Immigration and Language Policies in Denmark

By Gunna Funder Hansen

University of Southern Denmark

Odense, Denmark



Residence and work permit

Citizens of the Nordic countries (Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) are free to reside and work in Denmark. Citizens of the EU, EEA and Switzerland also can reside there under EU regulations on free movement of persons and services. Citizens from the new EU-countries (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia) are subjects to special transitional rules, but they do not need a residence and work permit if they are employed in a job covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

For citizens of all other countries, residence and working permits can be granted to specific categories of professionals who have been offered jobs in fields listed on a specific “positive list” of areas currently experiencing a shortage of labor supply. Students, religious workers, athletes, researchers and other highly qualified professionals can obtain residence according to special schemes designed to make it easier for such individuals to get a residence and work permit in Denmark.

Rules regulating residence permits based on asylum and family reunification have been severely restricted since 1992 and are now among the most restrictive in Europe, and in recent years, access to Danish citizenship has also been curtailed. According to the Danish government, this “firm and fair” policy has been a success as the number of foreigners applying for asylum and family reunification has decreased significantly.

Integration strategy

In 1999, Denmark was the first country to introduce an Integration Act. Officially, the aim of the act was to help newcomers get established in the Danish society and work force, but the rules and regulations introduced in the wake of the act have been harshly criticized for harassing and stigmatising foreigners rather than integrating them.

Newcomers to Denmark who are unemployed – in practice mostly foreigners who have been granted asylum or residence due to family reunification – are entitled to receive a reduced rate of the standard social security income support. To receive this aid, they are obliged to accept the offer to enroll in the standard integration program, carried out by the municipalities, which includes job training activities (e.g. work placement) and language courses.

Language courses and LESLLA

All adult foreign citizens residing in Denmark are offered Danish language courses which are free of charge for three years for foreigners enrolled in the standard integration program. The courses are divided into three levels. Each level is divided into six modules and completed by a test. Level 1 addresses low educated second language and literacy learners, or “students who are not able to read and write in their mother tongue and Roman alphabet illiterates who do not master the European writing system”. Module 1 and 2 teach the student basic conversation skills and comprehension of Danish in order to enable the student to manage in a work place and in daily life in Denmark. Vocabulary is focusing on every day language, local community, work and rights & duties. Additionally, students are supposed to learn to read and write simple texts in Danish. Concurrently, students are taught about Danish society, culture, and “Danish values.”

Links for further information

Danish Immigration Service: New to Denmark

Governmental integration plan: “A new chance for everyone” (summary)

Education plan for young ethnic minorities: “All young people needed

Official language course: Online Danish