On July 1 the government made it even more expensive and difficult for couples with one Dane and one non-EU partner to live together in Denmark.
Among other changes, the fee for the famously tough family reunification application was raised to 7,775 kroner – a 30 percent hike – while the compulsory four-year cash guarantee was raised from 63,000 to 100,000 kroner.
Information newspaper calculated that all told the cost of family reunification – once fees, tests, and cash securities are tallied – is now 168,131 kroner per couple, plus or minus a krone.
For young international couples, it is even tougher to stay together in Denmark, because current family reunification rules also stipulate that both partners must be at least 24 years old.
Katrine Villumsen and Jessie Villarreal are one young, international couple who have had to come up with creative solutions to be able to stay together.
Villumsen, a journalism student from the Funen town of Faaborg, was taking a year abroad to study in Santa Barbara, California, when she met Villarreal, a young opera singer from Riverside, California. They were both just 19.
They fell in love and after six months moved in together. In their second year together, they began thinking about a more permanent solution for their residency issues as an international couple. To complicate matters, marriage was not a solution for the lesbian couple, as US immigration laws do not recognise same-sex relationships.
“I think it would be easier for a Somalian to immigrate to the US than to Denmark, but in our case, it’s easier for me to immigrate to Denmark than for Katrine to immigrate to the US,” Villarreal told The Copenhagen Post.
So two years ago the couple decided they had a better future in Denmark, where their relationship is at least recognised by law, and where – someday when they are old enough – they can apply for family reunification as a couple.
“My desire to live in Denmark is greater than my desire to live in the US and I feel safer here. Danish people are more apathetic about being gay,” Villarreal said. “In the US people either love you or hate you for being gay.”
As both women were just 21 years old in 2009 – still too young to apply for family reunification – it was now Villarreal’s turn to use a student visa to stay with her partner.
With foreign student tuition and no eligibility for the national student stipend, the decision came at a high cost. Since both are still students, they don’t earn much. But together they managed to get by, working part-time, scrimping, saving and taking out loans.
But last month when Villarreal got a tuition bill of 100,000 kroner for her final year of studies at The Royal Academy of Music – with 50,000 kroner due in just two weeks and 50,000 more in September, they had no idea what to do.
Their life together depended upon her student visa. If she could not pay, she would have to leave the country. Without any expectation of success she decided to post a blog asking for loans or donations to raise the money.
“[It was] a desperate plea. I felt pathetic writing it. But the responses were amazing.” Villarreal said.
Some 14,000 kroner in donations from strangers and friends poured in. Villarreal’s colleagues at The Cockney Pub in Århus arranged two “Save Jessie’s Arse” concerts that raised another 4,000 kroner. Another colleague she barely knew offered her a no-questions-asked, interest-free loan of 20,000 kroner.
An even bigger loan of 50,000 kroner was offered by an international couple who knew first-hand the difficulties of getting family reunification in Denmark: Katrine’s Danish cousin and his Polish wife. They met as students in Norway and had to borrow money from his parents for their family reunification. Years later they were in the position to pass along the favour to a younger international pair struggling with immigration issues.
Villarreal and Villumsen both said they could not help but contrast the outpouring of generosity and trust from strangers and acquaintances eager to help with the tone of suspicion and distrust for immigrants in the political debate and family reunification rules.
“There must be somebody supporting all these immigration rules, but it’s not the people we’re surrounded by,” Villumsen said.
The governing Liberal Party’s immigration spokesperson Karsten Lauritzen defended the tougher immigration rules, including the higher costs and so-called ‘points system’ by which foreign partners earn ‘points’ to qualify to stay in Denmark through university degrees and other benchmarks.
“When we get better applicants, we also bring in people who are better prepared to become integrated,” Lauritzen told Politiken newspaper earlier this month.
Villumsen sees things a different way.
“In Denmark we have Jante Law, where everyone is supposed to be equal and nobody is better than anybody else,” she said. “But now it’s turning into the situation where if you have a better education, then you get to go first in line. We need people doing all types of work and it shouldn’t matter if you come from India, the US, or wherever.”
“I just think it’s a shame that you can’t be with the person you love in the country you come from, just because it comes down to nationality,” she added.
When Villarreal finishes her Bachelor’s degree next year she will lose her student visa and the couple’s immigration worries will start all over again. But by then, they both will be 24 years old and will have lived together in Denmark for three years. They plan to form a civil union in September.
Then they will be eligible to apply for family reunification – as long as they can put 100,000 kroner in the bank.