Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Animal farm revisited

Yesterday's post left me ruminating on the concept of equality, and its impact struck me more profoundly than I initially realised, beneath the veneer of my flippant tone.

For any immigrant in Denmark, especially during their initial decade of residency, the foremost stressor is often the instability stemming from the lack of either permanent residency or citizenship. Let's juxtapose the journeys of two couples. It starts out along the same path:

  • one partner is born in 1968, the other in 1972
  • he is a Dane, she is a UK citizen or a dual UK/Aussie citizen
  • they meet in the home of the non-Danish partner in the early 2000s
  • they have a few kids together and stay married till at least 2024, with no plans to change that
So far so good but things diverge then...

In couple one, they marry and the non-Dane is granted full citizenship on the day of their marriage just four years after their first meeting and less than two years after arriving permanently in Denmark. Hey, the government even rewrites the immigration rules for her and has the Monarch okay the change and it's given the cutesy title 'Mary's law', because after all it only applies to one person, Mary. 

Let's look at the other couple now... 

With only eight weeks preparation they move to Denmark in 2019 unimaginably stressed because of how precarious their predicament has become in the UK, where they had set up home together in 2006, four years after they first met. They are up against the Brexit clock because moving after the UK's exit would have huge repercussions. The date for Brexit keeps changing so they have no idea what they are up against. She has just undergone a full hysterectomy because of two pre-cancerous grapefruit-sized tumours on her ovaries so can barely stand up but be that as it may they have no option but to move before Brexit to be ensured a future as a family. After the magical, yet illusory Brexit date:
  • She wouldn't be allowed to own a house in Denmark for the first five years as she would have lost her EU citizenship
  • Her rights to stay with her family wouldn't be covered by the UK's EU withdrawal agreement
  • Her driving licence wouldn't be valid any more
Thanks Britain, just thanks!

So in a rush, they arrive in Denmark in early 2019. She finds out that to obtain a guaranteed secure future in the country of her husband and children's citizenship, she needs to go through the following steps:

  • Live in Denmark continuously for 5 years to apply for permanent residence (it's usually 8 if you're Australian)
  • Apply for no money from the Danish state, and therefore remain ineligible for all help in finding employment for the first five years. You're on your own with that task.
  • Be fully self-sufficient
  • Have no breaks in your residence in Denmark
  • Pass a C1 Danish language exam
  • Pass the knowledge of Denmark Naturalisation exam
  • Have no criminal convictions
  • Live in Denmark a further 2+ years after the 5 you needed for your permanent residency card before attempting to get citizenship
  • Have a full-time job for at least 3 years and 6 months within the 4 years prior to applying for citizenship*... lose it for 7 months and you're back to square one requiring a further 3.5 years work. Non-EU citizens must earn a minimum of DKK 487,000. (Covid getting you laid off is not a valid excuse, neither is serious illness!) It's like playing a grotesque game of snakes and ladders with your life and future.
  • Swear allegiance to the state and the monarch (I guess the two couples converge again here momentarily!)
  • Sign up for a naturalisation ceremony
  • Pay DKK 3,800
The journey becomes even more stressful with changes in government over the course of that decade often moving the goalposts after years of diligent effort.

Finding and sustaining full-time employment in one's mid to late 50s poses a significant challenge, particularly when seeking further training or assistance from the local job centre would nullify the terms of your residency for the first five years. So far I am no closer to my goal as I can only find freelance jobs, and as I turn 56 next month I suspect the insurmountable 3.5 year rule will be the hurdle at which my ability to ever gain the same citizenship as my husband and children ultimately falls. And with that goal goes all hope of security and a guarantee of a future no state can remove from us at a whim.🙁

Reflecting on the divergent trajectories of these initially parallel paths, I'm compelled to acknowledge that the concept of equality seems to have slipped through the cracks. Fully 22 years after I met my Dane and five years after our move, I am no closer to what she magically achieved in four short years than I have ever been. Her family matters much more than mine; the trauma they would suffer if she was no longer allowed to reside with her husband and kids is considered somehow greater and more important than the trauma my kids and husband would feel in the same situation...  It all feels kinda sucky. 🙁 

I come from a country where even Royal foreigners are made to jump through hideous hoops to be allowed the peace of mind that lets them stay with their partner, married or not, parent of a UK citizen or not. Don't get me wrong, I am not part of the school that adheres to the idea that I had to suffer so you bloody well should too. I am more someone who thinks that this modern situation where parents do not have an automatic right to live in the country where there kids have citizenship or with their partner of many years, without fearing which whim of the current administration will potentially send them into a tailspin of terror is a sad place to be. 

Eighteen years and several kids down the line, ours obviously wasn't a marriage of convenience, so it would be nice if one of our governments saw us as human beings rather than just statistics.

*Education doesn't count towards citizenship, so if like Léon you came here at 13, you can only start to work towards your 3.5 years of work requirement once you finish your uni degree at the age of 25, so in his case citizenship will have taken much more than half his lifetime to achieve: Arriving at 13, working till 28.5 (15.5 years later).  

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