Still Adjusting | Two steps forward, one step back in immigration tango

In late December, when I reported that the S-R-SF government would put a hold on deporting children, I wrote that while this was wonderful news for the families who find themselves facing the unimaginable scenario of sending their children alone on an outbound plane, the rest of us navigating the minefield of Danish immigration were still waiting for the government’s ballyhooed “new era” to begin.

Since then, we’ve gotten a few steps closer. First, the government ruled that seven-year-old Phatteera could remain in the country while the Justice Ministry processes her case rather than following through on deportation threats. To be clear, it’s indeed a sad state of affairs when we need to celebrate the fact that the government didn’t rip a young girl from her family and send her packing. But in Denmark, this is what qualifies as a positive development in immigration policy.

Then, Morten Bødskov, the justice minister, announced that the government would seek to repeal the previous government’s points system for family reunification (well, one of the points systems, but we’ll get to that later) in which the foreign spouses of Danes are rated based on their education, job experience, and language skills.

This was predictably, soundly attacked by the opposition parties, who must stay up at night with delusional worries that a mass influx of poor, brown and Muslim people will flee their caves with a Koran in one hand and their 13-year-old cousin bride in the other and head to Denmark to milk its welfare system.

The reality, of course, is the vast majority of people looking to come to Denmark under family reunification rules do so because of a personal relationship they’ve developed with a Dane. It’s not for the welfare and it sure ain’t for the weather. So, scrapping a system in which individuals are pre-emptively judged before they can even come to the country is a step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, when it comes to immigration issues in this country, it’s often a case of two steps forward, one step back.

In mid-January, there was a story in Politiken newspaper about Maria, a single mother from Haiti, who is facing being sent back to the same ravaged country in which she was sold into sex and contracted HIV. If she returns to Haiti, she fears she will die due to a lack of medical attention, and then her same sad fate will play out on her nine-year-old son. Denmark has denied her asylum as well as a humanitarian residence permit.

But it’s not just the tear-jerker cases. The nation’s pig-headed approach to immigration also has a significant economic impact. Take the case of Mark Turner, an American whose companies earn 10 million kroner a year. Despite completing the necessary tasks as laid out in that other points system, the one in which immigrants on a temporary permit must amass 100 points through work, language, and volunteer requirements in order to earn a permanent residence permit (opholdstilladelse), he had his application denied. The reason? The 15 points he obtained for the ‘active citizenship’ clause were deemed invalid because the board he served on hadn’t been approved by the Udlændingeservice. He’s now forced to apply for extensions on the temporary permit, paying extensive fees and living in limbo.

Meanwhile, in 2006, a programmer by the name of Sean Treadway was kicked out of the country because, in his words, Denmark ruled that his “contribution to the country through my freelance work is not of significant value” and told him to take a hike. He’s now the Berlin-based lead programmer of online music sharing service SoundCloud, one of Europe’s hottest tech start-ups. How much money did Denmark lose on this guy?

Now, while my case is certainly not as sad as that of Phatteera or Maria, nor my potential financial contribution nearly as high as that of Turner or Treadway, the mess of the immigration rules also hit home for me recently.

My first bid to renew my temporary permit was tripped up by a ridiculous clause in the housing requirement. In order to first obtain a permit and come to Denmark, my wife and I had to document that we had an adequately-sized home and a lease period of at least three years. Now, as I go to renew it 20 months later, the renewal application states that the lease period must be a minimum of three years from the date of the renewal application. Obviously, I am still under my original lease contract and 20 of the 36 months of the lease period have elapsed. But the logical progression of time is not a sufficient excuse in this country. We faced the possibility of my extension being denied before our landlord – herself married to a foreigner and thus a sympathetic soul – agreed to provide us with a new extended contract.

That the fate of my family came down to the kindness of a relative stranger provoked my wife to write a complaint to the Justice Ministry, both about the absurdity of the housing clause and because my caseworker had previously incorrectly told her that the lease period only mattered from the original application period.

“Is this really how you want to treat a well-integrated family doing everything possible to meet all these preposterous requirements that unreasonably interfere in our private affairs?” my wife asked. “I find it deeply unacceptable and I am ashamed of the way my country treats me and my family. Don’t forget that we are two highly-educated people that could just as well choose to live in the US instead. Is it really what Denmark wishes?”

During the VK reign, the answer to the question seemed to be a resounding ‘yes’. Here’s hoping the new government feels differently and continues to make positive changes.

In the meantime, uncertainty reigns. We have begun discussing buying a house, but I’m increasingly unwilling to make such an investment when I feel that any day – for any unforeseen reason – I myself might get the boot.

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