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About time! Students, PhDs react to green card proposal

Master's and PhDs are fed up with six month rules, visa term 'countdowns', and bureaucracy

She is a law-abiding, productive, member of Danish society. And she has been for five years. But Camilla Sanneris, an Italian expatriate with a Master’s in international health, must find a job before the end of the summer, or face deportation, along with her Danish daughter.

This is the consequence of a rule that only gives international Master’s and PhDs six months to find a job after graduating. The rule is up for reform following a proposal by the Minister of Education.

If the reform goes through – and it is running its way through parliament in a package of other reforms – it will extend the term to three years. The Danish government has just released an analysis that proves the economic benefits of attracting, and keeping international students and PhDs.

Five years, Danish daughter

Camilla completed her Master’s in International Health at the University of Copenhagen in December 2012, and has lived in Denmark since 2007. She is sick of the bureaucracy.

“I had to switch from a worker visa to a student visa, which I was never informed of, and only realised once the job centre wasn’t issuing kontanthjælp (social benefits). It further turned out that every time I switched to a different visa, the countdown timer for permanent residence was reset. In a few months, I will have lived in Denmark for 5 years, but me and my Danish daughter won’t be legally able to stay unless I find a full-time job.”

“A green card would provide some breathing room,” she says to the University Post.

Four visas, DKK 13,000, and countless hours

Camilla is apparently not alone in her frustration.

Heidi Gumpert, originally from Canada, is doing a PhD in Systems Biology at the Danish Technical University (DTU). She tells the University Post a horror story of lost documents, changing rules, countless fees, and excruciating waiting times. Herself highly educated in the field of biotech, she believes Denmark would benefit from her continued residence in the country. But the immigration process is forcing her to consider moving to a country that seems more welcoming.

“I was employed as a research assistant for a 6-month period and a 4-month period, and I had to apply for a visa both times. I had to apply yet again when I began my PhD, and then again when I had to renew my passport. The immigration office lost my documents, a new case was opened, and new rules were retroactively applied. The whole system is Byzantine; I have spent upwards of DKK 13,000 on little slips of paper granting me permission to stay here”, she says.

Keep on paying the fees

Heidi explains what for her has become standard procedure.

“After a student hands in their dissertation, they are normally ‘hired’ by the university until their defence. If I am to do that, I will need to apply for yet another visa. A green card would save me from bureaucratic hell, and I would be able to work after graduation, while looking for a suitable postdoctoral position,” she says.

“As long as I have a valid passport, there should be no reason to continuously fill out forms and pay fees just to maintain the status quo.”

Red tape

Six month work permits force international graduates to bear the real costs associated with the uncertainty of their situation, says Alex Berger, an American who is doing his Master’s in communication. If a business isn’t absolutely certain that a prospective employee will be allowed to stay in the country for longer than six months, they are unlikely to hire him or her.

“The green card would make a huge difference. I would like to work in Denmark, but given the way current immigration documents are handled, employers would – rightfully – be wary to hire someone whose visa situation might take months to settle, without any guarantee it will get settled at all. This uncertainty is a major cost, and until my visa is sorted out, I will basically have to float.”, Alex says.

“There is an opportunity cost to staying in Denmark. My degree is more valuable in the States, because fewer people have Master’s degrees. I’d have no problems finding a job back home. I love living in Denmark, and would like to continue doing so, but feel like the red-tape is curbing my options.”

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