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WORKING IN DENMARK

How Danish work permit rules are keeping out skilled foreigners living in Sweden

Denmark’s Pay Limit Scheme prevents highly qualified foreign nationals in Sweden’s Skåne region, which neighbours Copenhagen, from taking jobs amid a skilled labour shortage.

How Danish work permit rules are keeping out skilled foreigners living in Sweden
Sean Yue told The Local he wants to use his postgraduate qualifications from Lund University with a Danish company, but work permit rules have prevented him from accepting a job offer. Photo: supplied

Yue Jie, who goes by the preferred name Sean, has a graduate degree in Strategic Communication from Lund University. Sean told The Local he has been unable to accept a job offer with a Danish company due to Denmark’s work permit rules for citizens of so-called ‘third countries’ —  meaning non-EU or EEA countries.

Although it is possible for Swedish residents to work in Copenhagen without a work permit, this is only available to EU or Nordic citizens.

READ ALSO: Cross-border workers: Who is able to live in Sweden and work in Denmark?

Meanwhile, the number of job vacancies in Denmark remains at one of the highest levels for years, with many sectors affected and companies reporting a lack of labour, including skilled workers.

Figures published by national agency Statistics Denmark last month show that unemployment fell to 72,000 persons between February and March, the lowest level since June 2008. Such a small labour pool means companies find it hard to recruit specialised staff.

Denmark and Sweden work together on some areas in an effort to promote cross-border working in the Øresund region which spans the two countries, but this does not stretch to work and residence permits for non-EU nationals.

READ ALSO: Are international workers the answer to Denmark’s labour shortage?

“Originally from Singapore, I’m finishing my Master’s degree studies at Lund University over in Sweden and I’m currently on the search for jobs as I am due to complete my studies,” Yue told The Local.

“For the last month and a half, I’ve been sending job applications both in Copenhagen and in Malmö as these are the two biggest cities within my geographical vicinity,” he said.

“I’ve been in contact with at least two companies in Copenhagen for job applications and interviews, and at least one of them has even offered me a contract for a summer or part-time job this summer. This means that there is, at this point, nothing stopping me from simply crossing the Öresund Bridge from Skåne to Copenhagen anytime for work,” he said.

“The only issue here is that company requires a CPR number in order to pay out my salary, and a CPR number for non-EU nationals cannot be given without a work permit. Another company that recently interviewed with, the recruiter wants to hire me but she could not based on the requirements of the Danish work permit for non-EU (nationals),” he explained.

“I have the knowledge, skills and competencies, and can easily come to the office with a train commute from Sweden, but they cannot offer me employment based on this requirement alone,” he said.

Although non-EU nationals can apply for work permits in Denmark via a number of pathways, Yue said that the only one under which he can potentially fulfil approval criteria is the Pay Limit Scheme or Beløbsordningen in Danish.

The Pay Limit Scheme sets a minimum salary which businesses must pay skilled non-EU nationals in order for the employee to qualify for a Danish work permit. It is currently set at a minimum annual wage of 448,000 kroner.

The Confederation of Danish Industry (Dansk Industri, DI), a business and employers’ interest organisation representing around 19,000 companies in Denmark, told The Local it wanted to see the minimum wage required under the Pay Limit Scheme reduced, and was lobbying to achieve that objective.

“We at DI are working to reduce the current salary threshold on the Pay Limit Scheme from the present 448,000 kroner to 360,000 kroner,” the organisation’s senior political consultant Søren Kjærsgaard Høfler, who specialises in global mobility, said in a written comment.

“We are doing this with particular focus on attracting skilled international workers from outside of the EU and EEA,” he said.

The Pay Limit Scheme has recently been the subject of political discussions due to Denmark’s labour shortage and the need to attract more international workers. 

READ ALSO: How can you get a work permit in Denmark if you are not an EU national?

Under current rules, a work permit can be granted under the Pay Limit Scheme for applicants offered salaries of at least 448,000 kroner a year. No specific educational background or a job within a specific professional field is required.

The government earlier this year proposed that the annual salary requirement be lowered to 375,000 kroner over a two-year period, to allow more international workers into Denmark on the scheme.

DI’s global mobility consultant told The Local that the organisation’s work to smooth the path for foreign recruitment in Denmark was focused on retaining international students from Danish universities. Nevertheless, a reduction of the Pay Limit Scheme’s minimum salary requirement could also benefit other foreign skilled workers.

“Traditionally, we have at DI focused on the options for residence and work for international students who have completed their studies in Denmark. We have made some progress here and we think this is beneficial for Danish companies,” Høfler said.

“We therefore want to make our own education system attractive and relevant for students who are thinking about staying in Denmark after finishing their studies,” he said.

“When studies are not undertaken in Denmark, we fall back on the existing business schemes [used to grant work permits for non-EU and EEA nationals, ed.], which includes the Pay Limit Scheme, which currently requires (a salary of) 448,000 kroner. DI is working to reduce this threshold, which might help in the case in question,” he said when asked about the impact of the scheme on job hopefuls not already in Denmark.

A non-EU national who previously worked in Denmark, but left due to issues caused in part by the Pay Limit Scheme, told The Local her experience made her feel “very frustrated”.

“In early 2019, I was let go from my job in Denmark. I consulted with my union at the time about my chances of finding a job and was told that it would be tough but possible. Thus, I moved to a visa for job-seekers [which allows non-EU nationals to remain in the country for six months to find work, ed.] and began looking for a new job,” said the ex-Denmark resident, who preferred to remain anonymous. The Local is aware of the person’s identity.

Whilst searching for a new job in Denmark, she passed interview stage with an organisation before being rejected. “Later, I learned that the position’s compensation was lower than the Pay Limit Scheme and for that reason (the company) didn’t offer it to me, knowing that I would not be able to take it anyway,” she said.

“I realised that I was stuck because I was not qualified for a position that would pay me enough, while the position that I was qualified for would not pay me enough. I believed the root cause was that my profile (Southeast Asian, educated outside of Europe, humanities major, no Master’s degree, non-Danish speaker, three years of working experience at the time) was not strong enough to procure a job that would satisfy the Pay Limit Scheme,” she said.

“At the time I was very frustrated, especially because if it weren’t me but someone from inside the European Union, they would have been able to get the position (with the company that interviewed me) and continue staying in Denmark. Thus I felt the fact that I was not able to get the position due to my background was unfair,” she said.

“I (also) felt that my life as a single foreigner in Denmark was unstable because the rules governing the Pay Scheme Limit could be changed in the future,” she also noted.

Yue, a communications professional specialised in sales and business development, told The Local that the Pay Limit Scheme was his only hope of being able to work for a Danish company.

“I’m a communications professional, so there is essentially only one category which I can apply under – the Pay Limit Scheme,” Yue told The Local.

“The recruiter that I interviewed told me that the salary for the entry-level position I applied for has a salary below this requirement, thus they cannot hire me,” he said.

The Singaporean told The Local that he wanted “to highlight my situation as a current resident already in Sweden and the nature of such migration/immigration issues within Denmark.”

“If there are any Danish employers out there or international companies in Denmark who are willing to hire me because they recognise that I can be a valuable employee to their organisation, I’m willing to speak with them,” he said.

Sean Yue can be contacted via LinkedIn.

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WORK PERMITS

INTERVIEW: Are Sweden’s liberals ready to fight for work permits?

Sweden's liberal work permit system is under assault from the Social Democrats, but Tove Hovemyr from the liberal Fores think tank is worried liberal right-wing parties have lost the appetite to fight back.

INTERVIEW: Are Sweden's liberals ready to fight for work permits?

For Tove Hovemyr, public policy expert at the liberal think tank Fores, the employer-led immigration law Fredrik Reinfeldt’s Alliance government brought in back in 2008 marks the high watershed of Sweden’s formerly enlightened approach to migration. 

“Sweden became the most liberal labour migration system in all of the OECD countries,” she tells The Local’s Paul O’Mahony in this week’s Sweden in Focus podcast.  “And this has been very successful and great, most of all for Sweden’s growth and labour market situation, but also for our competitiveness in the globalised world that we live in.” 

The 2008 law scrapped Sweden’s old system of arbetsmarknadsprövning, Sweden’s version of the so-called “labour market test”  where the unions and the government would assess which were the roles, professions and industries where Sweden had a shortage of skilled workers.

“It basically says that if someone has offered you a job in Sweden with a wage that is adequate, and that also follows Swedish labour market regulations and so forth, then you were welcome to come from a third country to Sweden and work,” she explains of the 2008 law. “It was not dependent on whether there was a shortage of workers in a sector or industry. And this is still the law that exists in Sweden.” 

However, this liberal law, which has enabled so many people to come and build their lives in Sweden, is now under threat from both left and right. 

Changes to work permit laws which come into force on June 1st already make work permits harder to secure, requiring applicants already to have a signed contract before applying for a work permit, and also to prove that they can support any family they bring. 

But at the end of April, the Social Democrats announced plans to reverse the Reinfeldt reforms and bring back the labour test, while the Moderate Party wants to limit work permits to those on salaries of 27,000 kronor a year. 

“What we can see now is that both the Social Democratic Party and the Moderate Party now want to restrict Sweden’s liberal labour migration regulations in different ways,” Hovemyr says. 

The Social Democrats’ proposal would return Sweden to the pre-Reinfeldt past, while the Moderates’ proposed threshold, she argues, would mean drastic reductions in labour migration. 

“A lot of the labour migration that we have today, and which we also need, like berry pickers, people at restaurants and hotel workers, would not measure up to this level,” she says of the Moderates’ threshold. 

She sees the push to tighten up labour migration laws as part of the broader anti-migration backlash that began in Sweden in the 1990s but which really took off with the refugee crisis of 2015. 

“The refugee crisis of 2015 shook most policymakers to the core,” Hovemyr says. “Even the most liberal politicians were suddenly in favour of a more restrictive policy, some due to new personal convictions, and some due to the public attitudes towards migration. From a more pragmatic point of view, it is now very hard to be pro-immigration in Sweden.” 

Partly, she concedes, this reflects a toughening of attitudes across the world.

“We’ve seen a fast increase in right-wing populism and nationalism all over the liberal democracies. This is not a development isolated to Sweden, quite the opposite. Sweden is actually not the worst in class.” she argues. “This is a part of a wave of  populism going all over the western countries, and the immigration debate in Sweden is just a part of it.” 

READ ALSO: 

Hovemyr believes the next battle will be over labour migration. 

“Besides the question of asylum policy, one of the biggest fights we will see, I think, in the years after this election, will be labour migration policy,” she says. “Just as the general attitude in the public policy debate is that it’s hard to be pro-migration, it is also hard to be pro labour migration.” 

Her fear is that there seem to be few politicians ready to fight for the liberal labour migration that she believes has brought Sweden so many benefits. 

“What concerns me is that when these proposals came from the Social Democrats in late April, I didn’t see the defensive reaction from politicians who support liberal labour migration policy that I would have expected,” she says. 

“This is concerning, because I think that many still sees being pro-migration as something dangerous, and it might mean that the fight to keep liberal labour migration laws won’t be as great as I would hope.”

Tove Hovemyr was interviewed by Paul O’Mahony for this week’s Sweden in Focus podcast. 

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