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Integration requirements forced Danish energy scientist to leave the country: Politicians open to changing “crazy” regulations

Mads Rønne Almassalkhi still hopes to be able to move back to Denmark with his American wife Brittany Almassalkhi and their three children at some point but cannot “wait forever” for the Danish politicians to change the immigration regulations. Illustration: Privatfoto

We love wind energy in Denmark but are currently creating our own headwind in the form of immigration policy, Danish energy scientist Mads Rønne Almassalkhi says.

In July, he travelled back to the USA with his family, after his American spouse was unable to obtain a residence permit in Denmark due to the Danish integration requirements.

Mads Rønne Almassalkhi is now on the other side of the Atlantic, following the Danish election campaign.

There is much he would like to say to the politicians. Among other things, that it does no good to only focus on recruiting foreign talent if it is not also coupled with retention—including the possibility of family reunification.

As an engineer and energy scientist specializing in green energy at the University of Vermont, Mads Rønne Almassalkhi is one of the specialists Denmark needs.

One of the wise minds who could help Denmark in the pursuit of becoming a leader in the field of climate and energy.

Calling for a more systematic approach

Last year, Mads Rønne Almassalkhi was invited to Denmark as a visiting professor at the Technical University of Denmark, DTU, where he worked at the DTU Wind and Energy Systems department.

His wife Brittany Almassalkhi, a US citizen, has a Master of Science degree in chemistry. She therefore also belongs to the group of sought-after STEM professionals the industry is urgently in need of. But the family was refused family reunification.

After his own experience with the Danish immigration authorities, Mads Rønne Almassalkhi founded the association Fair & Fornuftig with his American friend Benjamin Schenkel.

He is about to be kicked out of Denmark because of the “ridiculous regulations” for immigration.

Mads Rønne Almassalkhi’s wish for the new government is that instead of letting a strict immigration policy trump and dictate the labour market and business policy, they manage to implement a systematic approach across the various areas of responsibility.

“The rest of Europe also lacks labor. So does the USA. So, if Denmark wants to attract and retain talent, it shouldn’t create more obstacles than its competitors,” he says.

“I don’t understand why the politicians don’t try to raise the bar and find a way to make room for various smart and skilled people. If one is diligent and works hard, why have an immigration policy that can’t handle it,” he adds.

More foreign labour

Mads Rønne Almassalkhi’s case is one of several that have recently been mentioned in the media as an example of “crazy immigration policy”.

There are many indications that winds of political change are starting to appear in relation to the immigration policy.

Several parties, such as the Moderates, the Liberal Alliance, and the Danish Social Liberal Party have indicated both before and during the ongoing election campaign that the regulations have over time become so strict that they are no longer suitable.

For example, Liberal Alliance’s leader, Alex Vanopslagh, has called the immigration law “ridiculous” and “unreasonable” in a statement to DR. In its election campaign, the party has focused on, among other things, the issue of facilitating access for foreign labour.

“By opening the doors to foreign labour, we do not want to erode the Danish labour market. On the contrary, we want to give Danish companies the possibility to hire engineers, IT experts, and other specialists, of whom we currently have too few in Denmark, on proper salary terms,” the party’s policy reads.

In an email to Ingeniøren, Alex Vanopslagh elaborates that the party—in addition to lowering the Pay Limit Scheme’s threshold—also wants to create a much more flexible application process, with a completely different way of processing cases, so that a foreigner with an employment contract in a Danish company is approved at the time of application and only later must be rejected if they do not meet the criteria.

Problematic regulations

The spousal reunification regulations must also be reviewed, Alex Vanopslagh believes.

“We must relax the family reunification regulations so that Danes can more easily bring their spouse to Denmark. And the small procedural errors in the application process must no longer have insurmountable consequences. We cannot allow ourselves to pour talent down the drain, as is happening today, because we punish even the smallest procedural errors,” a written comment from the party leader reads.

In the Danish Social Liberal Party, employment rapporteur Samira Nawa echoes the same sentiments.

“Unfortunately, this is not the only case (Mads Rønne Almassalkhi’s case, ed.) in which a Dane with a foreign spouse had to leave the country. It comes down to retention. Not only because it is about highly qualified labour—or labour in general—but because it is about Danish citizens who must have the right to live in their homeland. So, there are some regulations that are highly problematic, which we would really like to relax,” she says to Ingeniøren.

In an interview with TV 2, Denmark’s Liberal Party’s candidate for prime minister, Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, has also declared that he is ready to change the family reunification regulations, which “have turned out to be quite crazy in many cases”, referring to the fact that Danish citizens cannot get their spouse to stay in Denmark.

“There are some examples there that I think we need to correct, but I stand by a strict immigration policy,” he told TV 2.

Minister for Immigration and Integration Kaare Dybvad Bek from the Social Democratic Party has expressed that he is open to relaxing the immigration policy to help the group that has been inadvertently caught in a pinch, according to Politiken.

Room for common sense

Mads Rønne Almassalkhi has previously found the debate about foreigners to be “incredibly lacking in nuance”, as it often came down to refugees and open borders.

He is glad to see that several parties are now open to talking about the “crazy” immigration policy.

“The tone has changed in the election campaign, and that’s positive. The election campaign that is now underway has opened the window for common sense. It will be very interesting to see whether something will happen after the election or not. It’s easy to say the right things, but it’s much harder to make them happen,” he says.

Samira Nawa from the Danish Social Liberal Party also takes a wait-and-see attitude in relation to the new, more positive tones in immigration policy discussions from several parties.

“What I fear from previous experience is that it is a fantastic election campaign rhetoric, where as soon as some difficult cases are put forward, there are promises of doing something about them as well. So I want to see it in practice before I rejoice,” she says.

We cannot wait forever

At the moment, the Almassalkhi family is waiting for a decision on their appeal to the Immigration Appeals Board against the refusal of family reunification.

It takes approximately 14 months to process the appeal, so the family does not expect an answer before April 2023.

“We have a real interest in the youngsters being able to continue the good year they’ve had in Denmark, but there are many opportunities around the world. We can’t wait for Denmark or Danish politicians forever, because we’ll go crazy ourselves,” Mads Rønne Almassalkhi says.

On 14 October, based on an EU court judgment, the Ministry of Immigration and Integration issued an adjustment to practice and a notice of reopening in cases where family reunification has been refused for third-country nationals who are parents of a Danish child.

As a result of the EU judgment, Brittany Almassalkhi’s case will probably be reassessed with a view to a possible reopening of the case.