The number of people without the right vote has tripled since 1990 – politicians blame immigration tests
The demands placed on foreigners hoping to obtain a Danish passport are far too high, argue the Social Democrats and Socialist People’s Party (SF).
“First, we made it extremely difficult to get permanent residency. And then after you finally receive it, it’s extremely difficult to become a Danish citizen,” Henrik Dam Kristensen, the Social Dem secretary general said.
As a result, the Social Dems and the SF want to make the citizenship test easier and to lower the language requirement for obtaining a passport.
Kristensen said that he found it unreasonable that foreigners needed to answer questions like ‘In what year did the Danish women’s handball team win a gold medal?’ and called the demand to complete the third and highest level of the test of Danish as a foreign langauge “unnecessary and inhibiting”.
Danish level two, which tests skills like being able to compose short emails in Danish, is sufficient, he argued.
The Social Dems still want to keep other requirements for citizenship, however, such as a clean criminal record and the declaration of allegiance to Denmark.
“Citizenship is not something you will just be given. You have to earn it,” Kristensen said.
The SF are also interested in reducing the difficulty of the citizenship test and the language requirement.
“Danish level three is aimed at people who have a higher education,” said Astrid Krag. “We think that you can be Danish if you are unskilled or an academic. The language requirement is pure snobbery.”
Krag also called for the citizenship test to focus less on rote memorisation.
“Some of what is covered comes from a time when you had to learn the royal lineage inside-out. But what is really essential is that people have an understanding of our democracy.”
The Social Liberals are also in favour of lowering the requirements.
“There are many ways to integrate in Denmark and it’s not academics who should get citizenship,” Marianne Jelved said.
After being absent during the first week of the election, immigration suddenly became a hot topic, with the Social Dem-SF coalition stating their intention to change the points-system for family reunification and permanent residency.
But not all politicians are keen on changing the regulations, least of all the current immigration minister, Søren Pind.
“I’m not often at a loss for words, but during this election I have been,” he said. “First it was the 24-year rule, then permanent residency and now citizenship. If we get a new government the whole structure of our immigration policy risks getting changed.”
The country’s largest language school, Lær Dansk Aarhus, agreed with the oppostion, however, that the language requirements have become too strict.
But Pind disagreed. “It’s the opposition that has gone too far. I don’t understand what’s going on,” he said, adding that he thought the requirements for the citizenship test are reasonable.
“I think it’s natural that we ensure that people have an understanding of Danish history before we hand out citizenship.”
The debate about citizenship comes in light of a new study by the Danish Association of Social Workers – published in their newsletter today – which found that more than 270,000 adult residents cannot vote in the coming election because they don’t have Danish citizenship.
The figure is three times higher than what it was in 1990, and according to the study’s author there were two reasons for the increase in disenfranchised voters.
“There are more people coming to Denmark to work and study and it’s also become far more difficult to receive Danish citizenship,” , Roger Buch, of the Danish School of Media and Journalism, said. “Particularly due to the higher demands of the Danish language test.”
While the number of residents who cannot vote currently stands at 6.3 percent of the adult population, he thinks that in a few years it may rise to ten percent. “We will end up with a large proportion of the population who can’t vote.”
Bettina Post, chairman of the Danish Association of Social Workers, also expressed concern about the increase.
“I’m surprised that the number is so high. More than a quarter of a million people cannot participate in a the democratic process in a country that praises democracy highly,” she said.
“If you live in a country that doesn’t seem to express interest in you, problems can arise,” she added, pointing to the rioting and looting experienced in London this summer.
“I don’t think we’re at that stage, but I think it’s a good idea to think about how it feels to be on the outside looking in.”
Non-Danish residents are not entirely excluded from Danish politics however. After four years of residency, they become entitled to vote in local and regional elections.