Marriage Migration for Danes

When Nanna from Denmark, at the age of seventeen, first met Basir at the hotel he worked in Turkey, she did not know what was going to happen in a not very distant future. The consequences of falling in love and the will of be together were more than expected when they tried to move to Denmark.

By Ana Muñoz Padrós

Denmark can surprise even their citizens who were born and raised in its land. Nanna did not planned to fall in love with Basir. She also did not know how many difficulties her own country would put on her way to be together with Basir.


“My family and the whole society raised me to believe I’m free to make my own decisions. But suddenly, they tell you: No. You are not allowed to chose who you want to be marry to. You are not allowed to chose where you want to live if you want to live with the person you love. ” – Nanna says.


Middlefart, where Nanna and Basir live now. Picture by Ana Muñoz Padrós

Basir is not his real name. They came back from Sweden a month ago, after living in Aakarp, between Malmö and Lund for seven months, carrying in their luggage a letter from Denmark saying that Basir had a Danish residence permit waiting for him. Despite this good news, he has still reluctances, after one year and a half of dealing with the Danish immigration system.

“We have been living in Turkey and that’s something we might do in the future but it’s very it’s very important that we have equal rights in both countries. If we don’t have equal rights it will be just garbage, we will always have to depend on me. I already have rights in Turkey, he had no rights in Denmark.”


Danish strict requirements for family reunification

Denmark might have the ‘most restrictive legislation’ among the EU when it comes to family reunion, according to expert Eva Ersbøll, Senior research fellow, PhD at the Danish Institute for Human Rights. This means in practice, that a Danish citizen who wants to live with his or her non European spouse or partner in Denmark, has to fulfill quite strict requirements.

Some Danish requirements. Source: The Danish immigration service. Done by the author

“For example, if she was Swedish or German, all we had to do is just marry, there or in Turkey and then I would just have to apply for family reunion for a state permit and I would just had to do it in Turkey, in my country. It takes maximum five or six months and no matter what, the answer would be a “Yes”, but Denmark is…they just try to make it as impossible as they can.” – Basir reckons.


Nanna did not fulfill the age requirement, aimed to prevent forced marriages among immigrants, so their first family reunion application was rejected. They decided to move to Sweden in order to apply for family reunion under European Union rules.


“We chose to go the safe way because I knew, I don’t know how, I knew we couldn’t handle another rejection. We had to make sure, that was my plan, that we got it the first time we applied. That is why we decided to apply for Basir’s residence in Sweden before we applied in Denmark and he got that after four months and a half.”


Nevertheless, is not Denmark, despite its opt-outs, a member of the European Union as well? Why this and other couples decide it was best to apply from Sweden?


European rulings mark the difference

The Metock case in Ireland in 2008 marked a new interpretation of the 2004 European Directive on the right of Union citizens and their families to move and reside freely within the European Union members. The year before, the Eind case in The Netherlands determined that European citizens can return back to their own countries after being working in a different one, with family members nationalized in a third country.


In short and with regard to this topic, a non-Community individual can apply for family reunion with his or her European spouse, according to the EU right of free movement of the last one. However this ‘is interpreted – in Denmark – in the way that only comprises citizens who are using the right of free movement’ – Eva Ersbøll explains. This means that you first have to activate your right of free movement as a European citizen and then apply for family reunion under the EU rules.


Ersbøll explains that this is also the so-called reverse discrimination. “If you from Spain as an union citizen want to bring your family here to Denmark, you would be able, while I will be not. So this is reverse discrimination but it is legal, because this is the way the EU law has been interpreted until now in


Not just some isolated cases

Numbers showing how many people like Nanna and Basir have moved to Sweden for a short period of time and then come back to Denmark are difficult to know. However, according to Marriage without Borders, ‘one third of the people moving from Denmark to Sweden are not from Denmark nor Sweden’. Love reasons might be responsible for a part of this percentage.

Proportion of ethnic minorities who have emigrated from Denmark to Sweden as a 20-year-olds and 25-year-olds, 1997-2007. Source: SFI rapport 09:28. Garbi Schmidt, Brian Krogh Graversen, Vibeke Jakobsen, Tina Gudrun Jensen, Anika Liversage: Ændrede familiesammenføringsregler. Hvad har de nye regler betydet for pardannelsesmønstret blandt etniske minoriteter?.


Marriage without Borders is an organization created in Denmark in 1996. They believe that there should be no borders for forming a family. They give advice for couples or families who want to apply for family reunion and through them, people in the same situation can share their experiences.


There are currently two thousands Danes married to a foreigner living in Sweden. Before European ruling after Metock case came into public knowledge in summer 2008, many couples moved at least for five years to Sweden, and many of them stayed there. It is what was known as “the long Swedish solution”. After five years, the foreigner spouse could ask for Swedish citizenship. Between two thirds and half of all of them, want to stay in Sweden, and the rest wish to come back to Denmark.


In year 2009, 75% of the Danish citizens married to a foreigner and coming back to Denmark from abroad, did so from Sweden. The majority of their spouses where from Turkey or Pakistan. Statistics -according to Kyhnau- also show a decrease in the number of couples with a Danish residence permit under the EU rules: in 2009 they were four hundred and seventy, whereas in 2010 this number dropped down to two hundreds and eighty five couples. Finally, he asserts that since the family reunion laws where tightened in 2002, there has been a reduction of between 1,000 and 1,500 applications every year asking for family reunion under the national laws.


Sweden, the less bad solution

Sweden, separated from Denmark by not even 8,000 metres corresponding to the Oresund bridge, does not seem to have as many problems and discussions about this issue as its neighbour does. When asked how in Malmö and its surroundings perceive this arrival of Danes and foreigners, Lars Kyhnau, spokesperson from Marriage without Borders, believes that there is ‘no problem’ officially. His organization has a delegation in this city as well.


“Citizenship has been historically a low key issue in Sweden”, says Hedvig Ulf, lecturer of European and constitutional law at Stockholm University and who has written her dissertation about citizenship law. “The reason why citizenship is not widely debated, is probably that the focus is on permanent residence. There are today almost no specific political or social goals regarding naturalization in Sweden.”


Sweden is chosen because its proximity to Denmark in many ways. Furthermore, some of these people, as Nanna, work in Copenhagen, keeping their jobs in there or finding one, as finding a job in a foreign country always looks harder at a first glance.


Trains to Sweden from Copenhagen. Picture by Ana Muñoz Padrós

“Moving to Sweden is not easy, even when it’s similar to Denmark. The system is completely different, the language is different, people  don’t understand you, you don’t understand them always and you have to travel three hours everyday to and from work just to make sure that you have enough money to support your husband and then, after this, you still have not the same rights as the rest of the citizens of your own country.”

In next five years they cannot ask for any social benefits, except if they need medical assistance. Otherwise, Basir’s residence will be removed. After that time, he will be able to apply for a permanent residence in Denmark.


All this could change after the Zambrano ruling from the EU. An interpretation from the Danish Government will come soon. Although the Government is not very keen on doing changes, experts agree on the fact that this could be a turning point in immigration policy.


*Listen to Sune and Anastasiya’s story. Another couple who were in the same situation as Nanna and Basir and what do they think about this issue.

About Ana MP