Denmark has altered the conditions for refugees to be granted permanent residence permits a number of times since 2002. Even though other countries have introduced more stringent requirements in the wake of the refugee crisis in 2015, Denmark makes even tougher demands with regard to length of time spent in the country, language skills and ability to support oneself than Norway, the Netherlands and Germany do.
In many Western countries, asylum seekers who are granted refugee status are given temporary residence permits. The main aim is to give the refugees protection, and the temporary residence permits can usually be extended on expiry if a return to the home country would be unsafe. In consequence, refugees often remain in their new host country for many years, uncertain as to their chances of ever getting back to their countries of origin.
The ROCKWOOL Foundation Research Unit has compared the changes in the requirements for refugees to obtain permanent residence permits in Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and Germany. All these countries initially issue temporary residence permits to refugees.
Denmark is alone in increasing the length of stay required for a permanent residence permit
Since 2003, most European countries have been bound by the directives of the EU Commission on legal rights for individuals who have resided for a protracted period in an EU member state. EU law stipulates that individuals who have held a temporary residence permit for a long period should be able to apply for permanent residence after a maximum of five years in the country concerned. This applies in most European countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, both of which introduced this principle before the EU directive was issued. In Norway, refugees are required to have been resident in the country for three years before applying for permanent residence.
Denmark is at present exempt from complying with the EU regulations in question because of the country’s various opt-outs, and was thus able in 2002 to increase the required period of residence from three to seven years. In 2010 the period required was reduced to four years, but it was raised again to five years in 2012; today it is eight years. Figure 1 shows the requirements for period of residence in the four countries in 2018.
Denmark may apply the toughest conditions for obtaining permanent residence, but it also operates the most comprehensive legally regulated support system for the integration of refugees, closely followed by Norway. The Netherlands represents the opposite extreme, with more relaxed requirements, but less support. Germany lies in between. Figure 3 is a graphical representation of this situation, with a rank ordering of the requirements for obtaining permanent residence in the four countries compared with the legal requirements for the provision of support for integration. Whether or not the support provided through integration policies is adequate to help refugees attain the goals set is another question, and one that is not examined here.