Collateral damage of a flawed immigration system

A Danish woman and her South African husband are unlikely to be granted family reunification because she has spent too many years living abroad. Danish expat lobby group Danes Worldwide is worried that Denmark is set to force out its citizens unless it abandons hurtful immigration rules

When Marianne S. Ulriksen moved to Tanzania 16 years ago, she didn’t realise it was the start of a long adventure in Africa. She was in her 20s and had secured an internship with the Danish embassy as a part of her Master’s Degree in Political Science at Aarrhus University.

Then she met Derek Philips. She and the South African native started dating and stayed together while Ulriksen returned to Denmark to complete coursework in 2001. In 2002 she returned to Africa and they married in 2005. Since then they have lived in five different African countries.

In January, Ulriksen moved back to Denmark to be close to her mother who suffers from multiple sclerosis, and whose condition has been worsening.

She secured work as a Postdoc at Aarhus University – where she completed a PhD in 2010 – and then filed a family reunification application for Phillips so he could join her and start a new life in Denmark.

But this summer the family reunification rules changed and their future together in Denmark is now uncertain.

“Our life is out of our control. We are good at settling and adapting to new countries, but we can’t adapt and plan because we are in a waiting position.”

The problem stems from the years Ulriksen has lived outside of Denmark. In order to qualify for family reunification, a couple has to have a combined attachment that is greater to Denmark than to any other country. While Phillips has spent around a year in Denmark during holidays, taken together, it is likely that the Immigration Service will rule that their attachment to Denmark is not strong enough.

“Obviously the attachment requirement is not a new rule and it’s something we have discussed over time, but to be frank,  I find it hard to believe this is what the government wants to achieve,” says Ulriksen.

“I cannot see why Danish citizens shouldn’t be allowed to come back to their country just because they are married to a foreigner. So, no, I didn’t see this happening.”

READ MORE: Putting a face to the immigration debate

Until this summer, couples could bypass the attachment requirement if either one was born and had lived in Denmark for at least 26 years. This rule was abandoned this summer, however, after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that the rule discriminated on the basis of ethnicity, which is forbidden under article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

“[The 26-year rule] favours Danish nationals of Danish ethnic origin and places at a disadvantage […] persons who acquired Danish nationality later in life and who were of ethnic origins other than Danish,” the ECHR concluded in the case Biao v. Denmark.

It’s no secret that the attachment rule was introduced in 2000 to make it more difficult for naturalised Danes to settle in Denmark with a non-Danish partner.

“There are Danish nationals who are not particularly well integrated in Danish society, and for this reason the integration of a spouse who has recently arrived in Denmark may entail major problems,” the Supreme Court stated in 2010.

Soon after the attachment rule was introduced, it became apparent that Danish nationals who had settled abroad were also being affected. To remedy the situation, the government introduced the 28-year rule in 2003 to make it easier for Danes who were born in Denmark, or brought to Denmark at a young age, to settle in Denmark with a foreign partner. In 2012, it was changed to the 26-year rule.

READ MORE: Closing Denmark to Muslims and Refugees

Abolish the attachment rule
After the ECHR’s ruling in May, the immigration Service announced its new policy to disregard the 26-year-rule on June 28.

As a result, Danes now risk becoming collateral damage in an anti-immigration political campaign, argues Anne Marie Dalgaard, Secretary General of the Danish expat group Danes Worldwide.

“The attachment rule was introduced in part to prevent forced marriages, but it was easy to bypass the rule by resettling in Sweden,” Dalgaard said, referring to Sweden’s more lenient family reunification rules.

“At the end of the day, it was ordinary Danish families who were hit by the attachment rule. This will happen again without the 26-year rule, which we think will affect 60,000 of our members. They contribute to Danish growth through their international experience and know-how. We really want these people back in Denmark.”

Instead of introducing new regulations to give expat Danes a more easier access to family reunification than naturalised Danes, Dalgaard argues the attachment rule should be abandoned completely.

“Why should you have to have special attachment to your own country?” asks Dalgaard, adding that the Immigration Service can already reject family reunification if there is reason to believe it would result in a burden on the welfare state.

She is also opposed to introducing new regulations, such as a special points system, to preferentially select Danes with particular educational backgrounds or labour market experience.

“We are reluctant to support a point system. Denmark needs labour, so why only go after people with PhDs? In many cultures it’s also normal for the wife in a marriage not to work and to take care of children. It’s not the government’s role to judge as long as the family is not a burden on society,” she said.

“If you’re a Dane, you should be able to come back to Denmark and live with your family. Politicians are so concerned with keeping out certain types of foreigners that they are prepared to treat their own citizens as collateral damage. These are resourceful people and we need to do whatever we can to attract them back, rather than punish them and introduce obstacles.”

READ MORE: Unemployed immigrants challenge Danish tolerance

Finding a way in
Ulriksen and Phillips have spent around 10,000 kroner on their family reunification application, and plan on appealing if it is turned down. But given her husband’s line of work, there are alternative ways to get him into the country. Phillips works in the energy industry and worked 23 years for Siemens, which is a big employer in the region near Aarhus.

While they are confident he should be able to secure a work visa, Ulriksen also says it is a matter of principle.

“It shouldn’t be the route we have to take, it seems crazy that this would be the way we stay together. He is lucky to work in the electrical power and energy field, where the Danish labour market needs people. We are lucky for being resourceful and have the means to live in two different households at the moment. But it’s an issue of principle, that we should be allowed to settle in Denmark through family reunification.” M

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By Peter Stanners

Co-founder and Editor-in-chief. Occasional photographer.

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