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20 April 2021

Denmark tightens rules for citizenship once again


Danish requirements for naturalisation are already some of the toughest in the world, and the government has just pushed forward a political deal adding further restrictions. This comes only a few months after a report from the Danish Institute for Human Rights was launched, criticizing the fact that only 65% of young people who are born and raised in Denmark have obtained citizenship.

The institute was also concerned that the number of people being granted citizenship is now the lowest in 40 years, and that this is becoming a democratic problem with a rising part of the population not having the right to vote. On average, it takes 16 years to obtain Danish citizenship. At some point it also becomes a problem for the EU, as Danish citizenship is also EU citizenship.

The new deal was made by the government (Socialdemokratiet) forming a majority with three parties from the right-wing opposition (Venstre, Konservative and Liberal Alliance). None of the left-wing parties otherwise supporting the government signed the deal (Radikale, Enhedslisten and SF). It was not necessary to pass a new law, as each bundle of citizenship applications is treated as law proposals twice a year, according to the Danish constitution.

As an extra feature, the deal also has retrospective impact: experts will look into the possibilities of revoking citizenship for people who have already been granted it, if they have committed a crime. Here the government faces a technical problem, as Danish law erases sentences from the criminal register five years after a sentence has been served. This is meant to give people a new chance – a humane principle that the government is unwilling to apply to foreigners.

A condition for citizenship is to first acquire permanent residency, which has become much harder in recent years. Before applying, a person must have had eight years of legal stay and live up to almost the same requirements as the latest ones for citizenship. In 2019, only 239 people with refugee background were granted citizenship.

The new requirements are:

  • If a person has received a criminal sentence, either conditional or unconditional, s/he will forever be excluded from becoming a Danish citizen. This change will affect all decisions given after 29 April 2021, so includes applications already submitted under the current rules.

  • Fines above 3 000 DKR (400 EUR) issued for a crime in connection to social control, immigration rules or social fraud will lead to a penalty quarantine of applications of 6 years, as an addition to the already existing rules on quarantine periods.

  • Expansion of the possibilities of revoking citizenship due to crime, with special focus on gang related crime, as this is already an option for crimes related to terror or the security of the Danish state.

  • The existing citizenship test, consisting of 40 multiple choice questions, will be supplemented with five extra questions about "Danish values" such as equality, freedom of speech and the relation between legislation and religion. The questions will be new each time.

  • An extra waiting period of two years is added after obtaining a permanent residence permit (which normally requires a stay of eight years), however only one year for refugees and stateless persons.

  • Previously there was no specific work requirement, as long as the applicant had not been receiving social benefits for the last four years. The new rules require having held a full-time job or having been self-employed for three and a half of the last four years, and to still be employed.

  • Debt to the state has also previously been a hindrance, and the definition of this will now be expanded to also include study loans, fines, fees and court expenses above the amount of 3 000 DKR (400 EUR).

  • If the applicant does not fulfil the criteria of passing a language exam at DU3 level, there is currently an existing alternative, if they have passed the exam for DU2 and have in addition not received social benefits for more than six months over the last nine years. Only three months of allowances will be allowed in the future.

A number of requirements for citizenship remain unchanged (read more about the existing rules here):

  • You must have permanent residency;
  • You must have been residing lawfully in Denmark for the last nine years (eight for refugees and stateless persons);
  • You must sign a declaration of loyalty to Denmark;
  • You must not have received any social benefits for more than four months over the last five years;
  • You must document Danish language skills at the level of passing the DU3 exam;
  • You must participate in a ceremony at your local city hall with a physical handshake.

There are dispensation rules for people with a permanent disability, but the administration of these is very restrictive, handled by a committee from the political parties.

The new deal also outlines a number of issues and suggestions to be addressed at a later point:

  • Nordic citizens currently have easier access to Danish citizenship, also if they have obtained it via naturalisation. The deal proposes that the option of becoming a Danish citizen via declaration, for young people aged between 18 and 23, should be abolished.

  • The government will invite the parties behind the deal for further discussions before the summer of 2021, concerning how the current policy of revoking temporary permits can be designed to ensure that temporary stay does not evolve into "de facto permanent stay".

  • A plan will be made on the execution of individual interviews during the process of application, inspired by Austria and Switzerland, under the parliament committee for citizenship.

  • Future law proposals on citizenship should be divided into the following groups: Nordic countries, other Western countries, the MENAPT countries and other non-Western countries.

  • Revision of numbers: if a rise of at least 25% in the number of non-European applicants is registered during the first quarter of the year compared to the previous four years, new negotiations must take place with the government to prevent further rise, for instance through the imposition of a specific limit for applications accepted.

Personal comments from the author, EWSI Country Coordinator for Denmark, Michala Clante Bendixen:

As a legal counsellor for refugees over the last 14 years, I have seen how hard it already is for refugees to live up to the conditions for permanent residency and citizenship. This is especially true for young people who were born in Denmark or came as children, who feel extremely discriminated against and alienated by the very country that they feel is their home country.

These young people study, work and participate in society exactly like their "real" Danish friends, and they feel Danish too. But they have no rights to vote, they often have to apply for a visa when travelling, they are not allowed to study or stay abroad for a longer period, and they live in constant fear of losing the right to stay in Denmark.

One of the most problematic rules for young people is thatstudies and education do not count for anything at all within the application process. This is emphasized with the new rules, meaning that if an individual chooses to pursue an education rather than take up an unskilled job, this will postpone their access to permanent residency and citizenship for many years.

A study from the three Nordic countries on citizenship showed that young people from all three countries, including Denmark, found the Danish rules far too strict. This is a sign that the parliament is not in line with the views of its population.

These new rules are also problematic when it comes to equality, discrimination and human rights. Even legal principles are being bent, revoking rights and changing the rules for people who already submitted an application. The UN Refugee Convention says that host countries should make it easy for refugees to become citizens – we in Denmark are doing the opposite.

It has become more and more clear that a majority in the Danish parliament wants the country to be closed for people with a Muslim background. Inventing a special category for Muslim countries (MENAPT) and adding questions about "Danish values" and personal interviews are clear indicators of this.


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Posted by
Michala Clante Bendixen
Country Coordinator

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