Brooke Harrington is an internationally-recognised expert on tax havens, who is employed at Copenhagen Business School, and who has lived in Denmark for eight years. But she now faces a 13,500-kroner fine for holding seminars about tax evasion for the tax authority SKAT and the Danish Parliament.
Her work visa prevents her from working anywhere except CBS, and technically she needs to apply for permission every time she wants to ‘work’ anywhere else. This is weird, because under the Danish university law, universities are obliged to share their knowledge. Her employer, and the Danish parliament were all caught unaware by the situation. Danish immigration law is a castle built on shifting sands – 68 changes have been made since 2002.
She is one 14 foreign researchers to be reported to the police.Why on earth can’t these researchers share their knowledge – for free or for money? Who is hurt? In a country that supposedly values civil society, democratic participation, volunteering, how do her actions violate this?
Appeasing the populists
The problem isn’t that she has to secure a visa to work in Denmark. I think borders and immigration restrictions are pretty reasonable. Not knowing who is residing in your country can have a destabilising effect and complicate the planning and budgeting of public services, as well as create undue pressure on housing markets.
It is reasonable to place restrictions on immigrants, like creating strict conditions for earning full residency and citizenship rights, is also reasonable. These rules establish the needed security and stability that enable countries to open their borders to the workers that their labour market needs, but can’t provide for itself. The idea that unemployment benefits should be restricted until one obtains citizenship or permanent residency is reasonable.
Immigration is a trade-off between national self-interest and the individual search for employment and opportunity. Getting this balance right is tricky, and will always leave some dissatisfied. Too few immigrants, and the economy will stutter.
But many Danes worry that too many immigrants could threaten social cohesion and national identity. Give too many rights to too many immigrants, and they may exert an undue influence on Danish society and its direction – in other words, they worry that Denmark’s Danishness will be lost along the way.
But I would argue that Brooke Harrington’s case, demonstrates that the balance has swung too far toward appeasing the populist right and their sense of national identity.
While you can reasonably demand that she remain in work, and even earn a certain minimum salary, forcing her to apply for permission every time she wants to share her knowledge outside CBS, is a gross and pointless infringement that ultimately violates Danish ideas of participation and active citizenship.
Paying a high price
So how did we get here, to the point where immigration rules are passed that actually undermine Denmark’s own interests?
Immigration rules have become a means for politicians in Parliament to virtue signal to the population. The people who are affected by these rules have no political representation – so there is no downside to disenfranchising them – and the rules’ enactment sends a message to anxious Danes.
But if Harrington and other international workers had political representation, this situation might never have occurred. Who is fighting in her corner in Parliament? Some parties take up the issue, but there’s little incentive to represent a segment of the population that cannot vote for you.
The uproar in Parliament and in the media over the Brooke Harrington case suggests that it is obvious to most people that these rules are stupid. But it has taken high-profile cases to make an impact, and Harrington may pay a high price – if found guilty of a criminal act it could jeopardise her future here and her professional career. Does she deserve to suffer through this anxiety? Is this a way to treat people who are essential to supporting Denmark’s economic growth?
Immigration and visa rules are drawn up in the political battle over Danishness. But there is no one in Parliament whose mandate is to protect the rights of international workers – whose job it is to ensure that excessive administrative or psychological burdens are not placed on internationals that prevents them from living what is, by Denmark’s own standards, a reasonable life.
Perhaps its time for an observer MP to take a seat in parliament and represent the 508,000 people living in Denmark without a Danish passport (9% of the total population in Denmark)? I don’t think its such a crazy thought.
No taxation without representation
It’s in everyone’s benefits that internationals in Denmark are treated respectfully. International workers and the Danish economy need each other. And Denmark seriously risks pushing out hard-working individuals who only want to contribute. And then everyone loses.
Globalisation is here to stay. Many internationals may only be here temporarily, but as a group we are growing as demand for our skills and services grows. We are an essential component of Danish society. Without us, the Metro would not get built, universities would not be teaching students, classrooms wouldn’t be cleaned, and Danish multinational corporations would be unable to compete in a global economy.
If you have a job and pay taxes, you should be allowed to use your remaining time in the manner that you see fit. Do you want to start a business and make money? Go for it! How does Denmark lose from more economic activity and democratic participation? It doesn’t. M