Conflicting signals on integration
You have a duty to learn Danish when you live in Denmark. In an effort to manifest this position through policy, the government and Danish People’s Party have introduced a range of new measures, including fees for using interpreters in the health service.
At Copenhagen Language Center, we agree that a command of the Danish language is important when you live in Denmark. However, we find it difficult to comprehend the underlying logic in the decision by the government and Danish People’s Party to restrict access to Danish language courses, while at the same time imploring foreign residents to master Danish.
The introduction of user fees to cover a portion of the cost of Danish courses – part of recent tax agreement between the government and their supporting party, the Danish People’s Party – will require self-supporting foreigners to pay DKK 12,000 to learn Danish.
Consequences for integration and retention
Language is the key to successful integration. Denmark learned this the hard way back in the 1960s and 70s, as the country failed to integrate an entire generation of immigrants. The first law on Danish language courses was adopted in 1986, and since then thousands of immigrants have seized the opportunity for free Danish classes. But now it is going to cost money to learn Danish.
The direct consequence of these high user fees is that far fewer foreigners will learn Danish. The most likely indirect consequences will be a significant decline in foreigners who permanently settle in Denmark – and those who do will have a much more difficult path to integration. The new policy will have a tangible impact on the lives of foreigners, who will have to struggle even more to establish a foothold in the job market and in everyday life. These impacts will also be felt by the Danish business world, where labour is in short supply.
Self-supporting foreigners are by far the largest group of foreigners in Denmark, and they comprise about 70% of students currently enrolled in a Danish course. The new user fees are not the first time that tighter rules have been imposed on this particular group of foreigners.
It’s now or never – enrolment required on arrival
The deposit, voucher scheme and user fees all seek to encourage foreigners to take their Danish courses seriously and learn Danish as quickly as possible. This objective is certainly sensible, but a user fee of DKK 12,000, combined with the two other measures, will not strengthen integration – on the contrary, it will keep many students from ever enrolling in a Danish course.
The deposit must be paid at the time of enrolment and the user fee is set at DKK 2,000 per module, payable in advance. The first three modules are relatively short, which means that many new students will have to pay DKK 7,250 within a period of just six months.
At the same time, foreigners must now make a decision about Danish language courses within four weeks of arrival in the country. This new policy requires them to make a very quick and final decision about whether to prioritise Danish classes AND they must also ensure that they have the financial means to complete their Danish studies.
Most newly arrived foreigners in Denmark spend their first month here looking for a place to live, getting settled down at their new job or school, and generally finding their bearings in a brand new country. Would any reasonable person conflate a lack of time and energy to enrol in Danish classes at this early juncture with insufficient motivation? Certainly not.
User fees will miss the target
Self-supporting foreigners in Denmark is a group comprised of individuals in the country to work or study, accompanying spouses, and people who moved to Denmark under the EU’s rules on family reunification. It includes both highly skilled workers and unskilled workers, who often take jobs in the hotel & restaurant, construction, and service sectors. It also includes students enrolled in higher education courses in Denmark – students with the potential to become extremely valuable employees for Danish businesses, despite their limited financial resources at present.
It is paradoxical that foreigners under the Danish Integration Act are given financial incentives to complete a Danish course, while self-supporting foreigners are now financially punished for doing the same.
Under the new policy, Danish language courses will be reserved for the foreigners who have the means and the desire to pay out of their own pocket. User fees will fail to deliver the intended effects, instead limiting access to Danish courses to those with the strongest financial resources – and barring many of those who could ultimately prove most beneficial to Danish society. Is that really the desired aim?