Opinion | Copenhagen needs international talent

Copenhagen is attracting too few highly-skilled foreign workers when compared to similar cities, according to a recent study. This is a huge problem. Not only are we losing tax revenue, but Copenhagen needs well-educated foreign workers to help develop many of the companies that make their home in our city. We in Copenhagen have established the clear goal of attracting a greater number of talented foreigners.


In a global economy, it is essential that Denmark is able to attract outside companies, investment and labour. Alone, we simply do not have the knowledge or numbers required to create the necessary innovation in our areas of strength, including clean technology and the medical sector. Competition in this context is not between Copenhagen and other cities in Denmark; rather it is between Copenhagen and northern European cities like Stockholm, London and Berlin. 


Numbers from Statistics Denmark show that although only one percent of companies in Denmark are foreign-owned, they account for some 24 percent of GDP and 27 percent of total Danish exports. Their influence on our growth is obvious.


But this is not just an issue of money and growth. Copenhagen should be an open and tolerant city with room for everyone and where anyone, regardless of where they come from, has the opportunity to enjoy a good and fruitful life. A vibrant and diverse expat community helps make Copenhagen a better place for us all. The effect is cumulative: if the foreigners who already live here are happy, others will come.


Internationally, Copenhagen, with its low crime rate, ample green spaces, family-friendly atmosphere and many cultural offerings, often scores high on the so-called ‘liveability’ scale. We need to be better at telling our story abroad, while at the same time working to cut through the red tape to make it easier to settle in Copenhagen.


We have recently launched a number of initiatives designed to make it more attractive for highly-skilled foreign workers to come to our city.


We have created the International Citizen Service to help foreigners find their place in Copenhagen and navigate the necessary paperwork. We have created a European school and launched the Copenhagen Talent Bridge to help expats get established and begin to create networks for small and medium-sized enterprises. Campaign Open Arms has been designed to remind Danish-speaking locals to be more open and welcoming to tourists and foreigners.


I would also strongly urge the government to officially adopt English as Denmark’s second language. Danish is a hard-to-understand language spoken by a relatively small number of people and I believe it would be to our advantage to communicate with the world in English and make sure that all of the signs in Copenhagen are also in English.


In the year 2000, only 14,000 highly skilled and educated foreigners made their homes in the capital region. Although that number has increased to about 25,000, we need more.


Attracting them will require a dedicated and co-oordinated effort from both local and the national government. After a decade in which the general perception has been that Denmark would prefer that foreigners stay away, we need a fresh start. The time has come for Danish political parties to stop competing over who can spout the toughest rhetoric against foreigners and instead start competing about who can find the most effective methods to attract “the best and the brightest”. In Copenhagen, we have gotten the ball rolling with the clear expectation that the new government will join us in the game. 


Copenhagen is OPEN Copenhagen.