Navigation path

Governance of Migrant Integration in Denmark

The 1960s industrial labour shortages led to a boom in labour immigration to Denmark from countries such as Turkey and Pakistan. The family members of these workers, as well as refugees from Chile and Southeast Asia, followed in the 1970s. However, Denmark only became a country of immigration in the 1980s when a stable pattern could be observed.

Integration of these migrant populations then became a political hot topic and an important component of election debates in the beginning of the 21st century. However, the reference year for integration in Denmark is 1999 as that is when the topic became a self-standing policy area with its own law and ministry, independent from general social affairs.



Eurostat data reveals that as of 1 January 2021, 298 005 third-country nationals (TCNs) were living in Denmark. They represented 5% of the total population, with the largest group of TCNs coming from Turkey. The total population in the country stands at 5.82 million.

In 2020, Danish government statistics (see pdf available on the linked page) shows that most new residence permits were granted for work (11 572), studies (9,646) and family reunification (4 533). Refugee permits made up only 1% of newcomers (489). Another 32 025 permits were given to other EU citizens which make up 4% of the total population.

In addition, among Danish citizens (who make up 91% of the total population), 95% have Danish origin, 3% had migrated to Denmark from other countries, and 2% are descendants of foreign parents, according to the Danish National Centre for Integration. There are another 15 000 adult descendants without Danish citizenship.

Only a quarter of the foreigners living in Denmark have obtained citizenship, and the increasingly high requirements tend to make their share smaller. The number of new citizens dropping to its lowest in 40 years in 2019 when 1 781 persons became citizens; in 2020, however, 7 076 became citizens, according to Statistics Denmark.

Starting in 2021, the Danish Ministry of Immigration and Integration has introduced a new statistical category called MENAPT which looks specifically at Muslim countries in Africa and the Middle East.

Integration Strategy

To integrate or foster the social inclusion of these populations with migrant background, integration policies operate at both the national and local levels in Denmark. The first significant institutional development occurred when the Integration Act entered into force on 1 January 1999. The Act, which has been amended several times since then, implies that the responsibility of integration lies with the municipalities.

The Government further presented a regulatory Immigrant Package including actions for early labour insertion one year later. In 2002, Danish language tests, supplemented by integration and civic tests four years later, became prerequisites to acquire citizenship.

Overall, participation in the labour market is the main focus of the Danish Integration Policy. The Danish Government wants to limit the number of 'people living in parallel societies' who have no contact with the rest of the Danish society. The Government believes that the labour market is the surest path to integration. Employment therefore became a major condition to apply for permanent residence in 2010 and citizenship in 2016.

The 2015 Integration Policy is the strategic document framing Denmark’s current strategy for migrant integration. It continues to emphasise employment as the gateway to social integration. Increasingly differentiated language classes, civic education and skills assessment are its pillars.

The government laid out a new path with a law passed in the spring of 2019 called the 'paradigm shift', moving the focus from integration to return in respect to refugees. The overall goal is now to send refugees back to their home countries as soon as conditions allow for it. The word 'integration' has been replaced with 'self-support and return'. However, the paradigm shift does not replace the Integration Programme, which is still in force. UNHCR warned Denmark in 2021 that the new policy of temporary stays is harmful to the integration of refugees.

Integration Programme

One of the core elements of the Integration Act is the three-year Integration Programme for adult refugees and immigrants who hold a residence permit based on family reunification. Its main priorities are civic education, Danish language classes and the job 'activation' of unemployed immigrants for whom the programme is mandatory. Non-participation can result in the withdrawal of introduction benefits. The programme consists of job-centred activities such as counselling, skills-upgrading courses, internships and sometimes subsidised employment.

Although reformed on several occasions, it remains the only integration programme ever established. Over the years, its length and tools have evolved. Individual integration contracts were, for example, introduced in 2006. In 2016, the programme was extended from three years to a flexible period of one to five years. The focus on labour market insertion was further strengthened with measures aimed at businesses. And language schools must now offer classes outside business hours to allow migrants to combine work and courses, as provided by the 2016 agreement on labour market integration.

In March 2016, the Government concluded talks with social partners (employer organisations, unions and local authorities) which resulted in a tripartite agreement aimed at improving the outcomes of employment and integration programmes. With 'work from day one' as the guiding principle, the agreement calls for a better screening of refugees’ competencies, combining employment and language classes and tying refugees’ territorial allocation to job opportunities. A new job and training programme (Integrationsgrunduddannelse, or IGU), by which newcomers are gradually, over the course of two years, brought into regular employment, was introduced on 1 July 2016. This model includes so-called apprentice pay and combines work with intensive training.


Integration results are monitored closely, both by the government and independent researchers. Key figures and statistics can be found on the government's Integration Barometer. In general, the integration of refugees has been improving, especially for the group of refugees arriving since 2014. An increasing number have become economically independent and have learned the Danish language. The second generation (children of immigrants or refugees) have a high rate of education; young women with backgrounds from five nationalities have even reached a higher level of education and self-support than young Danish women.

The Tripartite Agreement between the former Danish Government and private partners was concluded in March 2016 in order to help prepare more refugees to enter the labour market faster. As part of it, a new training model (IGU) was also launched in 2016, providng to be a success (Evaluation Report 2018). However, refugees and immigrants still have a lower and less stable connection to the labour market than Danes. Key statistics:

  • 42% of the refugees who arrived in 2015 are now employed after five years in Denmark 
  • 68% of all adults taking part in the Integration Programme have passed a Danish language exam after less than five years in the country
  • 64% of all 20-24 year olds with a non-Western background have passed a Danish youth education in 2019 (compared to 74% of Danes)


þ Foreigners Law

The Danish Aliens Act was first adopted in 1983 and has been amended numerous times. Some of the biggest changes were made in 2011 and 2015 to 2016. In general, it has become increasingly difficult to obtain family reunification, permanent residence permits and citizenship, and access to various economic benefits has been reduced. Denmark has seen a conscious effort to design its legislation to reduce the influx of third-country nationals. In 2019, the so-called 'paradigm shift' was introduced (see the 'Integration strategy' section for details), allowing refugees only short, temporary stays and focusing on returning them as soon as possible. See more here and here

ý Asylum Law

Denmark does not have a self-standing asylum Law. The Danish Aliens Act covers the legislative area of asylum in Denmark. 

þ Integration Law

The Integration Act entered into force on 1 January 1999 and has been amended several times since. The Integration Act sets out the legal framework for integration in Denmark and regulates how newcomer immigrants are integrated in Denmark, which rights they are entitled to and which duties they must observe. However, the term 'integration' has been replaced and removed in most of the law as a result of the 'paradigm shift' with respect to refugees.

þ Nationality Law

The Danish Naturalisation Act, first adopted in 1950, was last amended in 2016. Act 1496 of 23 December 2014 allowed for full access to multiple nationalities, but additional restrictions were introduced in a November 20118 Circular.

þ Anti-discrimination

The Criminal Code provides protection against discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity or race. Three other laws also address discrimination:

  1. The Act on the Prohibition of Discrimination on the Labour Market prohibits direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, colour, religion or belief, political opinion, sexual orientation, age, disability or national, social or ethnic origin within the labour market. Both public and private entities are covered by this Act.
  2. The Act on Ethnic Equal Treatment implements parts of Council Directive 2000/43/EC of 29 June 2000. The Act prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnic origin and is applicable in the context of social protection, including social security and healthcare, social benefits, education and access to and supply of goods and services (including housing) that are accessible to the public.
  3. The Act on Prohibition of Differential Treatment on the Grounds of Race contains provisions prohibiting differential treatment on the ground of race, colour, national or ethnic origin, religion or sexual orientation in the performance of commercial or public activities.

Public authorities

The Ministry of Immigration and Integration, established in 2002 and dissolved between 2011 and 2015, is the authority leading the governance of migrant integration in Denmark. It is responsible for coordinating the integration policy in Denmark, including issues concerning housing for refugees, the integration programme, employment and social benefits for newcomers, Danish language tuition and prevention of radicalisation and honour-related conflicts. Its Immigration Services and Agency for International Recruitment and Integration is the central point where newcomers apply for residence permits. Its Division of Integration Policy holds a permanent seat in the European Integration Network (EIN).  

Municipalities also play a crucial role in the implementation of the integration policy and the programme. They find housing, pay social benefits, offer schooling and child care, and provide medical exams when needed. They also have overall responsibility for language education, though the task is in practice outsourced to language centres managed by various actors. As provided by the Integration Act, municipalities can decide the level and content of their integration effort, as long as they fulfil the overall legal requirements. In addition, the 2016 Tripartite Agreement provided them with a more flexible and cost-effective legal framework to handle their integration effort - see more in the 'Evaluation' section. 

Civil society

In addition to organisations providing integration services, civil society organisations are also represented at the national Council for Ethnic Minorities (REM) established in 1983. The Council advises and offers guidance to the Minister of Integration on issues related to immigrants and refugees. It furthermore comments on new political initiatives and action plans relating to ethnic minorities, as well as participating in relevant working commissions and task groups. 

The Council has had 14 members of different national backgrounds, appointed by the 50+ local integration councils. Since 2014, five members have been appointed by the board of representatives from all 98 municipalities. Five other members (including the Chair) are appointed by the Minister of Integration, and four seats are reserved for the four largest municipalities. Members do not represent NGOs per se, though some work for NGOs.


Denmark is the only EU Member State that does not benefit from the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), due to the opt-out on EU Justice and Home Affairs. Non-profit organisations and local authorities receive financing through the national budget and national ministries’ funds, as well as through other EU funds such as the European Social Fund.

The Danish state spent between 6.1 and 6.7 billion DKR (approximately € 816 to € 897 million) on integration in each of the years 2016, 2017 and 2018. However, the Ministry of Finance often refers to asylum and integration as a single category totalling 8.7 to 11.4 billion DKR per year (approximately € 1.16 to € 1.53 billion). Most of the integration budget is spent on tasks performed by municipalities, private companies and some larger NGOs through contracts awarded following a public call for tenders.

In addition, private foundations offer funding opportunities for service providers and other stakeholders to carry out projects aiming for a better integration of the migrant population, often with an emphasis on vulnerable children and youth.

þ  EU Funds

  • European Social Fund (ESF) in Denmark

The national managing authority for the European Social Fund (ESF) in Denmark is the Danish Business Authority (Erhvervsstyrelsen). The ESF for Denmark allocates a total of nearly €400 million from 2014-2020, more than half of which comes from EU funds.

  • Other EU funds for integration available in Denmark

ERASMUS+, the EU’s programme to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe

National managing authority: Ministry of Higher Education and Science

European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to strengthen economic and social cohesion in the EU by correcting regional imbalances

National managing authority: Danish Business Authority - Regional Development Unit, Danish Ministry of Business and Growth (Erhvervsstyrelsen)

Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD), offering material assistance to the most vulnerable or in need

National managing authority: National Social Board (Socialstyrelsen)

European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), supporting the development of rural economies and communities

National managing authority: Danish Agricultural Agency

European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), which supports coastal communities in diversifying their economies and finances projects that create jobs and improve quality of life along European coasts

National managing authority: Danish Fisheries Agency

þ  Other Funds

  • Other public funding in Denmark

Funding for integration is available from the Ministry of Immigration and Integration.

  • Private funding in Denmark

Sources of private funding include:

Egmont Fonden

Lauritzen Fonden

A. P. Møller Fonden


Tryg Fonden

Bikuben Fonden

Rockwool Foundation

Skandia – idéer for Livet



OAK Foundation

Novo Nordisk Foundation