Portail européen sur l'intégration - Commission Européenne

Navigation path

Migrant Integration Governance in Denmark

The 1960s’ industrial labour shortages led to a boom in labour immigration from countries such as Turkey and Pakistan in Denmark. Family members of these workers as well as refugees from Chile and South-East Asia followed in the 1970s. However, the country only became a country of immigration in the 1980s when a stable pattern of immigration can be observed. Integration of these populations then became a political hot topic and an important component of election debates in the beginning of the 21st century. However, 1999 is the main reference year for integration in Denmark, as the field then became a self-standing policy area with its own law and ministry, independent from general social affairs.



Foreign population in Denmark - dataOn 1 January 2018, 251 437 with Non-Western citizenship were living in Denmark.  They represented 4 % of the total population, according to the Immigration Database of the Ministry of Immigration and Integration

Most came from Syria and Turkey. In 2016 most residence permits were granted for studies (14 291), work (12 903) and family reunification (8 149).




In addition to the foreign population, there were 227 395 Danes of Non-Western origin on 1 January 2018, per Statistics Denmark. 31 683 of them were naturalised in the period 2012-2017 and 13 358 acquired Danish Citizenship in 2016 alone, as a result of the new rules permitting dual citizenship.

Integration Strategy

To integrate or foster the social inclusion of these populations with migrant background, integration policies are set up both at the national and the local level 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 1 year later. In 2002, Danish language tests, complemented by integration and civic tests 4 years later, became a prerequisite 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” with no contact with the rest of the Danish society and believes that 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 gateway to social integration. Increasingly differentiated language classes, civic education and skills assessment were its pillars.

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 were 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 guidance counselling, skills upgrading courses, internships, subsidised employment, in addition to:

 þ language course

 þ civic education

 þ vocational training

Although reformed on several occasions, it remains the only 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 3 years to a flexible period of 1 to 5 years. The focus on labour market insertion was further strengthened with measures aimed at businesses. And language schools must now offer classes outside the 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 the social partners (employer organisations, unions and local authorities) which resulted in a tri-partite agreement aimed at improving the outcomes of employment and integration programmes. With “work from day one” as 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), by which newcomers are gradually - over the course of two years - brought into regular employment, was introduced on 1 July 2016. This model includes a so-called apprentice pay and combines working with intensive training.


In 2015, the Experts Group for the Review of Active Employment Initiatives published a report which revealed that 5 out of 10 non-western immigrants (aged 16-66) were employed in 2013. In comparison, 7 out of 10 persons of Danish descent were employed the same year. Experts recommended a more flexible and business oriented Integration Programme. This approach is applied in the above 2016 reform of the Programme.

The 6 first months of the reformed programme already underwent a preliminary evaluation. Results show that the improved focus on employment has significantly increased the number of immigrants declared ready to work by the municipalities, as well as an increase in the employment of immigrants. The most recent numbers further show a continuous positive development in the employment of immigrants:

  • the employment of immigrants who lived in Denmark for 3 years has increased from 21 % in May 2015 to 36 % in August 2017. Municipalities however report difficulties in getting refugee women to work.
  • 25% (3 800 persons) of recipients of integration benefits eligible for the Integration Programme was in internships and 8% (1 200 persons) in subsidised employment in December 2017. Municipalities however point out that candidates have lower language skills than desired by business partners, hence difficulties matching refugees with the right job offers.
  • There has also been an increase of the employment rate among refugees and family reunified persons to refugees within a period of 3 years – from 21 % in the 2nd quarter of 2015 to 36 % in the 3rd quarter of 2017. Men remain employed more than women.


þ Foreigners Law

The Danish Aliens Act was first adopted in 1983 and has been amended numerous times. The Consolidated Act of 2 October 2017 includes the latest amendments limiting the access of specific foreign religious ministers to the country and introducing disciplinary actions against unruly unaccompanied minor asylum seekers. Prior to this, the Government’s regulatory Immigrant Package of 2000 introduced stricter rules for residence permits. In 2006, application for permanent residence was limited to those who have lived legally in Denmark for a minimum of 7 years.

ý Asylum Law

Denmark does not have a self-standing asylum Law. The Danish Aliens Act covers the legislative area of asylum in Denmark. Furthermore, several executive orders contain rights and duties of asylum seekers in Denmark, e.g. the executive order  438 of 1 May 2013 regarding education and activation of asylum seekers.

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. The Consolidated Act 1127 of October 2017 includes amendments made to strengthen the employment and business approach of the Integration Programme.

þ Nationality Law

The Danish Naturalisation Act, first adopted in 1950, was last amended in 2016. The Act 1496 of 23 December 2014 allowed for full access to multiple nationalities.

þ Anti-discrimination

In addition to the Criminal Code, which provides protection against discrimination on the ground of ethnicity or race, 3 other acts also do:

  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 the 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 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, which 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 activity.

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 newcomer apply for residence permits. Its Division of Integration Policy holds a permanent seat in the European Integration Network.  

Municipalities also play a crucial role in the implementation of the integration policy and the programme. They find housing, pay out social benefits, offer schooling and child care, and provide medical exams when needed. They also have the 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. The 2016 tripartite agreement provides them with an even more flexible and more cost-effective legal framework to handle their integration effort.    

Civil society

In addition to organisations providing integration services, civil society organisations are also represented at the national Council for Ethnic Minorities (REM) established 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 participates in relevant working commissions and task groups. 

Since 1999, the Council counts 14 members of different national backgrounds, appointed by the 50+ local integration councils. Since 2014, 5 members are appointed by the board of representatives from all 98 municipalities. 5 other members (including the Chair) are appointed by the Minister of Integration and 4 seats are reserved for the 4 largest municipalities. Members do not represent NGOs per se; though some work for NGOs.


Denmark is the only EU 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 ministries’ funds.

Per the Ministry of Finance, Denmark spent 3,4 billion DKK (approximately 453 000 000 EUR) on asylum and integration in 2013, 4,7 billion DKK (627 000 000 EUR) in 2014 and 9,2 billion DKK (1 227 000 000 EUR) in 2015.

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    

Private funding