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'Super-Immigrants' and Denmark's Welfare State

By Annie Magnus

"The Achilles' heel of the welfare state" read a recent headline in a Danish newspaper, alluding to the economic toll immigration is taking on the country.

"...Unrestricted immigration is a death threat against our welfare," echoed Pia Kjærsgaard, leader of the right wing party Dansk Folkeparti (Danish People's Party), defending her fight for a selective approach to immigration.

The comments come at a time when Denmark has had to accept new rulings by the EU that ease its own relatively strict immigration policies. The conclusion that non-EU citizens no longer need to be legal residents in an EU country to be allowed family reunification in another EU country is against Denmark's own law. But as Denmark has to follow common policy laws on immigration regardless of national laws, the government has had little choice but to concede to the ruling.

Pia Kjærsgaard calls the EU a "monster" while other angry voices in Parliament, although not as allegorical, have joined in on an intense debate about how best to cover up the loopholes now present in the country's immigration law.

Why are politicians so skeptical of letting anyone outside of the EU become a Danish citizen?

Calculations by the Danish National Bank may give an answer. Their predictions indicate that the government would have to save nearly $1.6 billion (or raise taxes equivalently) in order to balance the costs of immigrants from under-developed countries living in Denmark. These immigrants tend to have a hard time finding jobs, but are nevertheless automatically included in the welfare state. Benefiting from the generous public services without paying back in the form of taxes would therefore lead to a significant deficit of government spending.

The financial crisis is not helping the case for a more open policy on immigration. The country's economy is experiencing a downward trend after several years of prosperity, while the unemployment rate - which has been declining in the last years and reached a notoriously low 1.6 % this July - has stopped its downward trend and is predicted to double within the next couple of years.

Thucydides would approve of a new term that has surfaced in the recent discussion of immigration and its impact on the welfare state: "super immigration". "Super immigrants" have a higher education, bring no family with them, come to work, and leave after some years. According to the Danish National Bank, "super immigrants", in contrasts to the aforementioned immigrants, would benefit the state economy by an estimated $ 1 billion. These "super immigrants" would be an asset to the state economy rather than a heavy economic burden.

"Super immigrants" are the workforce Denmark wants. Equally important, they are the ones who could rescue a precarious welfare system.

Toughening immigration policies could be incremental for the survival of the existing version of the Danish welfare system. But is it a viable solution to turn immigration into a case of cherry picking in order to save the welfare model? Or is it time to reconsider the model itself?


Annie Magnus is a graduate student in the IR/Conflict Management program at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Bologna Center in Italy.

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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Johns Hopkins University.

Comments (2)

levsedov Author Profile Page:

"Super immigrants" have a higher education, bring no family with them, come to work, and leave after some years.”

Are we talking about ‘citizens’ or immigrants? In most societies, a literate educated person with an altruistic interest in the people he is living with is defined as a ‘citizen’ regardless of his origins, although some xenophobic tribal groups require a birth origin of citizenship as well. In America, the ultimate immigration culture, during the Constitutional Convention of 1787, James Madison stated that "he wished to maintain the character of liberality which had been professed in all the Constitutions & publications of America. He wished to invite foreigners of merit & republican principles among us. America," he concluded, "was indebted to emigration for her settlement & Prosperity." Note that Madison was interested in having ‘citizens’ with ‘merit’ and ‘republican principles’, not someone who was coming to the country as a parasite or totalitarian subversive of democracy. That is, ‘merit’ involved the ability to be self sufficient in the society through literacy and hard work. ‘republican principles’ involved the idea that the person coming into the country did not have the appalling totalitarian beliefs of other societies that existed at the time. The Middle Easterners, Europeans, and Africans of the late 1700s had long traditions of elitist rulers, slave serfdom, greedy injustice and territorial warfare that Americans were determined would not corrupt their infant culture and the method was to establish a condition of citizenship in which ‘republican principles’ and ‘merit’ were a minimum.

In the modern sense, a test of citizenship should be the prerequisite for ANY activity in a society, whether a ‘super immigrant’ or not. The Danish people are no exception to this idea; unlimited immigration without tests of citizenship will lower the Gross National Income per capita of Denmark by as much as two thousand Euros a year. As the Danish National Bank has pointed out, that would not occur with super immigrants, but should have added that persons entering the country for a lengthy stay who pass citizenship tests become a major contributor to the Danish society. A person who migrates from one society to another every few years in order to carry out intra-society work and has passed the local tests of citizenship is not just a super immigrant but a global citizen who should be rewarded as such. But the minimum for entry into a society is the same in all cases; a predefined test of altruistic interest in the welfare of the host society. If the tests for that include a ‘republican principles’ education or even a biometric , MRI truth test for immigrants, so much the better.

stearm Author Profile Page:

Data are quite controversial. For example, immigrants, even when temporarily jobless, must consume and hence pay the value added tax (are these extra revenues included in the estimate?).

Moreover, in countries with lower birth rate, immigrants keep demand up (home prices, for example) and add to the decreasing supply of labour.

From my point of view, immigration may have a negative impact on the distribution of income and especially on the poorest sections of the native population. This is why poor people -and sometimes older immigrants- are more in favor of anti-immigration policies.

In general, when many processes of social change happen simoultaneously, oversimplied models are useless.

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