Opinion Piece in Berlingske, 5 September 2018
In step with the overall progress of society, more and more Danes are forging their lives abroad – for a brief time, or for many years. These expat Danes possess a dedication and an eagerness to contribute to Denmark, especially in the latter case. We know that to be a fact as a result of surveys conducted by Danes Worldwide, for some years now, among the approximately 250,000 Danes living outside Denmark.
The desire for an international adventure on the part of Danes has been an asset for Denmark. For centuries, we have built our welfare state from the proceeds of international trade and international cooperation, and we need fellow citizens out there with a global orientation and international competencies. That need just keeps on growing as the global competition for talent rages on everywhere and shows no signs of abating – on the contrary.
To a greater extent than has been the case so far, Denmark may reap valuable advantages from engaging its citizens abroad. When asked whether they still feel Danish in their hearts, a large majority of expat Danes say “YES!”. More than ever, they want to be of assistance to Denmark by leveraging their networks and by promoting Danish brands and Denmark as a highly attractive destination for traveling, studying, and working.
Naturally, obligations and entitlements must be appropriately balanced in the relationship between citizens and their government. Unfortunately, the last few years have produced a state of affairs we need to adress at this time. Since mid-2016, Parliament has initiated several legislative projects that have a negative impact on expat Danes. In this context, it is worth considering that Danes who move abroad lose their right to vote after only two years; that’s a severe measure compared with the rights of citizens in other Nordic countries. In addition, nearly a third of expat Danes pay taxes in Denmark because they own a vacation residence or a business here.
Let me illustrate by giving some examples of political initiatives in Denmark that surprise and frustrate expat Danes all over the world.
The rules governing unemployment insurance benefits are being changed in Parliament – in a most bizarre manner when viewed from an international perspective.
According to the proposed legislation, Danes must have resided in Denmark for seven out of the last eight years in order to be entitled to unemployment benefits. Hence a Dane who went to work for just 13 months in the US and then returned to Denmark will have absolutely nothing to show – for the next 8 years – for all the insurance premium payments made throughout the years he or she was working in Denmark.
Similarly, Danes with international careers are getting a raw deal with it comes to old age security. In April, regulations were enacted to reduce the amount of the public pension payments (to which everyone contributes through taxes) after just six years of living abroad. That kind of legislation has a particularly chilling impact on accompanying spouses, younger people, and researchers working abroad. In the long run, Danish enterprises and educational institutions lose out.
The system in place prior to mid-2016 for achieving approval for family reunification was made significantly more onerous as of 1 July 2016. Only now, two years later, has the situation been addressed via a new and transparent point system introduced 1 July 2018. Media coverage of the situation was quite negative, and Minister of Immigration Inger Støjberg (from the liberal center-right party Venstre) in fact referred to the previous requirements as a “band-aid solution”.
The Ministry of Taxation supplies yet another example of the negative impact of Danish legislation on the lives of expat Danes. In early 2018, the Ministry introduced a proposal to set up a new set of regulations for Danes who live and work in countries with a dissimilar system of taxation and taxable benefits calculations and who, for example, own a vacation residence in Denmark. Per the proposed legislation, those Danes would be fully liable for taxation in Denmark if they set foot in the country for just one day. Fortunately, Taxation Minister Karsten Lauritzen withdrew the proposed legislation because “some of the unintended consequences of the proposed legislation require further study”.Danes Worldwide encourages Parliament – to a far greater extent than has been the case until now – to regard expat Danes as valuable resources for Denmark’s research, agriculture, health services, and businesses … in fact, for all of our society.
Don’t put up all these barriers to make life difficult for expat Danes. On the contrary, make it easier for our fellow citizens to return to Denmark – and do take advantage of their ability to contribute to our shared effort of securing and strengthening the continued dynamism of our wonderful country … in Denmark, and everywhere else.