The Danish government intends to significantly curb the flow of immigrants from third-world countries next year. The reason for this decision is a new official report on the Danish welfare system which was made public today (December 7). According to Claus Hjort Frederiksen, the Minister for Employment, immigrants from countries such as Somalia, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon are a huge burden on Danish welfare (a similar study was produced in Norway last September). Frederiksen said that immigrants allowed into the country had to have a job waiting for them.
“We are simply forced to adopt a new policy on immigration. The calculations of the welfare committee are terrifying and show how unsuccessful the integration of immigrants has been up to now,” said Frederiksen. The committee calculated among other things what it would mean if immigration to Denmark from third-world countries would be blocked completely. The conclusion was that 75% of the cuts needed in the welfare system in the next decades would disappear.
A month ago the Danish government decreed that foreigners have to have worked in Denmark for four out of the last five years before applying for Danish citizenship. This is one of several proposals the government has put forward to tighten citizenship laws. It comes in addition to language, culture, and history tests. The government is concerned that new citizens receive more in state assistance than they contribute to state coffers. The new welfare report seems to have confirmed those concerns.
Since the Liberal-Conservative government of Anders Fogh Rasmussen gained power in 2001 Denmark has not been receiving as many refugees and immigrants as before. Since then the number of annual residence permits granted to asylum seekers each year has dropped from 5,156 in 2000 to 2,447 in 2003. Residence permits for family reunification have dropped from 10,021 in 2000 to 4,791 in 2003, according to the Danish national statistics office.
Backed by the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party, the minority government of Mr Rasmussen implemented stricter rules defining who can receive residence permits, slashed social benefit payments to newcomers, and introduced ways to encourage rejected asylum seekers to leave the country, depriving them of benefit payments and allowing them only a box of bare necessities to sustain themselves.
Rikke Hvilshøj, the Danish Minister of Refugee, Immigration, and Integration Affairs (whose car and house had been arsoned last June, probably by pro-immigration activists), said a few days ago that there was no doubt in her mind that the restrictions on immigrant influx to Denmark in recent years had proved positive. “One of the things we have accepted is that the number of foreigners coming to the country makes a difference,” she said. “There is a inverse correlation between how many come here and how well we can receive the foreigners that come here.”
Hvilshøj also said that high unemployment rates and low education levels remained the biggest problem facing immigrants in Denmark. Only 46% of immigrants from third-world countries were employed, compared to 73% of Danes, and 60% of young immigrants dropped out of high school. Hvilshøj said that Denmark's current economic boom and low unemployment was the time for immigrants to seize the labour market.
Hvilshøj said integration was also about convincing newcomers in the country to embrace Danish values. In some cases she said immigrants should discard cultural and political notions from the countries they left behind. “In my view, Denmark should be a country with room for different cultures and religions,” she said. “Some values, however, are more important than others. We refuse to question democracy, equal rights, or freedom of speech.”
Asked to comment on last months’ debate on press freedom in Denmark, after the Danish daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten published twelve cartoons of Muhammad, Hvilshøj said: “Speaking for myself, I try to be careful how I say things. There have been comments in the Danish debate that I do not like at all. I don’t think the tone has been growing more hostile towards immigrants. On the contrary. Compared with other European countries, we have come a long way. Talking about some things can be painful, but keeping our mouths shut doesn’t solve any problems.”