Editorial | A kinder, gentler immigration policy


Given the Social Democrats’ track record of supporting, to at least some extent, the previous government’s get-tough immigration policy, we might be setting ourselves up for a disappointment, but we’ll say it anyway: we hope the new government will come up with an immigration policy that befits Denmark’s reputation as a tolerant, humane country.

We realise that’s no easy task. Partly because in many ways, the immigration laws of the past ten years have accomplished their stated goals: they have reduced forced marriages and have required those who are here to become a part of their new society.

But success has come at a cost. The heavy-handed methods used to achieve those results have damaged the nation’s image and they are increasingly dulling its competitive edge.

“Denmark needs the world more than the world needs Denmark,” Karsten Dybvad said this week. He ought to know. As managing director of the Confederation of Danish Industry, he’s aware more than anyone else of what exports mean to the nation’s economy and how reliant businesses are on foreign workers.

Dybvad is also aware that closed borders are bad for business. That’s why he called on the Social Dems to lower taxes, remove bureaucratic hurdles and generally work towards making the country an attractive place for foreigners to live or work. Hopefully Helle Thorning-Schmidt was listening.

But a cold cost-benefit calculation of the impact that immigrants have on the nation’s bottom line is one thing. Another more serious concern is the damage strict immigration laws have had on the country’s reputation.

That’s a reputation that has been sullied by a constant stream of hard-luck cases of families spilt apart, forced to live in Malmö, or required to pay for the right to live here.

That those laws force couples to make a choice between not living in Denmark or not living together at all, is bad enough. That they have also resulted in 800 children – some as young as two – being denied residence in Denmark and potentially separated them from their parents is nothing less than an outrage. By some interpretations, it is even a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Relaxed immigration laws and high levels of social welfare are a potentially expensive cocktail, and the Social Democrat-led government will have its work cut out for it to come up with a model that is both socially and economically responsible. The cost, however, of not taking the opportunity to right the wrongs of the past decade would be simply unbearable.