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LIVING IN DENMARK

Are provincial parts of Denmark a good option for international families?

Denmark’s less populous cities and towns say they offer benefits for foreign residents and their families. In fact, some are going above and beyond to ensure a smooth transition not just for new foreign hires, but also for accompanying partners and children.

Local authorities in Denmark say they want to attract -- and keep -- skilled workers from abroad by also helping their families to settle.
Local authorities in Denmark say they want to attract -- and keep -- skilled workers from abroad by also helping their families to settle. Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash

During the past six months, Lolland Municipality has been busy.

As construction on the Femern Tunnel connecting the island to the German island of Femern has begun, the municipality has launched a series of new initiatives to attract and retain skilled foreign workers. 

In addition to efforts to brand Lolland internationally, a new website for newcomers, welcome events and an international ambassador program, the municipality opened Denmark’s first public international school earlier this fall. 

Located in Maribo, Lolland International School offers free bilingual education to children from international families. 

“Lolland International School is without any doubt the biggest growth and development initiative in Lolland at the moment,” Julia Böhmer, international consultant for Lolland Municipality, told The Local.

The free international school is just one example of how provincial municipalities in Denmark are going the extra mile to attract and retain skilled foreign residents in an increasingly tight labour market – often by appealing to the whole family.

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“It’s refreshing to hear from municipalities who are looking after the entire family,” Søren Kjærsgaard Høfler told The Local. Høfler is a political consultant in global mobility at the Confederation of Danish Industry (Dansk Industri, DI), an organisation representing approximately 18,500 companies across Denmark. 

DI sees attracting and retaining international labour as one solution to the labour shortage Denmark currently faces, especially outside its major cities. 

 “If the entire family is engaged in the community, that enhances the family’s chance of staying,” Høfler said.

DI has a network of companies across Denmark’s municipalities that share best practices for attracting international labour.

“That illustrates how important we think this is for our member companies,” Høfler said.

Family-focused approach gets results, municipalities find

Although Böhmer said it’s too soon to measure the effect of Lolland’s new programs, the international school has already been deemed a success, enrolling more than twice as many students as anticipated in its first year.

“Our international consultant has also received an increasing number of calls from people from all over the world who have heard about the Femern Belt project and sometimes also the free international school,” the municipal consultant said.

One such family belongs to Candice Progler-Thomsen. Originally from the United States, Progler-Thomsen has lived in Denmark on and off for three decades. 

When her family returned to Denmark in 2020 after living in Saudi Arabia, Lolland International School was one factor in their choice to move to Lolland.

“The international school definitely caught our eye,” she told The Local. 

The municipalities of Esbjerg and Vejle have also seen success with initiatives that focus on family. Both municipalities have established programs to help accompanying partners also find jobs in their regions. 

“I’ve heard from residents who have said that [our expat business consultant for accompanying partners] factored into their decision to live in Vejle, even if they work in a neighbouring municipality,” Louise Nielsen, the settlement guide within Vejle’s Newcomer Service department, told The Local.

Esbjerg Municipality has found that its job services for spouses improves retention. 

“If an employee is recruited, but their family doesn’t see anything for them in the city and doesn’t feel like they belong, they are likely to move away after a few years,” Pia Enemark, Esbjerg Municipality’s newcomer service coordinator, told The Local. 

Services for families have also been a recruitment tool for the municipality of Ringkøbing-Skjern. As Denmark’s third most popular tourist destination, the municipality often recruits Germans who are familiar with the region from years of holidaying there. 

“We’ve found that our childcare options are often attractive to German families, compared to the options available in Germany,” Dorthe Frydendahl, Ringkøbing-Skjern Municipality’s settlement coordinator, told The Local. 

Social ties to stick the landing

Another aspect of municipalities’ efforts to attract internationals is to help new arrivals establish a social network. 

“Our aim with making it easier when people first arrive and helping them establish a social network is so they stay,” Enemark said. 

“It’s important that the whole family – not just during work hours, but in their spare time, too – feel like a part of the city they live in,” she added. 

In Vejle, where nearly 10 percent of the population is foreign-born, the municipality has an extensive lineup of events for foreign residents to learn about topics of interest, from taxes to schooling. It also offers some of its town events in English. 

“Leisure activities, friendships, and engagement with the community all make newcomers feel welcome,” DI’s Høfler said. “If they love their job and their family seems settled, that increases the chance they will stay.” 

Member comments

  1. Love this article. Having moved to Denmark from Luxembourg, another (much smaller population) country that understands how economic and social growth comes through attracting skilled/educated workers from the international community. Attract/hold/integrate is the recipe for growth. Bravo Lolland

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WORKING IN DENMARK

Can foreigners lose their Danish work permits if they take part in strikes?

Membership of a trade union in Denmark can occasionally result in your union requiring you to take part in industrial action by going on strike. But can that put foreign workers at risk of losing their work permits?

Can foreigners lose their Danish work permits if they take part in strikes?

Around two-thirds of people in employment in Denmark are members of a trade union.

Union membership forms a core part of Denmark’s “Danish model” by which the labour market regulates itself through collective bargaining agreements between the trade unions and employer organisations.

These agreements form the basis of salaries – rather than laws – and also ensure standards for working hours and vacation time under the agreements made in various labour market sectors.

As such, it’s common to be a union member in Denmark and foreign nationals working in the country are also likely to find it in their interests to join a union.

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One aspect of union membership is that members may be required to participate in industrial action, such as strikes, blockades, or solidarity actions.

For example, the 2021 Danish nurses strike organised by the Danish Nurses’ Organisation (DSR), which represents 95 percent of nurses in Denmark.

“The nurses’ strike is an example of the results of unsuccessful negotiations on the renewal of their collective agreement,” Peter Waldorff, international consultant at FH, Denmark’s largest trade union confederation, told The Local.

In this case, he continued, DSR called the strike and decided which members would be required to withdraw from work to join the strike. As the strike continued from June to August 2021 (one of the longest strikes in recent Danish history), an increasing number of union members were called to strike until the dispute was resolved. 

In such a situation, it is conceivable that some of the workers asked to take part in the strike would be foreign nationals from countries outside of the EU or EEA, who need a work permit to take employment in Denmark.

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

Foreign employees who are union members would participate in the strike just as Danish members would.

Although the employees involved in the strike would stop receiving their salaries they would instead receive conflict aid from the union, “meaning the person would not need to receive dagpenge or other social aid,” Stine Lund, senior legal consultant at the Danish Society of Engineers (IDA), a trade union for engineering, science, and IT professionals, told The Local

That is an important distinction for internationals working in Denmark because receiving social benefits can impact the ability to fulfil work permit criteria.

The employer would also be required to re-employ all employees once the conflict is resolved, Lund added. 

According to FH’s legal department, Waldorff said, participation in legally-called industrial action should not affect work permits. 

The Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration (SIRI) confirmed this to be the case.

“Third-country citizens will not have their residence permit revoked on the basis of employment, if they don’t work at their employer due to the reason that they participate in a legal labour dispute during their employment. EU/EEA citizens residing in Denmark will not lose their right to reside in Denmark on the basis of participating in a legal labour dispute,” SIRI said in a statement to The Local.

Although foreign workers can be asked to strike, the likelihood they will have to remains relatively low.

“In Denmark, strikes are relatively rare,” Waldorff said.

In the academic labour market, collective agreement conflicts almost never happen, according to Lund.

“We haven’t been in a situation where that measure has been taken for many, many years,” she said.

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