Inviting foreign workforce without humane immigration laws will be another decade of miseries and frustrations

Internationals at a demonstration against the anti-immigrants rules out side Danish Parliament. Photo: Raisul Jhilan

Danish companies have been complaining of labour shortages over the years. The Confederation of Danish Industry (DI) in their 2018 survey outlined that 6 out of 10 Danish companies struggle to find employees. 60% of Danish companies in need of new employees have difficulty finding them says the report. The April 2021 report of Boston Consulting Group revealed that there will be nearly 100,000 employees shortage by 2030 for the green jobs in Denmark. Danfoss, a leading Danish manufacturer of green products is already struggling to provide manpower to produce the company’s green products.

“It has become clearly more difficult, and we are already fighting today to get the best candidates. We need to be very active and proactive to ensure the right competencies at all levels,” says Danfoss CEO Kim Fausing. Similarly, The Economic Council of the Labour Movement (Arbejderbevægelsens Erhvervsråd AE) has also emphasized in their last year publication that Denmark will be missing 99,000 skilled workers by 2030 and plans needs to be placed now to counter these shortages.

Dansk Energi, an interest organization for energy companies in Denmark which has more than 60 member companies from the energy sector, also anticipate that there will be massive labour shortages of skilled workers if we have to reduce CO2 by 70 per cent by 2030

Read more: Danmark risikerer at mangle 100.000 grønne job i 2030: “Det vil være decideret tragisk”

Welfare is another sector where there is an acute demand for labour. The Association of Public Employees (Forbundet af Offenligt Ansatte FOA) in their 2020 report warned that there will be a shortage of 40,000 Social and Health (SOSU) workers by 2029. On the other hand, the Danish Nurses’ Council (Dansk Sygeplejeråd) anticipated in 2018 that there will be a shortage of 6000 nurses by 2025.

Read more: Lack of SOSU employees is a bomb under the welfare state

Among other measures, various organizations have suggested, inviting foreign labour. Today, foreign labour comprises a little over 10% of the total labour force in Denmark. According to Dansk Erhverv, the international workforce has raised GDP by 200 billion DKK alone in 2020, corresponding to 8.5 per cent of GDP. Considering the shortage of labour and foreign labour contributions, Danish Employment Minister Peter Hummelgaard, like the business community, showed his concerns and announces that new political efforts will be made to overcome the shortage.

In her new year speech, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen also pointed to the labour shortages and apart from other measures, she shows her enthusiasm for foreign labour. In the debate on the government’s reform proposal, the business community has wanted it to be easier to get labour from outside. We are willing to discuss that says the Prime Minister in her new year speech. Similarly, other political parties like Venstre and Radikale Venstre has also been advocating for inviting foreign labour.

Read more: Foreign colleagues contribute DKK 13 billion to public finances

Denmark has introduced numerous schemes over the years for attracting foreign labour like the pay limit scheme, green card scheme (abandoned in 2016), positive list, establishment card for international students, etc. Despite all these schemes, Denmark still cannot attract enough international workforce today. It is because Denmark has fallen significantly as a career destination for foreign employees. According to the Boston Consulting Group BCG report, Denmark was in 13th place in 2014, while in 2020 it was 25th on the foreign labour attractiveness list. Today Denmark is less attractive than the neighboring Germany, Sweden, and Norway who compete for the same foreign labour for their green transition and economic boost add the BCG report.

The question is why Denmark is continuously falling significantly as a career destination for foreign labour. There are quite a few reasons.

Strick visa requirements

To begin with, Denmark has listed strict requirements for obtaining a work permit in the first place. Pay limit scheme, for example, demands several requirements from both employers and foreign employees. Foreign professionals must have a job offer with an annual income of 448,000 DKK (2022 level) which is close to impossible in many cases. Similarly, the employer must fulfil several requirements before they can invite any foreign labour on a pay limit scheme which makes it difficult for employers to hire internationals. Positive list jobs ask for another set of requirements which again makes hurdles in hunting and attracting foreign labour.

Immigration Laws – inhumane and retroactive

It is a lifetime decision to migrate to a new country especially when you have a family. One must plan for at least the next five years while moving to a new country as a foreign employee. This includes how one will be treated by the immigration laws now and in the future. Considering immigration laws, Denmark has been in news around the world not for good reasons. Whether that be the last government minister Inger Støjberg controversial celebrations over strict immigration laws or current Social Democrats tough immigrations laws of striping Syrian refugees residency permits and new discriminatory measures regarding Danish citizenship, Denmark has it all to fall on the list of one of the most unattractive countries in Europe for the foreign workforce.

You have to spare at least 10 years of your life to settle in Denmark and that also when everything goes as planned and under current rules says one green card holder who has been struggling for the past one decade to navigate with the strict and unreasonable immigration laws.

Another factor in Danish immigration laws is that they are mostly applied retroactively i.e., laws proposed and passed today are applied from a past date. Katja Taastrøm who was expected to become Danish citizen last year but because of new citizenship rules applied retroactively, she must wait for at least 6 more years. Under the new rules, one must work full time for three and half years in the last 4 years while education does not count as work. Speaking to DR Katja said I am currently studying and will graduate in mid 2022. After that, I should work for three and a half years. This means I will be able to apply again in 2026. Depending on how long the case processing time is, we will arrive by 2027 or 2028 before I can become a Danish citizen. And that also if I do not get sick, lose my job, or completely new demands arise, she says. I feel more unwanted in this country than I did the first two years I was here, she says.

Read more: ‘It’s pure mockery’: Katja’s education stretches legs for her dream of becoming Danish

Bilal Yousaf, a vet and biologist, is another victim of Danish immigration rules. He was told to leave Denmark at a time when he needed support the most. Bilal lost his arm while working on a machine to earn the required annual income for visa extension back in 2015. Later, he could not continue to work and show the required annual income for visa extension, therefore, was told to leave Denmark which was catastrophic for him. Katie Larsen, a bio-based designer and Architectural Technologist left Denmark due to strict immigration rules after living 5 years in Denmark. There are thousands of such stories of miseries and frustrations.

With the new discussions about inviting foreign labour, many believe it will be the start of a new era of miseries and frustrations especially considering the rise of the far right in Denmark.

Measures to attract foreign workforce and prevent miseries and violations

According to a 2017 Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science assessment, 80 per cent of foreign graduates from Danish universities leave Denmark within two years of their graduation and that number has increased now. A similar story prevails regarding foreign workforce career destination choices. To bring Denmark back on top of the foreign workforce career destination list and prevent further miseries and violations of immigrants’ rights, the following measures must be taken into considerations while inviting foreign workforce.

  1. The requirements for obtaining a work permit should be easier with less bureaucratic procedures.
  2. The annual income requirement for obtaining visa and later extension should be realistic. For example, for the pay limit scheme, the income requirement should be reduced to 348,000 DKK from the current unreasonably high 448,000 DKK.
  3. Special positive list for doctors, nurses and green jobs should be introduced with a quick response rate.

Even if all these ease measures are granted, foreign professionals might not, at first, dare to come to Denmark or leave after a few years if humane immigration rules are not introduced. These measure could be;

  1. Foreign professionals with a job offer should be given a permanent residency permit at their arrival in Denmark just like in Canada and other countries.
  2. In case, foreign professionals are given a time-definite visa then the rules for their visa extension, permanent residency permit and citizenship should be mentioned on their first visa offer letter and those mentioned rules should prevail until the applicant has not gotten Danish citizenship.
  3. Retroactive implementation of rules must not take place at all. Eva Ersbøll, senior researcher at the Department of Human Rights calls the retroactive application of rules as against the basic rules of law principles and the Ministry of Justice guidance on good legal quality.

If these measures are not considered while inviting foreign workforce, it will be the beginning of another era of miseries, tragedies, violations, and modern slavery.

Naqeeb Khan is a research graduate of the University of Glasgow, Scotland and resides in Denmark. He is president of Green Human Resources and an executive member with the Danish Green Card Association (DGCA). He can be contacted via email.