While labour migration increased since 2004, fewer families or humanitarian migrants arrive and naturalised citizens are at the lowest level since the Liberals/Conservatives came to power, backed by the Danish People’s Party.

In many areas of integration policy, most of the 30 other MIPEX countries do both of the following to secure full participation, while Denmark takes just the first step: Obstacles are removed to work, but not to reunite families. Children should succeed in school and society, but not if that means curricula on non-European languages or intercultural education. All settled residents can easily participate in local politics, but not become national citizens.

Denmark does follow certain European trends. Like other established immigration countries, newcomers’ employment and education needs are well targeted and policies evaluated. It slightly improved anti-discrimination laws to comply with EU law. In other areas, requirements set the bar for success exceptionally high in Denmark, compared to most. Yet high pass rates (e.g. of family reunions, citizenship tests) are often not interpreted as signs of success, but of the failure to design the right requirements.

Timeline - What's Changed

-12 April 2007
Family reunion–conditions
Aliens Act amended, new immigration test abroad
0 April 2008
Access to nationality
Introduction of citizenship application kits.
+8 April 2008
Danish Administration of Justice Act.
+11 January 2009
Anti-discrimination–equality policies
Independent Board of Equal Treatment is established
-4 December 2009
Political participation
Copenhagen Integration Council closed
+12 March 2010
Family reunion–security
New Executive Order slightly clarifies duration of family reunion permits
+17 May 2010
Long-term residence–eligibility
Act No. 572 amends Aliens Act
-2 May 2010
Long-term residence
Act No. 572: new points system
-7 May 2010
Long-term residence security
Act No. 572: new points system.
+9 2007–2010
Labour market mobility
Numerous targeted measures introduced e.g. Act 1512 December 2009, Act 485 June 2009.

Key Findings

  • Some of best targeted labour market support, but not same general support that Danes use. 
  • Family reunion policies second least favourable for integration, especially eligibility and conditions. 
  • New Immigration Test may test ability to pay, but not willingness to integrate. 
  • Average political opportunities for Nordics, still Integration Council closed in Copenhagen. 
  • Danish schools target New Danes' needs, overlook new opportunities and intercultural education for all. 
  • New points-based system opens permanent residence but with even harder conditions to pass. 
  • Danish path to citizenship missing basics of immigration countries: dual nationality, birthright citizenship. 
  • Better mechanisms and equality bodies to help discrimination victims, state policies still weak. 

Score Changes

Areas of Integration

  • Show Labour Market Mobility

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    Denmark does more than most European countries to promote newcomers’ labour market mobility, combining equal access (as in most labour migration countries) and new targeted measures (as in older immigration countries). Permanent residents, family members and green card holders can immediately access all sectors – private, public, and self-employment – a flexibility enjoyed by all new arrivals to ES and PT as well as NL and US. Non-EU workers work under the same conditions as Danes but without equal access to social security (e.g. 10-year wait to start old-age pension, 40 for full and 7 years of ‘starthelp’ before full cash benefits). On social security, 14 countries treat all workers equally, including AT, DE, NL.

    Immigrants have slightly fewer opportunities than average for general support, unlike leading labour migration countries (e.g. CA), where access and qualification recognition is often equal to nationals. Unemployed migrants or those wishing to up-skill have only half access to mainstream support. Non-EU work-permit holders cannot access public employment services, vocational training and study grants like reunited families and Danish nationals can. Procedures to recognise non-EU qualifications remain complicated for newcomers (recently CA, PT).

    With limited general support, newcomers can use developing new targeted measures that, with DE, are the 2nd most elaborate in Europe, just behind SE’s new plans. Newcomers benefit from new policies based on pilot programmes, evidence and evaluation including 2010 Government plans to reduce non-EU nationals’ long-term unemployment, a campaign targeting migrant youth (‘We need all youngsters’ – finished 2010) and a new employment and entrepreneurship programme for migrant women (kvindeprogrammet). The Labour Market Authority intends to strengthen its previous labour market integration work based on evaluations using changes in statistics on migrant employment and unemployment rates. Under these projects, the state covers costs of mentoring new employees, immigration consultants and specialised research and information centres (SEBI). 12 Job packages from 2006 (evaluated 2008) target low-skilled persons and provide training. Initiatives under the ‘Act on Danish courses for Adult Aliens’ and ‘Act on Integration’ support learning Danish, such as free introductory classes for workers and, since 2009, Online Dansk.

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    Immigration test slightly unfavourable for integration

    The 2007 Aliens Act introduced a future immigration test for families, inspired by Dutch policies (scoring 14). Whatever data is used to evaluate whether the test acts as a facilitator of integration, its MIPEX score (36) suggests it will be more of an obstacle. Even if learning materials are free and online, disproportionate costs, including the fee and flight to Denmark, may exclude persons who would have been willing to participate in Danish society. France’s requirement (71) is just a free course abroad.

    Danish policies are the 2nd least favourable for family wellbeing, just after IE, which has no real policy. More favourable family reunion is the integration strength of most other countries, especially those attracting labour migrants. Denmark’s many eligibility requirements do not reflect the realities of most families. Spouse age limits only exist in 7 other MIPEX countries, with none so high as Denmark’s (24). Both adult children/parents are generally excluded (as in only 9 countries). Sponsors’ residence requirements are longer than in any MIPEX country and conditions exceptionally restrictive, as in only AT, FR, CH. Families will soon face an immigration test (see box). Without permanent residence, families risk deportation if they lose or leave their sponsor (as in only BG and IE). 

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    Diverse schools

    In 2002, central government subsidies for immigrant languages were limited to European and Nordic students. Most municipalities withdrew their own funding, reducing the participation rate of all bilingual students from 41% in 1997 to 7% in 2008. Language offers are better adapted to local diversity in 22 MIPEX countries. Intercultural education in Denmark means learning about ‘Western’ values or foreign cultures abroad. Despite ad hoc government projects, there is no structural support for pupils to understand peers of different cultural backgrounds (part of curriculum in 27).

    Education authorities focus more than most European countries on school-leaving and achievement gaps between migrant and nonmigrant pupils. Migrant children in Denmark have access to education and targeted evidence-based measures throughout pre-school, compulsory and vocational education (e.g.‘We need all youngsters’ campaign). Like most countries, Denmark invests in quality language courses, extra support and teacher training on migrants’ needs. New projects encourage migrants to become teachers, migrant parents to become involved and schools to fight ‘white flight’ (Aarhus, Copenhagen). But, compared to leading countries, Denmark fails to support the many opportunities that minorities bring to schools or teach all students how to live and learn together in a diverse society (see box). 

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    From the democratic to the technocratic

    The effectiveness of Denmark’s integration councils is regularly evaluated and actions are taken to improve (e.g. 2007’s five regional dialogue conferences). An evaluation found Copenhagen’s elected Integration Council had not fulfilled expectations between 2006-2007 to give advice by using hearings and experts. Voter turnout in 2006 was a mere 13.8%. Although the Council claimed to have improved since, the City Council voted to replace the capital’s democratic body with a think-tank of selected experts.

    Denmark’s traditionally strong political participation policies, based on the Nordic democratic model, are now just slightly favourable for integration. Immigrant civil society was severely affected by the 2002 withdrawal of subsidies, which still go to women and disability councils. Now government funds ad hoc ‘diversity’ projects. Since 2010, newcomers must wait 4 – not 3 – years for their electoral rights. The MIPEX score fell slightly when Copenhagen closed its Integration Council (see box). Generally, these Councils provide slightly meaningful opportunities to improve integration policy. They could become more professional with greater structured roles in the process and more engaged and representative with greater links to different immigrant communities, as in NO, BE (Flanders) and NL (national). 

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    Points system

    Migrants and refugees who cannot keep up with one of Europe’s least favourable integration schemes (after SK, RO) are denied permanent stay. The efforts they are making today only amount to 70 of 100 points. They must win extra points with better scores on employment, language or education, plus active citizenship or a citizenship exam. Even with free courses, few may succeed, because language levels are so explicitly high (as in only DE and EE) while integration assessments (required in only 6 others) are more complicated than in nearly all countries.

    Long-term residence remains a slight area of strength for Denmark as for most countries. Many others better encourage non-EU residents because a basic income and 5 years’ residence in the country are evidence enough of their attachments, many of which are hard to measure. Few impose as many conditions as DK. After 4 – not 7 – years, migrants can apply, but will be rejected without proving even greater progress on several precise points in a points system, scoring far off the MIPEX scale (see box). Only 6 other countries require such high employment requirements. Applicants are now slightly more insecure in their status. Britain’s proposed but yet implemented points-based system has been criticised as complicated, bureaucratic and counterproductive. 

  • Show Access to Nationality

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    What is the bar for success?

    While a citizenship test is less arbitrary than most interview assessments (e.g. Central Europe), the Danish People’s Party repeatedly wants to change the test and conditions. Increasing the definition of integration would further limit naturalisation. A political agreement (Circular 61, September 2008) requires applicants to achieve a high score on the difficult Danish language exam (level three). They must not have received any social benefits in 4½ out of 5 years and not in the last year before applying.

    Departing from other established immigration countries, Denmark’s policies may discourage settled residents from becoming full citizens. Internationally, dual nationality is becoming harder to avoid and easier to regulate. Unlike DK, 18 MIPEX countries (recently LU) somehow accept it for migrants, with debates ongoing in DE. Birthright citizenship, which DK removed in 1976, is also spreading to secure equal citizenship over generations (now 15, recently GR, LU, DE, PT). The 9-year residence requirement for the first generation is one of the longest of all MIPEX countries and the language level is the highest. Parliament still votes on the application (only in BE, CH cantons). Countries such as DE, US, CA, GR are simplifying and rationalising procedures and tests. 

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    Established in 2009, the Board of Equal Treatment can engage in judicial proceedings on behalf of complainants on many grounds of discrimination, while the Danish Institute for Human Rights works as the specialised equality body, as required under EC Directive 2000/43/EC. The institute gives independent advice to victims of discrimination in accordance with Section 10 of the Danish Act on Ethnic Equal Treatment. Since April 2008, the Danish Administration of Justice Act allows voluntary mediation of conflicts in civil judicial proceedings.

    DK’s midway anti-discrimination laws slightly improved, mirroring European trends. Victims now enjoy average access to redress such as binding mediation decisions and also benefit from reinforced equality bodies (see box). However, unlike 15 countries, nationality/ citizenship is still not prohibited as a ground for discrimination even if critical to ensure equal opportunities in countries of immigration. The main weakness is the State’s few equality policies. Previous action plans, diversity programmes and platforms are good practice but temporary and not translated into the public duties that are increasing across Western Europe and North America. For instance, governments in CA, NO, SE, and UK must promote equality in its functions, public contracts and through information campaigns and dialogue.