Immigration Service cracks down on international researchers

International researchers at Danish universities are increasingly being reported to the police for violating their work permits. Their crimes? Giving talks about their research or working as external examiners at other Danish universities

Professor Brooke Harrington of Copenhagen Business School (CBS) is an internationally-recognised expert on tax havens who has received more than three million kroner in research grants from the Danish state. She faces a 13,500-kroner fine for holding seminars about tax evasion for the tax authority SKAT and the Danish Parliament.

She was charged on October 13, which was 18 days before she completed eight years of uninterrupted stay in Denmark and qualified for permanent residence. If convicted, it would delay her right to permanent residency for for a further 15 years. It could also disqualify her from professorial positions elsewhere in the world and from obtaining travel visas, which are vital in her field of work.

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“I’m in a state of total physical and mental exhaustion from this process,” says Harrington.

“I’m getting no work done, unable to sleep or eat – just barely getting by. Six weeks ago I was on top of the world and barreling along with my research. Now that’s all over. A decade-long research program brought to a screeching halt because I was foolish enough to agree to the request of the Parliament and SKAT to share my work with them.”

Rule previously ignored
According to her work visa, Harrington needs to apply for permission every time she wants to carry out work outside CBS. But Harrington is far from alone in being unaware of the rule – both SKAT and the Danish Parliament weren’t aware that inviting Harrington broke the rules. And given that CBS is also being fined along with Harrington, the university’s administration weren’t aware that her external seminars were illegal.

“We think it’s a natural part of being a professor at CBS that you also work as an examiner at the University of Copenhagen, or a PhD supervisor at Roskilde University. And suddenly the rules are being enforced when they weren’t before,” CBS Rector Per Holten-Andersen told DR.

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The lack of awareness of the rule could the result of constantly changing immigration laws. According to Information newspaper, Parliament has passed 68 changes to Danish immigration law between 2002 and December 2016 – roughly once every three months. One international researcher at CBS who was charged with illegally taking a secondary job had his fine rescinded because the Immigration Service hadn’t explained the conditions that need to be fulfilled before taking on a second job.

“The many changes to immigration law makes it really hard for practitioners and residents, who are affected by the laws, to make sense of them,” Lucienne Jørgensen from the Danish Institute for Human Rights told Information.

Harrington’s extra curricular activities also didn’t raise eyebrows, given that Danish university law demands that universities share their knowledge with wider society.

Inconvenient and absurd
Since being charged, Harrington has followed the official procedure in seeking permission to hold paid and unpaid guest lectures. Filling out the 19-page form, together with the organisation that invited her, took 15 hours.

“Given that I get an average of three to five requests for public lectures each month, that means I’d lose a minimum of one full working week just to get permission to do those lectures. I would ask the Danish taxpayers, who pay my salary: ‘Which parts of my job should I give up for a week each month to fill out this paperwork, teaching or research? And do you think this is a good investment of your contributions to the state?'”

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According to Danish Universities, an organisation that represents the eight universities in Denmark, there are 14 cases like Harrington’s that are currently pending.

“It is inconvenient, bureaucratic and absurd, because communicating knowledge to the world is a fundamental part of being employed as a researcher at a Danish university,” writes Jesper Langergaard, Chairman of Danish Universities.

“We need to remember that one in four researchers employed at Danish universities is a foreigner. International researchers are responsible for a large portion of the world-class knowledge that is found at Danish universities. So shouldn’t we engage these bright minds without the rigid rules and cold bureaucracy, and instead make their work simple and easy, and welcome them warmly to Denmark?”

Integration Minister Inger Støjberg argues that the Immigration Service is only following the rules by reporting researchers such as Harrington to the police.

“You need permission to work in Denmark, and that must remain the case in the future,” she told DR. “Having said that, I also want to see if we can make the rules simpler.”

Harrington is now considering her options and deciding whether it is worth staying in Denmark.

“Having my professional life ruined by being caught up in an internal fight between different parts of the Danish government is really painful.” M


By Peter Stanners

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

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