A bumpy ride to Permanent Residency: Family reunification in Denmark
On the eight hour flight from Copenhagen to New York with my two kids, we luck out and get the first row in Economy.
These seats are available to purchase because they come with about two full feet of extra legroom, but if no suckers buy them, then some suckers get them for free, and today we are those lucky suckers. The kids and I are gleeful about our placement and so is our seat neighbor.
My five year old has forfeited his left armrest to the jacket overflow of a very big, very nice Italian man named Marco and, even when the flight attendants close a curtain in front of us to keep us from the rich people toilets, we know that we are the Kings of Economy.
This kind of luck, this First Row of Economy Luck, is the kind of outrageous luck I feel about having kids with a Dane.
I know people (mostly Danes!) who have had kids on purpose when they are 25, but when I did it I was living in a 4th floor walk-up in Brooklyn with 5 roommates and a $10 daily budget for either take out noodles or a bottle of wine.
When I got (Very! Entirely! Impossibly!) accidentally pregnant with my Danish boyfriend who was sharing the twin sized tempurpedic bed that I had inherited from a dead great uncle, I was not necessarily feeling positioned for parenthood.
When we discussed all our options, many of my concerns were alleviated by what I learned that the kid growing inside of me would be entitled to as a Danish citizen. I actually could not believe it. And still, almost 12 years after we made the decision to become parents for the first time, I feel so moved by what being Danish has given my children. The longer I spend in Denmark the more deeply I wish, and the more clearly I feel, that every child should be entitled to this kind of security.
In December I will have lived in Copenhagen for 6 years with my Danish kids and their Danish dad and our Danish dog Bobby.
I will feel First Row of Economy Lucky about my life in Denmark forever. Having Danish children means that I don’t have to worry about their childcare or healthcare or housing or education the way I did before we moved to Copenhagen.
But one thing my Danish kids still don’t have is the right to keep their non-Danish parent in the country. For 6 years we have been taking part in a very long and expensive scavenger hunt in order to maintain my right to residency in Denmark.
- We have paid over DKK 25,000 in application fees, including one 2021 renewal when I accidentally applied a year early because I was so anxious about being late, and one 2023 (hot off the press!) rejection for early permanent residency.
- I have passed three Danish exams, including a high school level fluency test.
- We had my father-in-law draft and grant himself Power of Attorney so he could sign for an apartment for us. (It is a requirement that you have your own housing before you move here and it was also a requirement that we view our housing before we accepted it. How do people without lawyer father-in-laws do this?)
- We posted over DKK 54,000 (The 2023 rate is 110,000 kroner) in collateral to the government as proof that I would not need government funds. (Well, my mother-in-law’s bank did! How do people without doctor mother-in-laws do this?)
- I have let legal tax deductions go unclaimed to be sure that I was paying enough Danish tax to be approved for Danish residency. (I still wasn’t, it turned out!)
- I volunteered at a nonprofit organization for 2.5 years – because I liked it! Because they were doing great work! But also because I thought it would count toward the 1 year of volunteer work requirement for early permanent residency (It did not).
Last year, the EU court ruled that Denmark could no longer groundlessly refuse or revoke the residency of parents of Danish nationals who participate in the daily caretaking of those children. That’s me! They can no longer groundlessly refuse or revoke the residency of parents like me!
But they can, actually. Because even though my kids are Danish, have Danish passports, and one has lived here his entire 5 and a half year life, and the other has lived here more than half of her 11 year life, my kids won’t count as having a secure attachment to Denmark until they have lived here for at least 6 years continuously.
So I will keep being low-level, back-of-the-mind worried about it at every stop light I might accidentally run until then. I continue to be so grateful to be here, but this policy is not good for anybody.
Danes know that Danish immigration is hard. Many Danes sympathize with stories like mine, and some even say bigoted things like, “you’re not the kind of immigrant these rules are for.”
But what most Danes I meet do not know, is that if I had married a European Union citizen from ANY OTHER COUNTRY, if I had married Marco from Italy, our big jacket buddy in the First Row of Economy, we could live in Copenhagen and reap all the benefits of Danish society, and I would not have had to pay any of those fees, take any of those tests, jump through any of those hoops, and I would have been granted permanent residency in Denmark a year ago on the basis of my partnership.
Most Danes do not know that, in their own country, they have less rights about whom they marry than any other EU citizen in Denmark.
Often, Danish citizens who marry non-EU immigrants move to other countries for 1-3 years to gain these rights. I have friends married to Danes, who, rather than doing what I am doing, got residency by way of the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain and France.
My daughter’s 5th grade Danish teacher (Danish as in is from Denmark AND teaching Danish) commutes to her school from another country because his partner is from a non-EU country!
This is not good for us non-EU citizens, but it is also not good for Danish citizens, it is not good for Danish children, it is not good for Denmark.
Because I live in Denmark and married a Dane and not an Italian, Swedish, Latvian, Greek, Lithuanian, German, Romanian, Spanish, Dutch, or Belgian person – a person FROM ANYWHERE ELSE in the EU – my family has had to jump through these financial, emotional, and time-consuming hoops and will continue jumping for at least 3 years.
When our plane lands in America I have one email, five texts and a shared location all from my mom who is picking us up at the airport and driving us to spend the next two weeks in Pennsylvania.
We will pick apples, we will paint pumpkins, we will eat pie.
We will go watch Hocus Pocus in the movie theater and on the popcorn we’ll get extra butter (it’s not butter) and White Cheddar Cheese Sprinkles (it is definitely not cheese).
We will hike and roast marshmallows and play with dogs in the woods.
We will find the snacks and books we can’t get in Denmark and pack them into the extra checked bag we bought for the flight home.
When we leave I will wonder if the life we’ve built in Denmark is good enough to raise them so far away from my family and home. I know that it is, but it would be so much easier if I could feel like Denmark was my home too.
Abby Wambaugh is an American writer and comedian who lives in Copenhagen with her family. She is 1/3 of of Coping in Copenhagen, the popular English language weekly podcast about life in Denmark.