Immigrating to Denmark: Truths and tips (part II)

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Image of the Danish flag taken from FOTW Flags Of The World website at

Are you a non-EU citizen who would like to immigrate to Denmark? If so, there are many options available to you – especially if you are highly educated and/or work in a profession that currently lacks qualified Danes. As I wrote in my 9 December 2013 post (International Citizen Service in Aalborg: A one-stop shop for foreign residents), Denmark faces a growing shortage of educated and trained workers in several sectors, including medicine, engineering, IT, and miscellaneous academic fields (lawyers, statisticians, actuaries, etc.) People with qualifications in these areas have a jump on others but there are also opportunities to immigrate to Denmark outside these fields. Let’s start with the main work permit schemes…

One scheme the government has developed to attract people from outside the country to come and fill the aforementioned positions is the Positive List Scheme. Obtaining a work visa under this scheme requires that the person have a job contract or offer in Denmark in one of the professions on this list that specifies the salary and employment conditions. The government will grant the applicant a residence permit of up to a month prior to starting work if the applicant can prove he/she can support him/herself plus accompanying family members; otherwise, the residence permit is issued with a start date of 14 days prior. Unlimited/open-ended job contracts provide a worker with a 4-year work permit under the scheme; those with short-term contracts are given a permit to match the contract’s length plus six months, in order to give the person time to search for another job. The professions that appear on the Positive List are not etched in stone; they change periodically (the most recent list was updated on 1 January, 2014). A minimum of a Bachelor’s degree is necessary to qualify for the scheme, no matter which of the professions you are in, and many of the job areas require special Danish authorization.

Another scheme, which broadly follows the guidelines of the Positive List, is the Pay Limit Scheme. This allows people who have contracts for high salary jobs in Denmark to qualify easily for a work permit. The minimum annual salary requirement is 375,000 Danish kroners (roughly $68,000/€50,250/£41,300 as converted on 21 January 2014). As for those who qualify under the Positive List rules, applicants must submit a job contract stating their salary and employment conditions with their other work permit paperwork. Residence permit guidelines and length of work permit are the same as the above.

A third type of work permit was devised to make it easier for the business sector to transfer employees from outside Denmark to Danish offices, if only for short-term stints. It applies to people who work for companies with operations in Denmark but who reside primarily outside the country and need to reside temporarily in Denmark for work, training or educational purposes. Called the Corporate Scheme, it gives these workers special permission to live for a time in Denmark, leave and come back if necessary without applying for a new permit. Both the employing corporation and the applicant must meet certain conditions, which can be found here. Residence permit guidelines and length of work permit are the same as the above.

For people who would like to look for work in Denmark and have the means to financially support themselves for a year while searching, the Greencard Scheme may be appropriate. This point-based system is designed to attract (or retain) highly educated and skilled immigrants who wish to live and work in Denmark. It is NOT a work permit but rather a residence permit; once an applicant has found a job while living under Greencard rules, he/she must apply for a work permit. In order to qualify, the applicant must score a minimum of 100 points across five categories: education, language skills, work experience, adaptability and age (click here for details). For example, a person can qualify for residency under the Greencard Scheme with a Bachelor’s and one-year Masters degree (50 points), an intermediate level of fluency in Danish (10 points), 3-5 years’ experience in a profession on the Positive List (15 points), at least two consecutive years having lived and worked in an EU/EEA country or Switzerland (10 points), and being under 35 years of age (15 points) = 100 points. He/she must also be able to prove financial independence during the first year of the job search. A fee is charged to process all Greencard Scheme applications; it is not refunded in cases where the application is rejected. The residence permit under the Greencard Scheme is good for up to three years, at the end of which a one-year extension can be granted upon request.

There are other types of work permits that apply to smaller segments of the immigrant population. These include researchers, trainees, athletes, au pairs, interns, religious workers, young people under the Working Holiday program (specific countries only), and the self-employed. New to covers all details pertinent to applying for permission to work in these capacities. There are also special groups that do not need residence or work permits while spending time in Denmark, but the conditions for these groups are quite specific (see here). Yet another way that people enter Denmark legally is by seeking asylum; from January to September of 2013 2,151 people did so[1]. Information about requesting asylum in Denmark can be found here.

Non-Danish family members who accompany an EU or non-EU citizen to Denmark generally qualify for residence permits under the family reunification scheme. As I referred to in Part I of my post on immigration last week, this is the way my daughters and I were granted residency. The general rules for accompanying family members are that the couple are married, registered partners or cohabiting partners (requiring that you lived together at least 18-24 months prior to moving to Denmark) and that the children are under the age of 18. (Special cases can be made, however, for children over 18 and parents of the primary residence/work permit holder.) Documents required to apply for family reunification include a marriage certificate or proof of cohabitation, birth certificates of children under 18, passport photos for all applying for reunification, letter of consent from other custody holder, if the child is under 18, and proof of financial independence if applying under the Greencard Scheme. Please note that this is a very simplified version of the story; much more detail can be found here or by contacting the Danish Immigration Service.

Here are some useful tips and links to further information on immigrating as a non-EU citizen:

  • ‘As a citizen of a non-Nordic/EU/EEA country, as a general rule you must have a residence permit before arriving in Denmark. Applications must normally be handed in to a Danish representative office in your country of origin or the country you have been living for the last three months (a Danish representative office is an embassy or a consulate general in your home country).’ (taken directly from WorkinDenmark’s website).
  • The WorkinDenmark site also offers a very useful step-by-step tool to determine what you need to do in order to gain legal residency and employment in Denmark.
  • Fees to apply for the various types of permits and extensions of those permits were regulated on 1 January 2014 and can be found here.
  • Students have their own set of rules for residency (if they come from outside the Nordic, EU/EEA countries or Switzerland). Official information can be found here and the application form for Danish residency for students is available here.
  • Family reunification has four separate types of applications, depending on one’s circumstances and needs. They can be found here.
  • Some documents have to be translated; for example, a child’s birth certificate must be in English or German to be accepted as part of a residence permit application. If it is not, it will have to be translated.
  • The Danish Immigration Service has general guidelines on how long applications to their office take to process. These can be found here. As I stated in Part I, our application for family reunification took 6.5 weeks, which is about half the time indicated under the service guidelines (3 months), and that was during the busiest season of the year for immigration officials.
  • Residence permits are valid only up to three months prior to the applicant’s passport expiration date. Thus, if your passport expires 12 months after your permit is granted, the permit will be valid only 9 months. An extension can be granted after a new passport is issued but you must apply for the extension and attach a copy of the new passport.

To conclude, schemes for immigrating to Denmark abound for well-educated and trained professionals. They have been introduced in order to address the growing need for workers in sectors that lack qualified Danish applicants. The Danish government is ramping up its efforts to attract these people and keep them in Denmark; in fact, in February 2012 a new government agency – the Danish Agency for Labour Retention and International Recruitment – opened its doors to do exactly what its name says: ‘keep qualified people in Denmark and pull in more from the outside’. The rules and regulations that govern immigration may seem like a maze at first but several websites – most notably,, and – have most, if not all, the information you need to exit the labyrinth and complete your application. Still, even the FAQs don’t cover everything so here is some advice from those who have been there, done that:

  • “If you get the job before you move to Denmark, ask your employer to help you with the immigration/work visa process from the get-go. If you can, ask for someone there who can be your champion AND who speaks Danish. It will make the communication with the Danish Immigration Service easier.”
  • “If you don’t understand something about the immigration process, ASK! Do not assume that your employer or the Danish officials know which issues are confusing or where your gaps in understanding are. Even for the seemingly most obvious things you may need to ask direct questions (and if you do you will get an answer!) Danes, especially those who work for companies that employ few non-Danes or non-EU citizens, do not and will not necessarily understand where the difficulties for you as an immigrant lie.”
  • Save yourself time: download, print out and fill out the appropriate application form before visiting the Danish consular office or embassy (if outside Denmark) or immigration office or ICS office (if in Denmark). In many cases you can choose to send an application by post or email (click here for more information). Gather the necessary documents to accompany your application. Before you submit your application check, double-check and triple-check that you have all of the documents required. Make extra copies of those documents in case they are required or you lose one. Have at least one passport photo ready per applicant; two is better. Make a copy of your completed application form, too.”
  • “While there are guidelines on the amount of time it should take you to get your permit, you should always prepare for it to take longer. So have a plan B for the children if you can’t register for daycare by the date you thought you could; have enough money in an easily accessible bank account (even if it’s abroad) to tide you over until the first salary payment comes through; and know that the memories of any difficulties you have with the process will (probably) fade over time…”

One thought on “Immigrating to Denmark: Truths and tips (part II)

    […] years ago I posted a two-part story on immigrating to Denmark (see here and here), complete with tips, advice, and links to the main websites that can be of help to someone […]

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