A foreigner’s perspective: Venstre’s immigration reform proposal

Now, this is a slightly unusual post, as I normally don’t comment on political discussion on the blog. But this topic is close to my heart, and as a foreigner in Denmark, I am personally affected, so I’m making an exception. If you’re interested, keep reading!

Immigration and integration of foreigners in Denmark is always a prominent topic of public debate, or at least that’s what it seems like to me. With immigration to Denmark reaching new record highs, this is hardly surprising. And while I personally have never experienced any sort of discrimination, hostility or different treatment (at least not openly), there seems to be a general reservation towards foreigners among many Danes. For example, in a recent study, about half of the respondents thought that Danish companies had a moral responsibility to hire Danes ahead of foreigners. Some public figures, such as right-wing nut case Pia Kjærsgaard from Dansk Folkeparti, regularly promote an anti-immigrant platform, for example by accusing especially non-Western foreigners of not being able or willing to integrate. But even politicians from more moderate parties are making controversial statements regarding immigration, for example Inger Støjberg, a spokesperson for conservative-liberal Venstre, who recently demanded stricter rules for immigrants from non-Western countries, as they allegedly create more problems in Denmark.

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This debate was fuelled again when Venstre introduced their new immigration program at the end of July. At the core of Venstre’s proposal is the assumption that immigrants from some countries integrate better than those from other countries, and therefore, different requirements should be made for immigration. The idea behind this is that, ideally, you only want to accept people into the country that are able and willing to meaningfully contribute to society, and you don’t want “moochers” that just come for the social benefits. So far, I can at least follow the logic (note that the proposal focuses on immigration, which is not to be confused with asylum). But Venstre’s suggested solution is where things go wrong in my opinion (and experts have since stated that it might even be against international conventions). As far as I understand, these are the key points:

  • Countries are segmented into a list of “desirable” and “less desirable” (my choice of words, they call it the “positive list”) countries, based on the UN’s Human Development Index
  • Certain income thresholds are set, above which immigration is made easier (e.g. applicants with an annual income of over 400,000 DKK – ca. 55,000 EUR – are easily accepted).
  • These income thresholds are lower for “desirable” countries.

Now, this excludes EU countries, of course, since Denmark as an member state is bound to the EU rules of free movement. But even as a not directly affected foreigner from an EU country, I don’t agree with the proposal. Here’s what I think is wrong with it:

  1. It has serious methodology flaws. While Venstre hide behind the objectivity of the HDI – after all, the UN is an undisputed authority, right?! – the index itself has been subject to criticism, for example for favoring so-called Western models of development. This point is especially interesting in light of the statements made by Inger Støjberg, and one could even go so far as to say they picked this indicator on purpose because it neatly fits their views on non-Western immigrants. But even if we accept the index as objective and fair, a decision still needs to be made on where the “cut-off” should be, i.e. which score a nation needs to have to rank on the “positive list”. Is 7 good enough, or should we aim for 8? This threshold is purely arbitrary.
  2. It is one-dimensional and discriminating. Even if we humor Venstre here and accept the premise of needing to somehow find a way to separate the “good” immigrants from the “bad” ones, this approach is so one-dimensional. Who is to say that a waitress from Brazil is less able and willing to integrate than a highly paid engineer from Scotland? Maybe the engineer works in an English-speaking company and mainly sticks to an expat friend group, whereas the waitress learns Danish for her job and volunteers at a soup kitchen. Integration is, in my opinion, a highly personal topic and should not be reduced to nationalities.
  3. It’s not based on evidence. As far as I am aware, no studies have been made regarding the ability and willingness of foreigners from different countries to integrate and contribute to society in Denmark. The only studies available are crime statistics, in which immigrants and their descendants seem to be overrepresented (for example here and here), but that’s again very one-dimensional. Other factors need to be considered as well.
  4. It makes immigrants feel bad. This not only applies to immigrants wanting to move to Denmark, but also the ones that are already living here. How would it make you feel to hear that you’re not “desired” in Denmark because of your home country? Wouldn’t this make you even less willing to integrate, if you felt like “they don’t want me here anyways”? And finally, is this really how Danes want to come across towards foreigners?

Now, in light of the ever-increasing stream of immigrants coming to Denmark, I see the necessity in dealing with the issue. I personally don’t have a great solution, I just don’t think Venstre’s proposal is the right approach either.

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13 thoughts on “A foreigner’s perspective: Venstre’s immigration reform proposal”

  • It has been like this for the past 14 years. I could only watch in dismay. As a foreigner from a non EU country (non western as well), I’ve been a victim of ever changing laws that they apply. It is really ridiculous with their primitive views regarding people from outside Denmark. Did you read the article where Copenhagen cultural mayor (from DF) criticizing food square in Nørrebro because it only sells “foreign food”, he said : What if people wanted smørrebrød or pølser? and that in Denmark, they are obliged to serve Danish food.

    No sorry, this is a sore topic for me, hence the negativity. I’m a non western immigrant who makes more than half a million kroner a year, but I still face discrimination on the street, because I’m brown and don’t have blue eyes :S

    • I understand your frustration! Luckily I didn’t see that DF article – they are some serious nutbags there, but scary to see that they are not nearly as much a fringe party as they should be! It’s not like pølser are hard to come by in Copenhagen!
      As a German, I feel like I’m not met with as much scrutiny, which I’m grateful for, but I also see the unfairness in that! I love living here, but it can be frustrating at times because it can be really hard to be accepted into society.

    • Sorry to read that you face discrimination. But not all danes are like that. Racists are in every country. But you should just ignore them. A good friend of mine is dark skinned and he’s from Latin America and he doesn’t have had many bad experiences here (not Denmark).

  • I totally agree Laura! As a fellow “western” immigrant, I am also having a relatively easy time here in Denmark, and I shudder to think how it must feel to have to deal with prejudice every day. I also agree with your point about the impression that these attitudes give to foreigners. Reading about this stuff (and talking to Danes about it) doesn’t make me all that positive about my prospects here.

    The other day I was speaking to my mum’s partner about the issue of jobs for locals, which is a topic of discussion in Australia right now too. He argued that if two people are going for one job, the Australian should get it. After pointing out that if that happens here I will basically never get a job, he sort of understood how discriminatory that would be. As most people have never been an immigrant, it’s hard for them to empathise and actually understand how hard it already is without any more rules and obstacles.

    Anyway, I’m just interested in how perspectives (including my own) can change with different experiences. Maybe with the increase in immigration more Danes will meet and get to know foreigners and their ideas will slowly change?

    • That’s an interesting point about most people never having been immigrants – I guess we’re more sympathetic to what we have experienced ourselves. I have to say though that the vast majority of Danes I have interacted with were very sweet and also very interested in where I’m from etc. I made it a point to become conversional in Danish as fast as I could (easier when your native language is close like German), and not only did that earn me many compliments, but I also feel it adds to my integration, for example when I can more easily be part of a conversation and people don’t have to switch to English for my sake. But integration always goes both ways, and both sides must be willing to make an effort. In my view, too many people (like DF) confuse integration with assimilation – but I don’t want to give up my own culture and become 100% Danish, which seems to be the only thing some people are willing to accept.
      But don’t despair, like I said, most people have been very accepting towards me, and if you make an effort, they will welcome you with open arms.

    • Denmark has took for decades foreigners, so that’s not fair when you say they should take more because then they will meet more of them and accept them. I’m not a dane, but I know they are usually very tolerant people. Perhaps they are intolerant to the ones who won’t integrate but that’s very acceptable.

  • Et tu Denmark? Although I am not totally unsympathetic…. As the world population continues to grow exponentially and problems explode as well, more and more people are coming to “desirable” countries like Denmark – at some point does it near a “lifeboat” situation?

    • I absolutely agree, and I think it’s fair for countries to set certain rules and restrictions for immigration. My problem with Venstre’s suggestion is much more about their discriminatory approach of preferring certain countries over others. Why not just apply the same rules for everyone?

      • There are certain people from certain cultures who have totally different values than we in western countries have, for example in the rights of women, gays, animals, etc. Why to take so many people from those cultures? Their crime-rates are relatively high comparing with westernes or some other groups. Also the integration of the same groups are more difficult comparing the others. So I understand Venstres proposal. Sure not all of them are criminals or not-well-integrated, but still the numbers are relatively high if you compare them with the others. You say both, the danes in this case and the foreigners, should make efforts. Sure, I agree. But I think also, that foreigners have to do a bit more effort. In the end they are the guests.

        • Hi Tim, thanks for sharing your thoughts! I completely agree that when you move to another country, you have to live by that country’s rules, e.g. relating to women’s or gay rights, even if that is not part of the culture in your home country. As I write, I understand where Venstre is coming from, but their proposal is discriminating and it adds to the general negativeness I sense in the public discussion in Denmark around foreigners/ immigrants. And I do disagree with your last point – I do not see myself as a guest in Denmark! I’m working here, paying taxes, my friends and (part of) my family are here, and that applies to other immigrants as well. Of course I need to integrate and make an effort, as you call it, but I don’t want to be seen as a sort of temporary problem until I “go back home”. Denmark is my home!

  • Hi Laura,

    I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you. I didn’t mean anything bad nor was the intention to make you feel “2nd class” or anything like that. I don’t consider you and the ones who are making efforts as a “temporary problem”, you are very welcomed to live in the country and the right to feel safe. My point was that Denmark is a country which is ruled by the danes and their way of living.

    • No need to apologize – I was just trying to point out something that I think maybe sometimes people don’t realize. I appreciate you sharing your point of view!

      • Thank you. And good you weren’t offended. At least with you it’s nice to make a conversation. And in the end our views are not that far from each other. =)

        Have a nice and peaceful Christmas time!

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