Danish-born non-citizens call for change to country’s citizenship rules

People who were born in Denmark but are not Danish citizens were among those to call for citizenship rules to be reformed prior to an annual event on Sunday to celebrate those who have been granted naturalisation.

Danish-born non-citizens call for change to country's citizenship rules
People protest against laws restricting citizenship for people born in Denmark to foreign parents. Copenhagen, September 10th 2023. Photo: Nils Meilvang/Ritzau Scanpix

Around 2,600 new Danish citizens on Sunday attended an event for people who have become naturalised Danes this year.

Citizenship Day, which has been an annual event in Denmark since 2006, was attended by around 2,600 new Danes according to parliament, making this year’s participation the largest on record for a single year.

The rules for qualifying for citizenship in Denmark are some of Europe’s strictest, with many unable to qualify until they have lived in the country for nine years and some people ineligible even though they were born in Denmark.

A string of criteria related to length of residence, financial self-sufficiency, language and cultural knowledge, employment history and criminal records are applied to applicants for citizenship.


The number of people who reside in Denmark, but are not Danish citizens, has increased from 1.9 percent in 1980 to 10.5 percent today.

Critics of existing citizenship rules have argued in the past that fencing off citizenship to a large proportion of long-term residents is creating a democratic deficit.

Around half a million people living in Denmark today are not Danish citizens. This includes a significant proportion who were born and raised in the country.

READ ALSO: Danish citizenship rules ‘partly to blame’ with one in seven in Copenhagen unable to vote

In an opinion piece in newspaper Jyllands-Posten on Sunday, MPs Samira Nawa and Christian Friis Bach of the Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre) party again highlighted the issue.

“Citizenship Day is a good opportunity for us to look ourselves in the eyes and ask if it’s fair for someone born and raised in Denmark – who has always done what is asked of them – not to have the right to Danish citizenship. We don’t think so,” they write.

The Social Liberals want to address the issue, in part by allowing years spent in education to be given equivalence to full-time work for citizenship claims, the MPs state.

Current rules require a certain number of years of employment in Denmark to be eligible for naturalisation. Education does not count towards this, meaning young people who have lived and attended school in Denmark throughout their youth often fail to meet the criteria.

People demonstrated over the issue in front of the Christiansborg parliament on Sunday, prior to the Citizenship Day event. Protesters held signs with messages including “I was born in Denmark, I can’t vote there”, a play on the lyrics to the national anthem, and “An alien in my own country”. The protest was arranged by organisations Fair Statsborgerskab (“Fair Citizenship”) and Os Udenfor (“Us Outside”).

Nawa and fellow MP Rosa Lund of the left-wing party Red Green Alliance (Enhedslisten) both spoke on stage.

Asked whether it is fair that people born and raised in Denmark don’t always have the automatic right to citizenship, speaker of parliament Søren Gade said the discussion was for another day.

“The rules that decide who gets citizenship are decided here in parliament, so I won’t go into that today. I am only commenting about the many thousands who have fulfilled the criteria and are here,” Gade told news wire Ritzau.

“They have the chance to come in here today and celebrate. The political discussion must take place in parliament,” he said.

Gade congratulated attendees at the citizenship event on their new democratic rights in Denmark.

“With citizenship follows the right to vote into parliament. You are thereby part of deciding how Denmark’s society will grow. That’s the biggest gift you can get in a democracy,” he said during his speech.

“I encourage you to support some of the symbols that bind our country together. That is the royal family, the Dannebrog flag, the national football team – the things that give shared experiences,” he said.

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EXPLAINED: Can children of Danes regain citizenship after EU Court verdict?

Children of Danes who have lost their Danish citizenship because they turned 22 without applying to retain it may now get a second chance following an EU ruling, the country's immigration ministry has said.

EXPLAINED: Can children of Danes regain citizenship after EU Court verdict?

According to the ministry, children of Danes who turned 22 on or after November 1st 1993, but failed to apply to have their Danish citizenship made permanent before the deadline of their 22nd birthday, will now be able to apply to have their application reopened in some cases. 

For the case to reopened, the removal of citizenship will have to have “had effects in relation to EU law”.

For this to be the case, the removal of Danish citizenship will, firsly, also generally have to deprive the person of EU citizenship, and as a result impact “a family or employment connection to an EU member state other than Denmark”, which has been established before the age of 22. 

The ministry will also, in all cases where the loss of Danish citizenship at the age of 22 also means a loss of EU citizenship, from now on automatically consider whether the effects in relation to EU law of the loss of EU citizenship are proportional to the reason for removing citizenship (normally the lack of a demonstrated connection to Denmark). 

What is the reason for the change? 

The EU Court of Justice ruled last September that a Danish law allowing citizenship to be revoked from people born abroad to one Danish parent who have never lived in the country, if they reach the age of 22 without applying to retain it, was acceptable.

The case concerned the daughter of a Danish mother and an American father who has held, since her birth in the United States, Danish and American citizenship. After reaching the age of 22, she applied to retain Danish nationality, but the national authorities told her that she had lost it when she turned 22.

The EU court ruled that anyone facing such a decision “must be given the opportunity to lodge, within a reasonable period, an application for the retroactive retention or recovery of the nationality”.

The decision was a development from a previous ruling from 2019, in which the court had ruled that any decisions to remove Danish citizenship should consider the consequences of a loss of EU citizenship as well as of national citizenship, in cases where EU citizenship was dependent on Danish citizenship.  

The ministry, it ruled, must ensure that any loss of EU citizenship was “in accordance with the the fundamental rights laid down in the EU charter of human rights, including the right to privacy and family life”. 

The ministry in 2019, however, interpreted this as only applying in cases where the application to retain citizenship was submitted before the deadline of the person’s 22nd birthday. 

What are the rules around citizenship for Danes born abroad?

When a child has a Danish parent, they are automatically given Danish citizenship at birth, with some exceptions.

They they have until they are 22 to apply to retain their citizenship, with citizenship normally only granted if the child can demonstrate a strong connection to Denmark, by, for instance, residing in Denmark for at least one year before turning 22 or living in another Nordic country for seven years. 

What do you have to do to regain Danish citizenship? 

You need to submit a request the ministry to resume their application, including documents demonstrating that the revocation of Danish citizenship has had an impact in relation to EU law, by, for instance harming the person’s relationships with family or their work in an EU member state other than Denmark.  

The ministry will not consider any ties to another EU country that arose after the applicant’s 22nd birthday.