Councils to challenge compulsory Danish lessons for immigrants

Long-term study shows that Danish-language lessons have not put more immigrants in workforce; councils want opt-out on language lessons requirement

A decade of compulsory Danish-language lessons has not improved employment levels of non-Western immigrants in Denmark, according to a new study from Andvendt KommunalForskning (AKF), which specializes in public management and governance research.

Those findings are leading some mayors to question the logic – and costs – of compulsory, subsidised Danish-language classes for all immigrants, reports Berlingske newspaper.

Over a period of eight years, AKF studied 700 primarily Turkish immigrants who came to Denmark under family reunification rules, both before and after the 1999 law change that made Danish-language courses a requirement.

Under the law, councils are required to offer all new immigrants three years of largely free Danish language courses  – immigrants from certain countries are required to pay a small fee – with the primary goal of preparing them to enter the Danish job market.

At the end of the study, however, AKFÂ’s researchers concluded that the language classes had little or no effect on the employment levels of the immigrants in the study.

“Danish language classes don’t have any impact on how much family-reunified immigrants work, for up to nine years after they come to Denmark,” said immigration and employment expert Gabriel Pons Rotger, who led the AKF study.

Garbi Schmidt, a professor in intercultural studies from Roskilde University, found the AKF study surprising but inconclusive.

“I think language is still a very important building block for integrating immigrants into the job market. But speaking Danish isn’t the only qualification that matters; it could be necessary to build something more on top of it now,” Schmidt told Berlingske.

However, AKFÂ’s findings are leading politicians and planners in some councils to question whether compulsory Danish-language classes should remain a requirement for both councils and immigrants.

“The question is whether Danish language classes should continue to be compulsory for all, or whether we should be allowed to make decisions based on each individual’s situation,” said Erik Nielsen, the mayor of Rødovre and chairman of the job market committee for Kommunernes Landsforening (KL), the association of local councils.

“We should stop with the rigid requirement of Danish-language courses for everybody,” Nielsen added.

KL is scheduled to meet with the government in the spring to negotiate new terms and requirements for the councils.

The employment minister Mette Frederiksen (Socialdemokraterne) has agreed to review whether Danish-language classes should remain compulsory.