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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.