Is Denmark’s immigration and family reunion policy likely to change?

A new European ruling could make a big change in Denmark’s immigration law. The Court of Justice of the European Union determined last March that Colombian Gerardo Ruiz Zambrano and his wife had the right to work and stay in Europe. The reason is that they have to support their children who were born European, in Belgium.


By Ana Muñoz Padrós

No one is sure about what is going to happen after this brand new ruling, that will affect at some extend Denmark’s immigration policy. As it is an EU ruling, it might overrule some of the already existing laws in Denmark.

Nyhavn in Copenhagen, Denmark. Picture by Ana Muñoz Padrós


What is coming next?


Lars Kyhnau, spokesperson of the organization Marriage without Borders reckons that it depends on how the Danish Government interprets it. ‘They can choose what they have done with other EU laws and interpret it as narrow as they can.’


As anything could happen, it has been even said that they could go even to the extreme that if there was the situation that the parents were foreigners and the child got born in Denmark, it could be decided to take him under the state protection through a child’s shelter. This way, no one could say that the kid has been left to his own luck.


“I do not think that will be true, but it is an example of how far things could go.” He reckons that this extreme situation will not take place. Nevertheless, “On the opposite extreme, in an objective way, all European citizens have the right to live in the Union, and that right should be real and not in a paper. You need the right to have your spouse.” Although he sustains that the answer will come when the Government has made its interpretation about it, perhaps some clarification from the EU will be needed.


Eva Ersbøll, Senior Researcher fellow and PhD at the Danish Institution for Human Rights, reckons that the natural consequence of the Zambrano ruling would be allowing the parents of the kid, even if they are foreigners without a residence permit, to stay in Denmark. As Kyhnau, she is waiting to witness the Government’s interpretation.


“The interesting question to be answered is – depending on, once again, its interpretation – if grown-up people could have the right to have their spouse staying here, even though they have not used their right of free movement. “


One thing is clear: the new EU ruling will be noticed

Søren Pind, immigration minister, in recent declarations to Politiken newspaper, did not seem worried about a great effect of this new EU ruling. “I don’t think it’s in any way fair to say that the previous legislation has undermined Danish legislation. I find it hard to see the problem”. – he asserted.


Nevertheless, Ersbøll believes that, even if the ruling is interpreted as narrow as possible “definitely, is going to have consequences”.


Denmark’s strict policies

Immigration and family reunification policies have been tightened up especially since 2002, when the 24-year-old rule among other new

"There must be a limit". Advert in Copenhagen from the Danish People's Party. Picture by Ana Muñoz Padrós

laws, was enforced. This stricter development has been backed up by the Danish People’s Party, whose support has been needed by who ever was in the Government, to stay in the power. This right-wing party has become well-known for its anti-immigration ideas.


This immigration legislation in Denmark does not seem to be experimenting a radical change in the near future. “Even though if we had a new Government, I don’t think this will change for instance, the 24 years rule”. Ersbøll asserts, and this seems to be the general opinion in Denmark.


The philosophy behind family reunification policy seems to be that if you are able to live in the country of your spouse, why should you both come and stay in Denmark. Although it has been discussed in the media if Denmark goes against EU Human Rights, this cannot be said, experts say. Denmark has certain opt-outs in this field and because how is going to affect citizens it is partly determined on the national interpretation of EU rules.


From Lars Kyhnau perspective, through these national rules, politicians “are actually discriminating against their own people”. No parties have fought back against the tightening up of immigration policies, although some of these parties have somehow “challenged family reunification rules”.

Evolution of the immigration in Denmark


Welcome to Denmark dear foreigner, what are you good at?

One of this unexpected consequences has been already seen in the point system, valid since November. It is now a mandatory requirement for receive a permanent residence permit in Denmark. It was aimed to make easier the entry of the ‘good’ foreigners, high skilled workers who will contribute to Denmark’s competitive economy. Besides it is also a great barrier for those who are not in this profile, as the criteria is very rigid.


The unexpected consequence showed up as the level is so high that almost nobody can fulfill the requirements.


“Since then” -the enforcement of the new system – “there has been five approvals for permanent residence out of four hundred rejections”. – according to Kyhman.


“We can certainly see that the immigration is also hurting the image to attract high skilled people from abroad”, Anika Liversage, Researcher PhD at the Danish National Centre for Social Research (SFI), asserts.


Danish paradoxes

Denmark seems to be a country of contradictions. There is a will of attracting high skill labour force, but this people have to pass an impossible test. Europe seems to be willing to open further barriers, while Denmark changes for almost the last twenty years have been towards closing up its borders in some cases.


The 24-year-old rule, aimed for preventing forced marriages, is affecting many people not related in anyway to this issue. Furthermore, the tendency of getting married at an early age was already being decreased by itself before this law was enforced, as the graphic done by the SFI shows.


From the Danish Institute of Human Rights, they found out that marriages between second or third generation immigrants in Denmark with someone of their own country have just been postponed, but not have not disappeared. “The Government would say that this is the whole idea, the protection of young women for instance, that they are not force to marriages against their will, so now they have time for education. But of course there might be problems that you don’t see because people could be abroad, waiting, in order to be old enough for family reunification”, Eva Ersbøll says.

Percentage ethnic minorities originating in non-Western countries married as respectively. 21-year-olds and 25-year-olds, 1992-2008. Separately for men and women. 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?

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