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Only a fraction of the qualified professionals who come to Denmark to find a job end up getting one; most end up in menial employment or give up.
The Danish Green Card Scheme has attracted around 8,000 well-qualified workers to Denmark since its inception in 2007, but only a scant few of them have landed in the jobs they came here for.
Many of them say there are no employment options beyond menial work, and that the government did not properly prepare the host society and local businesses before launching the scheme.
“The Danish politicians are afraid of losing the votes of the right-wing, conservative and jobless Danish citizens by telling them that a new wave of well-qualified immigrants is on the way,” Ida Sofie Matzen, a PhD student who is an expert on Sufism in Pakistan, said. “So this kind of thing was most likely done on the quiet.”
In 2010, a study conducted by Rambøll for the then Immigration Ministry revealed that only 28 percent of these well-qualified immigrants were able to find a job that could benefit from their professional skills. Of the rest, 43 percent were surviving in unskilled labour and 29 percent were jobless.
But even the 28 percent ‘success’ rate can be questioned.
Fancy job titles
Adnan Virk, a politically-active green card holder from Pakistan who came to Denmark with advanced degrees from Sweden, thinks that creative labelling is padding the numbers.
“You see a lot of green card holders who end up standing on the streets and selling mobile SIM cards who are officially described as ‘marketing specialists’,” Virk said. “These types of official titles have skewed the data and taken it to 28 percent. These aren’t ‘marketing specialists’ – they are nomadic workers with a temporary legal job.”
He too thinks that the government implemented the scheme without properly preparing the business community for an influx of foreign workers.
“It seems very strange that a country invited highly professional skilled workers from all over the world, but did not create the required atmosphere for them to get a job in their respective field,” Butt said. “In my eight months in Denmark, I was only invited to three job interviews. Two of them simply rejected me because I could not communicate in Danish. If Danish language skills are so important for a job, then the government should not have invited non-Danish speakers.”
Although he came to Denmark with a master’s degree in computer engineering, the only job he could get here was washing cars at a rate of 50 kroner an hour.
“The Danish government should have just given the green card only to the Danes,” he said to sum up the frustrations of the many who cannot find a job in their field of expertise.
When the green card scheme was launched, Denmark had an unemployment rate that was lower than the current 4.5 percent, justifying the need for importing talent. But from 2010 to 2012, as the unemployment rate climbed, Denmark continued to issue nearly 6,000 green cards.
According to Chinmoy Dutta, a software engineer from India who is now working in a spillehal (a small kiosk casino that usually has only slot-machines), continuing to bring in foreign workers during a time of increasing unemployment would have made much more sense if the green card holders were allowed to start their own businesses.
“A lot of green card holders are vey well equipped to create jobs,” Dutta said.
Through a quirk of the rules, while Dutta and other green card holders are not allowed to start their own businesses, their dependants are.
This has led Dutta to consider entering an arranged marriage so that he could bring a wife to Denmark. That would allow her to register a business that could, consequently, employ him. A dependent can do this despite not having arrived on a business visa.
However, he knows that a dependant’s visa would only be sustainable according to the continuity of his own green card. If he were to have his green card extension denied, any business created by his wife would have to shutter its doors.
“It feels like being thrown in the sea with your hands tied behind your back and then being blamed for not being a good swimmer,” he said.
For Muhammad Asad, the lack of awareness of the green card programme was obvious when he recently visited a career fair in Copenhagen.
One potential employer told him that the company was “afraid that you may not get your visa renewed, after we invest 1 to 1.5 million kroner in you”.
What the manager of the communications company did not know was that all Asad and other green card holders have to do to get their visas renewed is to show that they have worked at least ten hours a week for the last 12 months.
This disjuncture between the government’s stated intentions and the local business community’s understanding of the programme and willingness to embrace it is at the heart of a lot of green card holders’ frustrations.
“It seems there is a big gap in the governmental policies and the demands of the local market, and the irony is that that the government is not taking any serious measures to make the situation better,” Butt said. “I really don’t understand the point of inviting skilled professionals to Denmark if there are no jobs in their respective fields.”
Butt, Virk, Asad, Dutta – and the thousands of others like them – have found that rather than taking jobs that allow them to contribute to the Danish economy, they are wasting their talents in the country’s kiosks and car washes.
“We call it the ‘clean card’, not the green card,” said Aftab Baig, a Pakistani green card holder who was the subject of a previous Copenhagen Post article when he accused his employer at a kiosk of abusing him. “This scheme is keeping Denmark clean by some of the best-qualified people in the world.”
The author is a green card holder with a PhD in critical discourse analysis and postcolonial theory from the Australian National University. He currently works at a kiosk in Copenhagen. (Photo: Peter Stanners)