Why Danish Parliament should consider Education as Full Time Job as part of the new bill?

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Chrissy Patton is a graduate of Aalborg University, Denmark.

According to the Ministry of Higher Education and Science Denmark, 80% of the foreign graduates from Danish universities leave Denmark after two years of their graduation. It is probably because of the uncertainty around settling down in Denmark. One of the recent studies of Aarhus University Professor found that immigration rules in Denmark are changed after every 3 months . Frequent changes and constantly tightening the requirements for permanent residency create a basic sense of uncertainty and lack of predictability. It not only makes it difficult to live a normal life but people who think they are on the right track towards getting permanent residency find that they face yet another new set of requirements.

Read more: Denmark concerned about the high proportion of foreign students who leave after graduation

In the pre-2016 scenario, education was counted as full time work. International students, reunified spouses of Danes and their children were eligible to apply for Permanent Residency by showing that either they have been working or studying in Denmark. But the laws were changed in 2016. Education was thereafter, no more counted as full time work. Thus International students, reunified spouses and their children would either leave the country or stop studying and have to take unskilled jobs to fulfil employment requirement before they can apply for permanent residency.

Here is how immigration laws have been effecting these groups and adversely effecting Denmark and the integration of these new Danes.

International Students

The elimination of education has directly affected international students. An international student roughly pays a fee of 80,000 per year to a Danish University. Apart from that, a student works up to 80 hours a month and pay taxes. Chrissy Patton, an American student in Denmark who graduated from Aalborg University in January 2020, is now on an establishment card. Although I’ve graduated with my Master’s degree from a Danish university, have lived here for the last five years, passed the Danish language exam PD3 and have a full time job, I still won’t qualify for permanent residency anytime soon as I have to work full time for a minimum of 3.5 years before I can be eligible to even apply, says Chrissy Patton.

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Chrissy Patton during her graduation at Aalborg University, Denmark.

I will likely have to rely on the pay limit scheme in order to meet the 3.5 year requirement, but that means I should have a permanent job contract with a salary of more than 436.000 DKK a year (and this amount increases every year) which is extremely difficult for a new graduate, adds Chrissy Patton. International students in such cases decide to leave Denmark despite they are well integrated, highly qualified, have full time job just because they could not extend their stay by not showing few more thousands krones of income a year. If education is counted as full time work they could not only stay in Denmark but also get permanent residency and focus on their career which ultimately contribute to the Danish society and economy.

Reunified Spouses

Thousands of Danes are married to individuals from out side of EU. They join their spouses after fulfilling number of requirements of the strict and controversial family reunification laws. Thereafter, these spouses have to fulfil individually all the requirements to get permanent residency. They have to either work full time for 3,5 continuous years after graduation which means a wait of 8 years after coming to the country (that also if they get full time job and work without any break during these years) or leave studying and start unskilled odd job. When they leave education it not only stop their personal growth but also Denmark ends up with unskilled labour force. Another International student of Architectural Technology, graduate of KEA Denmark, Katie Larsen came to Denmark in 2015 from the States. She is now married to a Dane. She has represented Denmark at Dutch Design Week 2019, with a project rooted in Danish history and culture, at a conference for the world’s best design graduates. She could not apply for permanent residency as education is not counted as full time work so she applied for family reunification.

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Katie Larsen while presenting her seaweed project at KEA Denmark

Katie lost her job after the corona crisis and thereafter, have to leave Denmark with her Dane husband to study in The Netherlands and come back after few years under EU laws. I was two months away from completing my mandatory integration contract with Slagelse Kommune, a contract that required me to work for at least a year to prove my “self-sufficiency”. But then I lost my job due to corona crisis and my any hope of applying for permanent residence in the next 4 years has also been ruined says Katie. In case education was counted as full time work just like before 2016, I would have gotten permanent residency by now. I decided to leave Denmark to take a masters degree in the Netherlands and come back under EU laws. This would take almost the exact same amount of years as if you stay in Denmark to get a masters degree. The big difference is if you stay in Denmark, and lose your job for more than 6 months, you start over again and have to wait another 4 years. So it punishes you to stay in Denmark even if you are contributing says Katie.

Reunified Young Children

The children of reunified international workers is another group of people who suffer because of the strict permanent residency laws. When a child of foreign worker join their family at the age of lets say 14 and their parents could not get permanent residency while they are under 18, then these youngsters have to fulfil all the permanent residency requirements by their own. They either have to leave their education to get permanent residency in next 4 years or wait for another 8 to 10 years before they can get permanent residency. Their life is totally uncertain before they have gotten permanent residency.

Maya Young, who came to Denmark when she was 14 under her father work visa. She is now 17 and studying at a folkeskole in Hundested. Her father will still not be eligible to apply for permanent residency permit by next year and she will turn 18. This means that after she turns 18, she will have to fulfil all the permanent residency requirements by her own.

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Maya Young (middle) with her parents in Denmark

Maya says, If education counts as full time work so I can apply for my permanent residency permit next year as I have been studying ever since I came to Denmark almost 3 years ago. This will bring calm in my life and I will be able to focus on my studies and career. Now she has to either leave education which she does not want or wait for another 8 to 10 years before she can complete her education and work full time for 3,5 continuous years to be eligible to apply for permanent residency. During these years her future in Denmark will totally be uncertain which will effect her studies and career.

The current bill at the Danish parliament argue to include education as full time work. The bill is presented by Radikale Venstre party MPs and have support from Enhedslisten, Socialist Folkeparty SP, Alternativet and Frie Grønne.

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The new bill (By Radikale Venstre) proposes that education should again be counted as full time employment.

Danish politicians must consider these young highly qualified individuals lives before voting on this bill. Education if counted as full time work will only benefit Danish society and economy.

Naqeeb Khan (left) and D. Valentino (right) with Danish MP Andreas Steenberg (Radikale Venstre) at the Danish Parliament after a meeting regarding education to be counted again as full time work.

Written by: Naqeeb Khan

EU students continue to receive bills to pay back SU after they lost their jobs amid Corona crisis

Boglarka Makari, an EU student told to return SU DKK 16,424 after she could not continue work amid Corona crisis. Photo: Boglarka.

Denmark State Education Support called Statens Uddannelsesstøtte (SU) is a education grant for home and EU students studying in Danish educational institutions. EU students can be eligible for SU if they show equal status to Danish citizens under the EU laws. They can show equal status by working 10 hours per week while they are studying in Denmark. One of the conditions is that they have to work 10 hours per week for a continuous period of 10 weeks. In case they could not show continuous 10 weeks work, they will be told to return back all the SU money.

Read more: SU as a worker or a self-employed person under EU law

Boglarka Makari, an EU student has been receiving SU after she started working in January, 2020. Boglarka came to Denmark in August 2019 when she got acceptance in Service, Hospitality and Tourism Management program at UCN Aalborg. She brought all her savings so that she could focus on her studies while looking for a part time job. It was difficult to find a job and I consumed all my savings and I have to call my family back in Hungary for help during the last months of 2019 say Boglarka.

After five months of trying, Boglarka found a job in a restaurant in Aalborg in January. I was so relieved that I finally got a job and I didn’t have to worry whether I would have money for the next month rent or not said Boglarka. She was then eligible for SU under the EU law as she started a job. She was fulfilling the number of hours requirement and got SU for the first time for February 2020 at the end of January and similarly she got SU for March.

At the beginning of February, Corona virus crisis started hitting economies around the world and at the end of February Denmark also saw economic downfall. Hotels and Restaurants were first to suffer the most and many restaurants started firing employees. I was called less for work even in February but I managed to work for the required number of hours for February says Boglarka. After the Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced the lockdown, I received a message from my employer that I am not required any more. As a part time foreign worker and my employer circumstances, I could not avail the Govt Corona Help Package nor I am allowed to take any other sort of benefits says Boglarka.

Read more: Sad and Unrealistic: EU students could not work amid Corona lockdown and are now told to Pay back SU money

Boglarka received a letter from Styrelsen for Institutioner og Uddannelsesstøtte along a bill of DKK 16,424 at the end of March. Boglarka was told to return all the SU amount she received for February, March and April. The reason mentioned in the letter is that she could not fulfil the 10 hours per week rule for a continuous period of 10 weeks. My life went up side down when I received the letter that I need to return all the SU amount i.e. DKK 16.424. Though the updates on SU official website did state that there will be special consideration regarding the SU amid COVID-19 but Borlarka says she has been treated otherwise. Borlarka have filed an appeal but she says that many others students appeal has been rejected so she is afraid that she will also be not entertained.

A bill of DKK 16,424 that Boglarka, an EU student is told to pay back after she could not continue her work amid Corona crisis.

Empathy and Understanding required

After the lockdown, Denmark went to a standstill position where business were shutdown and people were told to stay home. In these circumstances, it is obvious that no body would work and neither can anyone show any number of hours of work. These EU students have to stay home without work. It will be irrational and unfair to demand number of hours of work or income from these studnets.

If Danish government understand the situation and show some empathy, solution might be quite simple. As government has announced to pause 225 hours of work per year rule for Danish national getting cash help from March to June, and suspended the handshake requirement for new citizens during the corona crisis, similarly 10 hours work rule for EU students can also be suspended during this crisis.

In these times of uncertainty, all I’m asking for is understanding and empathy towards these students. We should be socially distant, but still together in heart” says Boglarka. She believes it will only be fair if Govt freeze the 10 hours per week work rule for the period from March to June. This will give EU students the chance to start their work again and focus on studies without worrying of paying back the SU amount.