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Whom is the immigration law meant to deter?

Immigration law in Denmark keeps getting stricter, which I guess means the politicians here are serving their constituency well, as that’s a popular opinion. Anecdotally most of the rhetoric I hear focuses on Muslim immigrants and descendants thereof who are poor, live in immigrant-dense areas, and are bad at speaking Danish. That’s why I was surprised when an amendment to the immigration law was passed that removed the exemption that previously allowed those immigrant-aspirants who moved to Denmark before age 15 to bypass the requirement for full-time employment as long as they were under education: this seems like a different demographic.

Superficially the new law makes sense, as university education in Denmark is free to permanent residents, and (I assume the thought process went) one should contribute in taxes to the society to at least counterbalance some of the drain of receiving publicly funded education and healthcare. That was my first logical thought upon hearing this, drowned out by internal rage and protestations - I received Danish citizenship during my university education, and with this law in place might not have been able to.1 It would have massively screwed me over, when the bureaucracy of Danish immigration services already feels like it’s personally screwing you over every step of the way, no matter how well-integrated you are or how easily you satisfy all the requirements.

There are several scenarios that could have gone badly for me here. Had I wanted a Ph.D., for instance, I wouldn’t have been able to go abroad without losing residency in Denmark. If I had wanted one based in Denmark, I would instead have been subject to the condition of going on an exchange in another research institute, usually done abroad, and either had to carefully limit the stay or lost permanent residency and had to repeat the immigration process (which takes at a minimum nine years) from the very beginning.

Getting a job would have been simpler, but had I failed to find something fast after graduating, and not had enough savings such that I needed public assistance, it would once again have cost me many years. If I’d been fired and taken too long to find the next thing, that would also have lengthened the wait. Keep in mind as well that taking several months to find a job after graduating is normal, and that sometimes it takes longer for no fault of one’s own if one graduates at a bad time, such as during a pandemic.

Okay, so the law screws over people from my demographic: so what? Certainly the Danish state is under no obligation to make it easy to become a citizen. This law still surprises me, though. To most Danes, even those who hate immigration, and even the minority of those who are openly racist, I come across as assimilated enough to be inoffensive, as I guess most would to whom this law would apply.

Then again I’ve always had this feeling that immigrant skepticism in Denmark has more than one source. The antipathy towards Muslim immigrants stems from the fact that they constitute about 35% of all immigrants in Denmark2, are more likely to be unemployed and to commit crimes, and sometimes live in ethnic enclaves. That’s the most obvious signal.

Then there’s a more subtle signal, woven through, towards the inexorable diffusion of globalization spreading that not everybody can or wants to keep up with. The Danish culture and aesthetic has changed due to non-Western immigration, sure. But hasn’t it changed more due to Anglicization and broad absorption of American values?

Perhaps then my demographic - over-educated, western, the sort who could have written this in Danish but then it might have been less verbose - is exactly the one to rail against. The only problem with that is it can’t work: immigrants were never the ones who caused that particular cultural change, and the myriad small preferences and incentives for Danes to assimilate to a more global way of being aren’t in anyone’s direct control.

  1. Or perhaps I could have; immigration law always has a gist followed by seemingly endless clauses and clauses to those clauses and this amendment is no different. Who knows. 

  2. Technically this is the percentage of immigrants from MENAP (Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan) countries plus Turkey, as the religious orientation of immigrants isn’t directly recorded. 

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