Given Denmark’s restrictive views on immigration, it’s no surprise that immigrants are finding it harder than ever to stay.
Just this March, a new law signalled a shift from integrating refugees towards repatriation, whilst tightening the residency permit framework for all immigrants to the extent that even applicants with strong ties to Denmark are being asked to leave.
Though not directly impacted by the new laws, the restrictive immigration climate is making it hard for immigrants like Nigerian student Alphosus Udoh, 20, to stay in Denmark.
He has been given a date by which to leave the country, and his subsequent appeals have been met with bureaucratic red tape.
Where is home?
Udoh, an orphan, has spent his formative years in Copenhagen since arriving from Nigeria five years ago as a dependent on his older brother’s study visa.
During this time, he has completed an upper-secondary education and just finished the second year of his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at Aalborg University.
Last year, following his brother’s completion of a PhD, both were asked to leave Denmark by 5 December 2018 – a directive that Udoh’s brother, his sole remaining relative, complied to by relocating to Canada.
But he was unable to take Udoh, as he is no longer a minor. Ahead of the deadline, Udoh accordingly submitted a completed permanent residency application based on his strong ties to Denmark.
Udoh, after all, has built his entire adult life in Copenhagen, and Nigeria is his home in name only, he maintains.
“When I moved here, I moved here pretty young. I’ve had all of my education here, I’ve worked here, and every job I’ve had has been in Denmark,” he explained.
“If I arrived at the airport today in Nigeria, I don’t even know where I’m supposed to go. Other than the fact that I have a Nigerian passport, I don’t really know what I’m supposed to do.”
Udoh has worked multiple jobs throughout his education, as he has not benefited from the SU state educational grant.
His former colleague, Mads Damsboe Fonsner, describes him as a hardworking young man who has held down multiple jobs while studying full-time.
“He is one of the most integrated people I know – sometimes more than myself I feel,” enthused Fonsner.
“Studying at university, working two jobs, speaking our language – I mean I just don’t get it. He has more connection to Denmark than his home country; his life and friends are here in Denmark. I would really hate to see one of my closest friends having to leave the country.”
Udoh’s classmate Anna Keisha Boateng concurs that Udoh is not only a hardworking employee, but also a hardworking student whose goal is to obtain a master’s degree and really contribute to Danish society.
“He doesn’t receive any money from the state, and he has always been working, as well as going to school. He has never done anything criminal, and he is doing great at school. He is very smart, and is getting great grades,” she contended.
“It is a true loss for Danish society, throwing away a person with a good heart, who is willing to work hard for society and does not want anything in return, other than being able to stay and continue his hard work.”
Both Boateng and Fonsner are shocked by the decision to expel Udoh.
The procedure for Udoh’s application has been anything but usual.
Danish immigration law allows applicants to petition for a stay based on strong ties to Denmark and if the expulsion from the country might prove too burdensome for the applicant.
However, there is no specific application form or process for these cases. Instead, applicants are directed to use form SG 1, the application for family reunification, and apply to be ‘reunified’ with themselves, according to Ane Divine Jinor, Udoh’s legal advisor.
This often leads to confusion because family reunification applicants must do so from their home country if they have no legal basis to be in Denmark, according to Michala Bendixen, the chairman of Refugees Welcome, Denmark.
As such, Udoh is also only able to apply on the grounds of his strong ties to Denmark if he submits the application while legally in Denmark before his visa expires.
Bureaucratic red tape
Unfortunately in Udoh’s case, this confusion has significantly hindered his application process.
Months of delays filled with bureaucratic slip-ups followed his application submission in which the Danish Immigration Services said they only received the first page of Udoh’s application – despite Udoh’s receipt of confirmation that they had all 22 pages.
A few weeks later, his application was again rejected on the grounds he needed to pay an application fee. When Jinor pointed out Udoh’s exceptional case did not require an application fee, Immigration Services reopened his case.
His case was again rejected a few weeks later on the grounds that he had to be outside the country during the application process.
This reopening and rejection of Udoh’s case, according to Jinor, is the crux of the issue. He and Udoh are prepared to accept the Immigration Services’ decision if they fully process his case and refuse it.
Instead, Immigration Services has repeatedly rejected Udoh’s application.
“The reason we think it’s unfair is because they are rejecting the application. Legally and technically, we have to make a clear distinction between what is a rejection and what is a refusal,” explained Jinor.
“A refusal means they have processed the case to the end and they can’t give you a positive answer. If they do this, that is fair.”
Udoh maintains that he believes in the Danish system, but sometimes wonders if there is preferential treatment throughout the application process.
“When you listen to the queen giving her new year speech, she’s always talking about wanting people who give something back to society. If you can do that, you’re welcome,” he said.
“Sometimes I go to the immigration centre and feel bad for the people from third world countries that I see because they’re just treated different because they don’t understand the language.”
Currently, Udoh and Jinor are appealing Udoh’s right to submit his application. This process may take up to a year, at which point Udoh may be able to submit his application and appeal to stay in Denmark.
However, Jinor believes Udoh should not have to appeal to submit his application. This is a right guaranteed by the Aliens Act, the lawyer contends.
“The Aliens Act makes an exception for people who have a strong connection to Denmark to be able to stay in Denmark. So actually what he’s talking about is a legal right recognised by the laws in Denmark,” continued Jinor.
“By going to the media, we are creating this awareness that the Immigration Services is doing something that is unfair and, to me, I might even say illegal. So if this can help the legality to be reinstated, then it will be fine.”
Udoh has always reiterated that he’ll happily abide by the Immigration Services’ decisions, so long as they hear him out based on his legal rights.
“I know I don’t normally come across as emotional to some people – because you can’t cry over spilt milk. You can just work towards making something better,” he said.
“So it means a whole lot for me to stay here. Aside from the colour of my skin and the colour of my passport, I feel Danish inside and outside.”