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Residence permit changes: Researchers could leave Denmark

Highly skilled international researchers are considering leaving Denmark. They are worried about going on the record with criticism of new strict and complicated permanent residency rules that require things like 'active citizenship'

Some international researchers are now questioning whether they want to remain in Denmark at all.

This is after new 2015 rules for permanent residency are being enforced. Applicants now must have resided in Denmark for six years and must have been employed full-time for two and half years in the past three years to be eligible for a permanent residency permit. Applicants must also fulfill at least two out of four further requirements.

Several international researchers that the University Post have spoken to all wish to remain anonymous for fear of their permanent residency issues being noticed by present and future employers. According to one of them, “we are jumping through hoops to attain permanent residency,” and don’t understand why their skills and efforts are not appreciated.

Should I stay or leave?

As another researcher puts it: “Why should I work so hard at my job and then work on fulfilling all these additional requirements? I can easily get a job in another country that will welcome me with open arms,”

According to Søren Høfler, International Staff Mobility consultant at the University of Copenhagen, the new requirements have International researchers considering leaving Denmark.

“Once we successfully recruit highly qualified researchers we would like to keep them in the country. But the issue is that a lot of them are worried about the new requirements and don’t know if they would like to stay or if they should leave the country and look for a new job,” he says to the University Post.

Could prove costly

Losing highly qualified international researchers could prove costly for universities.

“It is hard to say what will happen. I think the university will not change the strategy for internationalization, but we will have to use a lot more administrative resources,” says Vivian Tos Lindgaard, head of International Staff Mobility at the University of Copenhagen.

Replacing International researchers with more Danish researchers is easier said than done.

“The reason we recruit internationally is because we can’t find the researchers in Denmark. Many of them are from specialized research areas. The problem will be that we will have to use a lot of resources on recruitment,” says Vivian Tos Lindgaard.

Less incentive to come and stay

The worry is now that the stricter requirements will reduce the attractiveness of Denmark as a research destination for future residents, but also for the highly skilled people already here.

“We get calls every single week and these are from International researchers at the University who would love to keep working in Denmark,” says Søren Høfler.

This might change.

“There might be less researchers willing to move to Denmark with the intention of permanently staying because it has become increasingly difficult to do so,” he says.

Difficult to understand, impossible to explain

The new rules for permanent residency came into effect on Friday, 5 February 2016, but they apply retroactively from Thursday, 10 December 2015. It therefore affected people who applied for permanent residency months before the new law existed.

“We have a PhD who applied on 10 December 2015, that date was the date that the new laws came into effect. So poor guy, he no longer meets the recruitment criteria,” Søren explains.

Søren Høfler, International Staff Mobility: “It is embarrassing to have to explain the active citizenship requirement to highly qualified researchers and staff. To tell them that they have to be part of a local community program or be a coach in a football club”.

“The rules are not easy to understand, not even for us. Even after you meet the criteria there are additional requirements. It is a jungle,” Søren says.

Needs ‘active citizenship’

One of the four additional, supplementary requirements is ‘active citizenship’.

“It is embarrassing to have to explain the active citizenship requirement to highly qualified researchers and staff. To tell them that they have to be part of a local community program or be a coach in a football club,” Søren remarks.

These requirements are taking time and focus away from the researchers’ work. “When are they going to have the time for this? I apologize when I explain the rules because I cannot see why these things should be a deciding factor,” Søren says.

Calling for change

The impact of the new rules is not limited to Danish universities. It is also impacting Danish corporations, that Vivian Tos Lindgaard of ISM has been in contact with.

“It is not only a problem for the University, but it is the same for big companies in the Danish labour market. If you speak to A.P. Møller Maersk or Novo Nordisk, they will tell you the same. It is the same everywhere for anyone looking for highly qualified workers and researchers in Denmark.”

For now, the International Staff Mobility office is continuing their lobbying for changes.

“We do it together with big Danish companies and we do it with other Danish universities, but usually we don’t have a lot of success I am sorry to say, but we do try and sometimes we do succeed,” Vivian Tos Lindgaard explains.

International researchers are, after all, a valuable asset.

“Lawmakers have to understand that this highly skilled labor force is a benefit for the country and the researchers often bring with them their own money or grants, so it is also a way to get funding for research when you bring International researchers to Denmark,” she says.

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