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Welcome centres for in-demand foreign nationals drowning in bureaucracy

One of the most successful initiatives in recent years to retain highly qualified foreign nationals is drowning in a tug-of-war between the municipalities and the State Administration.
The Municipality of Copenhagen believes that the State Administration is preventing it from offering highly qualified employees and students from the EU the best service. The State Administration is only available eight hours a week at International House, pictured here. Photo: Municipality of Copenhagen.

Publiceret: 15.09.2016
Af Rikke Brøndum mail

The Danish municipalities and the State Administration have been engaged in a long-standing tug-of-war which risks putting a stop to the service Denmark was keen to offer highly qualified foreign nationals and students from the rest of Europe.

The tug-of-war is about the so-called International Citizens Service (ICS) centres which were designed as a portal to the public sector for foreign employees and students.

The idea was that foreign nationals would be able to manage everything from tax documentation to choosing a doctor and be able to obtain information about international schools, local associations and jobs for their spouses – all in the same place.

But according to the municipalities, the State Administration – whose job it is to register these EU citizens – made such substantial cuts to staffing at these centres that EU citizens are referred to the government’s other offices where they are often not able to achieve what they want due to long waiting times.

This means that the whole idea of having one portal in place is lost, says the Municipality of Copenhagen.
“The most important thing for retaining foreign nationals as employees is to ensure that they can find a school for their children and a job for their spouses. If we are able to offer this service and register them correctly, they will be given the best possible experience of the Danish public sector,” says Thomas Jakobsen, director of the Culture and Leisure Department at the Municipality of Copenhagen.

Waiting years for a response

The Municipality of Copenhagen is far from the only municipality that sees things this way. In Aalborg, the State Administration is also located far from the welcome centre, and the municipality has several times over the past year attempted to kick-start a partnership with the administration.

“We very much want to provide foreign nationals and their spouses with the best possible personal service across the public sector system. But we have found it difficult to get a dialogue going with the State Administration,” says Lasse Frimand Jensen, director of International House in Aalborg and Social Democrat member of the City Council.

As recently as two years ago, Aarhus approached the Danish Ministries of the Interior and Employment, and in the spring the mayors from the four municipalities with ICS offices wrote jointly to the same ministries. A number of other organisations, such as the University of Copenhagen, are also seeking clarification.

The Confederation of Danish Industry is finding that many businesses are puzzled by the long waiting times.

“The establishment of the ICS has been a success because the single portal to the authorities has been valuable for businesses and their foreign employees. It is important that we now retain the service culture that has been created,” says Linda Duncan Wendelboe, head of DI Global Talent.

Keen to keep the project

At the State Administration, Director Henrik Grunnet is very much in favour of dialogue with the municipalities, but he does not believe that the municipalities have the capacity to register EU citizens correctly.

“We undertake this EU task with approximately 40 permanent staff. The question is what would happen if the job had to be spread out across all or a large number of the municipalities which would then have to build up the expertise to handle the job and participate in partnership forums with the police and tax authorities to avoid misuse,” he says and continues:

“National control is vital in the way we currently handle the task. We are already seeing that applicants try to shop around between the places that issue residence permits. It is important to prioritise both control and service. We can do both,” he says and underlines that the State Administration in Copenhagen has received more than 3,000 applications from students in EU countries and has issued residence permits without delay.

The State Administration comes under the Danish Social and Interior Ministry. Interior Minister Karen Ellemann (Danish Liberal Party) simply confirms that a new model is in the pipeline. This model will build on the idea of a single portal.  

International Citizens Service (ICS)
A partnership between municipalities, the State Administration, the Danish tax authorities, the Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration and Workindenmark. 
Set up in January 2011 to meet the need for an enhanced service in English for foreign employees offered by these public sector authorities.
Offices are located in the four largest cities in Denmark – in Copenhagen at International House. Here foreign nationals are able to meet representatives from a range of authorities that they usually need to contact. In Aalborg, however,  the State Administration is housed at a separate address.
The most important thing for retaining foreign nationals as employees is to ensure that they can find a school for their children and a job for their spouses.
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PUBLISHED: 9/15/2016 LAST MODIFIED: 3/11/2017