The spring before we moved to Aalborg, we visited the city as a family. A prior online search had pointed us to an office called the International Citizen Service (ICS), where immigrants can register as residents of the Kommune (municipality), ask questions about job searches and taxes, and gather other information useful to living in Aalborg. So even though our moving day was months away, we wrote a list of questions and headed to the ICS armed with our queries on the first day of our visit.
A friendly staff member greeted us when our number was called. Despite the fact that the waiting room was packed, she patiently answered all of our questions – handwriting names and addresses of offices where we could get further information, in some cases – and we left feeling much better informed and reassured that everything was going to go just fine once we lived here. (Inevitably there were hiccups but those are the subject of future posts!)
Background to the International Citizen Service
The Danish government is facing its second significant shortage of labor since the late 1960s/early 1970s. However, in contrast to the need for blue-collar workers that stimulated the first wave of immigration, Denmark currently lacks well-educated, skilled professionals. As the Danish government stated in April 2010, ‘growth and prosperity requires a large and skilled labor supply,’ and ‘in the coming years, there is expected to be growing need to attract and retain foreign key employees’. Thus, over the last decade the Danish public and private sectors have taken significant steps to attract – and keep – highly skilled workers from other countries. Companies, universities and government officials in Denmark recognize the importance of recruiting talent from other countries in order to be competitive on the world market .
The number of residence permits granted to foreigners in Denmark increased from 41,250 in 2006 to 46,543 in 2011, a trend that reflects the rising demand for qualified workers even in a period of economic difficulty . However, a government-funded study found that immigrants face myriad problems while living in Denmark. These include the fact that government authorities provide most information only in Danish; difficulties faced in filling out official government forms; the length of time that immigration proceedings require; a lack of support provided to accompanying family members; difficulty in obtaining help from tax authorities; and the sheer number of authorities one must visit to complete the immigration process . Another survey of foreign workers reached similar conclusions, finding that 48% of foreigners in Denmark consider it difficult to get a general overview of the Danish rules and regulations; that the Danish tax authority is the most difficult public organization to deal with; and that 77% of expatriates believe an explanation of the public bureaucracy in English is necessary .
Acknowledging that a networked approach to recruiting and retaining immigrants might alleviate some of these problems, the Danish government decided in 2010 to set up ‘one-stop-shops’ in Copenhagen, Århus, Odense, and Aalborg. Instituted in January 2011, these International Citizen Service centers’ mission is ‘to make it simple and less bureaucratic for foreign labor to establish a career in Denmark’ . The centers operate on combined resources and networked efforts by a combination of regional state administrations, SKAT (the Danish tax authority), WorkinDemark, the Danish Agency for Universities and Internationalisation, the Danish Agency for Retention and Recruitment, and the four municipal authorities, as well as the International Community in Århus and Velkomstcentre (‘Welcome Center’) in Aalborg. Together these entities have served thousands of people since they were established. In 2012 between 86 and 100% of foreign nationals who had used the services of an ICS in Denmark were satisfied or very satisfied with the help they received.
How the International Citizen Service in Aalborg can help you
In Aalborg the ICS houses representatives of the regional state administration (Statsforvaldningen), Aalborg Kommune, WorkinDenmark, SKAT (the tax authorities), and, until January 2014, Velkomstcentre (more on this below). Thus, those new to Denmark can come to ICS to apply or register for any/all of the following:
- registration certificate for EU citizens*
- tax card
- social security number (CPR)
- medical card (which states one’s CPR number and is, for all practical purposes, the ‘golden ticket’ to all services in Denmark)
As I wrote above, however, the various services at ICS can also provide advice and information about a broad range of issues, including:
- work visas, green cards, etc.
- job seeking in Denmark
- finding a job for your partner
- student jobs for international students
- Danish language courses
- the Danish tax system
- registration of foreign vehicles
- living and working conditions in Denmark
- authorization and recognition of foreign educational degrees
- study and career counseling
- daycare for children
- network and social activities in your area (see below)
Our personal experience with the ICS was positive. We visited the office for the second time the day after we moved to Denmark and submitted our paperwork for residency. We also asked the SKAT official about paying the import tax on and registering our car and collected brochures about Velkomstcentre events. I have utilized the services of ICS many times since then, returning to ask questions about daycare, child benefits, changing doctors, etc. While all of these subjects are dealt with by the Kommune’s specialist administrative personnel in their respective offices, the ICS is a good place to ask general questions and be pointed in the right direction.
Unfortunately, Velkomstcentre, which ran Expat Network North and was active in planning and organizing social activities and other networking opportunities for foreign nationals in Aalborg, ceased to operate as of February 1, 2014 because funding for the program (provided by the EU) was discontinued. This is a blow to the Aalborg expat community, especially those new to the area who know few people and have the steepest learning curve. However, Aalborg is now developing a new institution and set of programs for the international community under the rubric of International House North Denmark (see posts about it here and here), which will open in the autumn of 2015. Stay tuned for more information!
Readers in Aalborg: If you have been to the ICS office, which services did you use? How was your experience? Please leave a comment below!
* Until recently, non-EU citizens could also apply for residence permits, family reunification, etc. through the ICS. However, due to the high cost of this service, it has been discontinued. Depending on whether you, as a non-EU/EEA/Nordic citizen, have registered abroad at a Danish embassy before arriving, you can either go directly to the Aalborg Citizen Service office (‘Borgerservice’) at Rantzausgade 6, 9000 Aalborg (click here for opening hours) or must first visit the immigration office at the police station at Jyllandsgade 27, 9000 Aalborg. The police station’s immigration office holds the following hours:
In person inquiries:
Monday – Thursday 09:00 to 11:00 and 12:30 to 14:00
Friday 9:00 to 12:00
Monday – Thursday 8:00 to 14:00
Friday 8:00 to 12:00
If you would like to contact or visit the ICS in Aalborg, here are the details:
 Danish Government, Styrkelse Af Den Internationale Rekruttering (Copenhagen, April 16, 2010), 1, http://www.nyidanmark.dk/NR/rdonlyres/48394D2C-5625-4D38-AE2C-0EBAD2454DA6/0/international_rekruttering.pdf.
 Danish Immigration Service and Ministry of Justice, Statistical Overview – Migration and Asylum 2011 (Copenhagen, Summer 2012), 3, http://www.nyidanmark.dk/NR/rdonlyres/0BF1EFD8-53EF-49F2-858A-518A0F48ABB7/0/extract_statistical_overview_migration_asylum_2011.pdf.
 Ibid., 3.
 Deloitte Business Consulting A/S, Arbejdsmarkedsstyrelsen M.fl.: International Rekruttering – Barrierekatalog (Copenhagen, November 2008), http://www.integrationsviden.dk/beskaeftigelse/rekruttering/international-rekruttering-barrierekatalog/#.UUbabNHF05h.
 Oxford Research A/S and The Copenhagen Post, The Expat Study 2010 (Denmark, December 2010), http://www.sfr.dk/~/media/SFR/Files/Publikationer/2010/451901-THEEXPATSTUDY2010%20pdf.ashx.
 Danish Government, Årsrapport for International Citizen Service 2011 (Agency for Retention and Recruitment, 2012), 3, http://www.sfr.dk/~/media/SFR/Files/Bilag%20til%20nyheder/2012/%C3%85rsrapport%20%20International%20Citizen%20Service%20%202011%20endelig%20rapport%20-%20april.pdf.ashx.
 Danish Government, Årsrapport for International Citizen Service 2012 (Agency for Retention and Recruitment, 2013), 2, http://www.sfr.dk/da/International-rekruttering/Publikationer/Arkiv/ICS-aarsrapport-2012.aspx.
Next week’s topic: Aalborg Library – a community hot spot