Policy Description

Migration Policies: Denmark (2016)








Until recently, immigration flows into Denmark have been moderate, with most immigrants coming from other Nordic or Western countries. Since 1952, inhabitants of the other Nordic countries have had the right to live and work in Denmark (Jørgensen 2014; see also Pedersen et al. (2008)). From 1973, this right, as well as one to social rights, was granted to citizens of the other Member States of the European Community. For five years around 1970, a guest worker programme increased the number of immigrants, in particular from Turkey and Pakistan. These immigrants and their descendants have, along with an increase in the number of refugees, contributed to an increase in the size of the immigrant population. As of January 2016, immigrants and their descendants constituted 12.3 % of the population (703,873 in total). 64 % are from non-Western countries (Statistics Denmark). Recently, workers from the new EU Member States have added to the immigration (Jørgensen 2014; Statistics Denmark). 

In 2014, 72,000 foreign resident were registered, most from Romania, Poland, and Syria. The number of asylum seekers rose from 7,557 in 2013 to 21,225 in 2015, the majority of whom were from Syria and Eritrea. A total of 10,865 individuals were granted asylum in 2015, an increase from 3,889 in 2013 (Danish Immigration Service 2015; 2016). 

The political and public climate regarding immigrants was positive until the mid-1990s. At that time, more immigrants originated from developing countries, causing a shift in the debate. The Danish People's Party was established in 1995, and a significant focus on immigrants and immigrant issues has played significant roles in subsequent electoral campaigns (Hedetoft 2006). Recent debates have been characterised by a focus on the financial burden placed on the welfare system by migrants, with negative stereotypes of immigrants as ‘welfare scroungers’ or ‘refugees of convenience’ (Hedetoft 2006). The negative tone is primarily aimed at immigrants from the non-Western world, and Muslims in particular. The focus regarding integration has therefore been on labour market participation. 

The Aliens Act was changed in 1986, making it more difficult to obtain asylum or citizenship, while rules of family reunification were tightened in 1992. A person was obliged to financially provide for a resident spouse and an automatic right to reunification was abolished, with repatriation an explicit part of temporary residence programmes from the early 1990s (Hedetoft 2006). 

In 1998, Denmark was one of the first European countries to develop and implement an Act of Integration (Jørgensen 2014) and placed responsibility for integration at the municipal level, in order to improve the integration process and meet the challenges to the welfare state. A monthly integration allowance was introduced which was considerably lower than corresponding welfare benefits. This caused international debate and after a few months this section of the act was withdrawn (Hedetoft 2006). A reduced payment was however reintroduced in 2002. The ‘start allowance’ was receivable for up to seven years and Danish citizens also risked being subject to its provisions, thereby accommodating the critique regarding discrimination raised against the integration allowance.

In 2001, a direct aim of the policy was to discourage refugees from applying for asylum (Hedetoft 2006), and numbers of asylum seekers have up until the current (2016) crisis declined dramatically. In 2002, additional requirements for accessing permanent residence and citizenship were introduced. Steps were taken to ensure the loyalty of newcomers to ‘Danish values’ (Hedetoft 2006) through the implementation of a Declaration of Integration, a requirement of active citizenship in Danish society, and an active citizen exam (nyidanmark). In 2003, the ‘24-year rule’ for family reunification was introduced, stating that no Danish citizen can marry a non-EU or Nordic foreign national and settle in Denmark with this spouse unless both parties are 24 years of age or older. This rule is also an example of policies implemented which also serve the purpose of making it unattractive or impossible for ‘welfare scroungers’ to enter the country (Hedetoft 2006).

Naturalisation policies

Citizenship in Denmark is based on the principle of ethnic descent (jus sanguinis). Since 1 September 2015, it is legal to maintain multiple nationalities. Previously, Danish nationals who acquired a foreign nationality lost their Danish citizenship, just as foreign citizens applying for Danish nationality were required to renounce their previous nationality. 

The path to citizenship through naturalisation is a lengthy and politically-supervised process that passes through the Danish Parliament (Hedetoft 2006). The requirements for naturalisation have increased during recent years. A minimum of nine years of continuous residence on Danish soil, full-time work, proper housing conditions, a clean criminal record, fluency in Danish, and economic self-sufficiency are necessary to obtain Danish citizenship. In addition, it is required that applicants sign a declaration of allegiance and loyalty, and pass the citizenship test about Danish history and culture (Hedetoft 2006; Refugees.dk).

Between 1996 and 2005, 115,000 foreigners were granted naturalisation— the most applications were granted in 2000 (19,000) and the fewest (6,500) in 2003. Stricter rules regarding citizenship were implemented at this time. In the subsequent ten years, the numbers have been much lower, with 44,200 citizenships granted. Only 4,000 foreigners were naturalised in 2015 (Statistics Denmark).



Lene Tølbøll
Aalborg University

Data collected in the framework of the Population Europe Research Finder and Archive (PERFAR) in 2016.

Please cite as:
SPLASH-db.eu (2016): Policy: "Migration Policies: Denmark" (Information provided by Lene Tølbøll). Available at: https://splash-db.eu [Date of access].