizenship campaign actually get the rules changed?
Aisha Law, policy advisor for ActionAid Denmark believes the education requirements for citizenship could be changed by the end of 2025. Photo: Private

Since May, Denmark's Fair Citizenship campaign has been pushing to make it easier for people with foreign backgrounds brought up in Denmark to get citizenship. Aisha Law, the campaign's policy advisor, tells The Local she hopes to see at least some rules relaxed by the end of next year.


"There's definitely momentum now," Law told The Local of the campaign, which held a protest outside Denmark's parliament to coincide with Citizen Day on September 10th. "I think it's just about getting the media's attention so that it becomes more interesting to change these laws." 

ActionAid Denmark, or Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke, the charity she works for, plans to release a new policy paper by the end of next month, in coalition with unions and other rights groups, which she hopes will keep up the political pressure.  

The campaign is focused on just two reform targets:

  • that anyone brought up in Denmark who is not yet a Danish citizen should automatically become one when they turn 18 
  • that those seeking citizenship should not be disadvantaged if they enter into higher education after turning 18. 

"Right now we are mainly focusing on the education demand because this is what we see is most likely to happen in the short term," Law told The Local. 


Current rules require applicants for citizenship through naturalisation to have worked for a period before they are eligible to apply, with some of those arriving after the age of eight needing to work at least 36 hours a week for four years.

Education does not count towards this, leaving non-citizens born and bred in Denmark at a disadvatage, compared to their peers who are citizens from birth.  


Of the three government parties, one, the Moderates, already want to make time in higher education count towards citizenship. The Social Democrats and Liberals, meanwhile, want time spent in paid internships as part of education to count. 

Even these less ambitious reforms on education or internships would be game-changing for the estimated 77,000 people born and raised in Denmark who lack citizenship, Law said. 

"It would make a huge difference, because right now a lot of young people are in a dilemma: they can either choose to just go out and get a job right after they're done with high school, because that gives them easier access to gaining citizenship - and also, for some, permanent residency --  or they can enter higher education." 

She said that the campaign hoped to make higher education count towards citizenship requirements for everyone and anyone, not just those born or brought up in Denmark.  


This summer, Denmark's government parties agreed in a parliamentary debate that at least some forms of education should count towards citizenship, but maintained their priority was passing legislation already in their government programme, Law told The Local. 

As a result, she does not expect the government to consider the campaign's proposals properly until the second half of 2024 at the earliest.  

"I think they will probably focus on the policies in the government programme, and they haven't done everything in that yet, so we hope that after the summer holidays next year this will be done." 

So far only the Social Liberal Party and Red-Green Alliance have given their backing to both of the campaign's target reforms.

But Law said that ActionAid Denmark and its allies hoped to persuade the Social Democrats and Liberal Parties to at least support the education reform. 

"I think that political change comes in steps, so it is very likely that paid internships will count at some point and then from there we have to work on different types of education." 

She said that excluding education was at odds with the two parties' rhetoric on the need for an educated workforce. 

"When you look at the political topics that they discuss, they talk a lot about how important education is  and how we need more educated people in the workforce, so I think that there is a chance that they will change their minds at some point, because it fits in very well with their political agenda," she said of the Social Democrats, adding that the Liberal Party had similar policy focus. 

The big obstacle to change, she said, was that the issue of citizenship for those born or grown up in Denmark was still seen as an immigration issue. 

"The government is maybe afraid of being accused of having a soft immigration policy, but to us this is not about immigration, it is about giving basic rights to people who live here and work here and have been a part of society for a long time," she said.

"You can question whether these people are actually immigrants. If you are born and raised in Denmark, is it an immigration issue? I think it's more an education and labour issue."   




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