The largest group of foreign citizens employed in Denmark worked in the cleaning industry.
The largest group of foreign citizens employed in Denmark worked in the cleaning industry. Image credit: John Prieto/The Denver Post.
According to the labour market data collector, a total of 336,840 international people worked in Denmark during 2016. These figures are 45% higher than the 232,749 who worked in Denmark in 2008, representing 12% of the country’s total workforce.
The largest group of foreign citizens employed in Denmark worked in the cleaning industry, nearly 63,000 in 2016. Second on the list was the industrial sector with over 44,000, followed by hotels and restaurants (40,945), trade (38,652), health and social sector (31,821), construction (31,602), transport (24,514) and education (21,344).

Denmark hired most of their international workers from Poland (47,728), Germany (26,949), Romania (26,585), Sweden (20,436) and Lithuania (16,456).

Specialists note that this trend will continue, as whether a company’s primary focus is the Danish market or far beyond the country’s borders, a global and open world helps to create opportunities for Danish businesses. It means different possibilities, such as buying goods and services abroad to sell to Danish consumers and companies or to leverage on opportunities and major profits in different countries and regions.

In a recent survey of the Confederation of Danish Industry’s member companies, 84% of the companies considered a good thing that Denmark is involved in the global economy. Whilst this positive view of globalization’s impact is expressed by most Danish companies, it is constantly challenged by some politicians, both in Denmark and other parts of the world, as clearly demonstrated by the US election and the British withdrawal from the EU.

However, some leaders have been engaged in speaking up about the risks of protectionism, as did the Chinese President Xi Jinping in Davos during the recent World Economic Forum, when he emphasized that “globalization has received unwarranted blame for many of the world’s problems and that trade wars will never have a winner – only losers”.

Karsten Dybvad, CEO of the Confederation of Danish Industry (Dansk Industri), wrote that the Danish economy increased by 34 billion kroner ($4.9 billion) from 2010 to 2014 and about 24 billion kroner (3.5 billion) of that is due to the influx of foreign labour, meaning that over two-thirds of the growth in Danish economy is due to the contributions of foreign workers.

In a recent study of the Aarhus University, a law professor showed that Denmark’s immigration laws have changed 68 times in the last 15 years, with a new twist in immigration laws every three months. A primary reason skilled foreign workers are concerned and uncertain about their future in Denmark is the frequent changes in immigration laws. These have adverse effects, not only on those directly affected but also on the Danish labour market and overall economy.

In 2015, the permanent residence permits requirements were of fulfilling more than five years of residence in Denmark, aligned with the majority of European countries of usually five years of stay with full time employment.

Then, in 2016, Denmark came out on top for having the strictest requirements of the EU, when the rules were changed for six years of residence.

Now, the new coalition government proposed even stricter rules with bill L154, defining that expats will need to wait for two more years, making eight years in Denmark a requisite to obtain a permanent residency permit.

In June 2016, the Danish green card scheme for highly qualified immigrants was abolished. Expats were entitled to the scheme by holding at least a Master’s degree or professional qualifications such as medicine, engineering, IT, research etc. and by fulfilling increasingly harsh requirements, that were even applied retroactively during the course of the scheme duration.

Naqeeb Khan, executive member of the Danish Green Card Association, argued that Denmark risks losing a vital segment of its skilled workforce by constantly moving the goalposts on permanent residency.

Once known by its humanism, generous foreign aid budget and welcoming attitude, in recent years Denmark has gained an international reputation as a country that is not sympathetic to foreigners. The last episode of this kind occurred last week, when the country’s Integration minister, Inger Stojberg, feted the passing of the 50th regulation against immigration by celebrating with a cake.

Denmark's Integration minister, Inger Stojberg, celebrates the passing of the 50th regulation against immigration with a cake.
Denmark’s Integration minister, Inger Stojberg, celebrates the passing of the 50th regulation against immigration with a cake.

All those questions and many others (such as proficiency in Danish, a tremendously difficult housing market, a reserved society and lack of local network when looking for professional opportunities) create a basic sense of uncertainty and lack of predictability for some expats.

The Worktrotter website did a survey amongst expats in Denmark and asked Do you perceive Danes open towards foreigners living in Denmark? The findings are quite revealing.

“46% of the participants don’t feel welcome versus 26% who do. 28% gave a neutral answer. Considering that 98% of the 703 survey participants are well-educated, this is a very worrying result especially as Denmark claims the need for well-educated work-force from abroad.”

Certainly these factors contribute to a decline in the retention of foreign professionals. After conducting focus group interviews with foreign professionals, author and anthropologist Dennis Nørmark found that many highly educated foreigners stay in Denmark for just a short period because of the enormous challenges they face. Many of them leave Denmark in initial stages and those who get to survive the initial stages and to start settling down then face the changing and ever-tougher immigration laws. Every round of new rules forces them to reconsider their decision to stay in Denmark permanently.

Mariana Vicente is a Brazilian tax lawyer with over 10 years of international experience in tax planning and compliance, legal advice and audit in multinational companies in Europe, Asia and the Americas. She has lived in Brazil, Panama, Mexico, United States and Italy, residing in Denmark since 2015.
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