Opinion | Uncertainty and insecurity make life uneasy for green card holders
Danish Green Card Association (DGCA) is working to bridge the integration gap of green card holders in Danish society. We, however, still feel that the element of insecurity and uncertainty is very great for our members. As a volunteer organisation, we work to provide a common platform for our members to raise their concerns. We also encourage them to help each other find jobs, accommodation and integrate into society. We receive continuous feedback from our members, through our Facebook group and emails, about their issues and concerns.
One of the main concerns is the uncertainty about the law. The green card programme was introduced as a three-year work permit in 2008 and could be extended for another four years. The authorities decided to change this in 2011 for no apparent reason or explanation to 1.5 years followed by extensions of 2.5 years and four years. Business interest group DI pushed the authorities, and it was extended to three years with the possibility of a four-year extension. This leaves us in an uncertain situation that basically means anything can change any time. This is definitely not attractive for any highly-skilled professional. The extension applications for many people have taken more than a year to process. The situation is improving after the administrative changes by the Employment Ministry, and we hope it will improve further.
In connection to the changing laws, there was a strange ban imposed on green card holders in 2011, preventing them from starting their own business. This forced many people to close their firms, and some of them moved from Denmark. One of those who found himself in this situation was the former president of DGCA, Aamir Sohail, who closed his IT firm and went back to Pakistan after this change in law. We have discussed this issue with members of parliament from different political parties. We are really trying to communicate our message to the authorities to allow us to create our own jobs. When green card holders are not allowed to have any social help or loan, there should not be any restriction on them doing business. Although we concede that it is debatable if they should be allowed in all the fields, or only in the field of their education/specialisation.
Another big challenge is the lack of awareness about their rights when working as an employee in Denmark. Green card holders often come here after leaving their jobs in their home countries. The Danish job market is not that friendly towards foreign applicants, and it can take time to make a breakthrough. This forces many of them to take non-professional jobs. A lot of the time, employers abuse their lack of awareness by paying them low salaries, no holiday money and other employment benefits. We have come across many cases where employers would not provide a contract immediately and would make them work for weeks as trainees. One can wonder what training one would need to work in a kiosk or as a cleaner that would take weeks, but that’s the reality of the job market.
The recent incident involving green card holder Aftab Baig described in last week’s edition of The Copenhagen Post brought this matter into light. We have heard similar complaints from our members in the past as well. Somehow, it always turns out that when an employer has to pay some overdue salary (which was already at an inhuman rate), the green card holder turned out to be a thief. There are many similar cases where people do not want to bring it into the public domain as they feel threatened.
DGCA has asked our members to report the names of trouble-making employers, and our president will soon send a formal complaint to tax officials and the Employment Ministry. There are some members who are willing to pursue it if asked to present their case in front of the authorities. DGCA is providing the guidance to such members taking legal action against abusive employers. We will also send the details of trouble-making employers to the authorities. We do not want to compromise the security of our members, especially after cases like Aftab Baig, and we will check the possibility of anonymous complaints with SKAT. We will also use all other available channels to highlight these issues with the authorities to stop these practices.
Over the past few years, the media has covered some issues affecting green card holders. Unfortunately, all of them were negative cases. We would like the media to cover some of the success stories as well. There are many green card holders who have broken the code to enter Danish job market. Everyone quotes a 2010 study that found that 28 percent of green card holders are doing jobs relevant to their education. The same study also mentioned that almost three out of four are doing at least some kind of job. They are the people who are not allowed to have any social benefit. They have already attained the education and skills to enter the job market without any subsidy from the Danish state. Most of them have come to Denmark in an age where it is normal to not get ill that often. Overall, they are the most profitable residents of Denmark.
We believe that Denmark needs highly-skilled professionals to compete in the global economy. A little guidance and proper awareness for green card holders about their rights can do wonders. The DGCA is playing its role to guide the new green card holders, but a focused approach is needed from the government as well.
The author is the media co-ordinator for DGCA.