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Immigrants in Sweden queue up to work in Denmark

Immigrants in Sweden queue up to work in Denmark

| Text: Fayme Alm, Photo: Anna Palmehag/News Øresund

While Copenhagen suffers labour shortages, Malmö has high unemployment. But for many third-country nationals on the Swedish side of the border, Danish work permit requirements are so high that cross-border commuting is made impossible. This issue is a priority for the Freedom of Movement Council, while an EU project is also looking for solutions.

“The governments must cooperate,” the Malmö Mayor Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh told Swedish Radio in early January this year, adding:

“There are people who want to work and there are businesses that want to hire.”

Stjernfeldt Jammeh alluded to the fact that Denmark has considerable labour shortages – both in the private and public sectors – while Sweden has many third-country nationals looking for work. In Malmö, a great deal of job seekers are non-EU nationals with limited opportunities to get a job in Denmark.  

Danish workforce

The Danish labour market is very strong. By the end of 2023, the workforce passed three million people. Source: Statistics Denmark.

With a few exceptions, it is Danish work permit rules that throw spanners in the works for this group of job seekers – people living on the Swedish side who are qualified for jobs in Denmark.

In a few cases, non-EU nationals living outside of Denmark can cross-border commute, as long as they fulfil one of these criteria:

1. The Pay Limit Schemes – made up of the Pay Limit Scheme, which allows people to work in Denmark if they have been offered a job with an annual salary of at least 487,000 Danish kroner (€64,000), and the Supplementary Pay Limit Scheme, if there is a job offer paying at least 393,000 Danish kroner (€52,600).

2. The Positive Lists – made up of two dynamic lists of professions in Denmark that are experiencing a shortage of skilled or highly qualified professionals. 

Problematic Danish pension rules

Third-country nationals who meet the Danish requirements and can start commuting to work across the Öresund will have to deal with a particular aspect when it comes to their pension. 

Nahed Kassem

Nahed Kassem got a job at a hotel with the Danish company Forenede Hotelservice, here with CEO Ricco Alvarez during a Danish-Swedish job fair at MalmöMässan on 27 October 2021, organised by Greater Copenhagen.

“In Denmark, non-EU nationals must have been living in the country for the past five years before applying to draw a pension. This is because Denmark has exemptions from the EU regulation on social security for third-country nationals. As far as we are aware, no other Nordic country has a similar exemption,” Sandra Forsén tells the Nordic Labour Journal.

She is a senior advisor to the Freedom of Movement Council at the Nordic Council of Ministers’ secretariat in Copenhagen. 

“The Freedom of Movement Council is like an ombudsman for citizens and businesses in the Nordic region, and it has no national agenda,” she says. 

Sandra Forsén

Sandra Forsén, senior advisor to the Freedom of Movement Council at the Nordic Council of Ministers secretariat in Copenhagen. Photo: Johan Wessman/News Øresund.

Tools for solutions and transparency

Barriers to the freedom of movement across Nordic borders are logged in the Nordic Council of Ministers' Border Database.

“Info Norden, the Nordic Council of Ministers’ information service, and the three regional border information services Gränstjänsten Sweden-Finland-Norway, Grensetjänsten Norway-Sweden and Öresunddirekt all use a template to report potential border barriers to us.

"We send the issue on to the relevant government ministries and talk with experts there to investigate the nature of the border barrier further. If it falls into the framework of what formally can be defined as a border barrier, it is added to the database and the Freedom of Movement Council can start working on it,” says Sandra Forsén. 

The database is updated every second year when all the information is sent again to the relevant ministries who are asked for any status changes, whether the description is still valid or whether legal amendments have taken place. 

“We don’t have the capacity to actively work with all border barriers, and sometimes they are solved without making it onto our list of priorities,” says Sandra Forsén. 

The database also serves other purposes, she explains, such as promoting transparency and communication. 

“The Nordic region has a vision to be the world’s most integrated region by 2030. To reach that goal, we need to acknowledge that there are challenges and we need to be able to find information about which problems exist. The database also functions as a source of information for people who are considering commuting across borders.”

The Border Database also contains details of cross-border commuting challenges for third-country nationals. These are among the 30 barriers on the Freedom of Movement Council’s list of priorities, explains Sandra Forsén.

EU project looking for solutions

The Freedom of Movement Council has participated in meetings and workshops on a civil servant level as part of 'Mobility and integrated labour market for third-country nationals in Greater Copenhagen'. The project was set up in September last year and is run by the OECD and the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Structural Reform Support (GD REFORM). 

“It is a welcome project that will look at the challenges and come up with recommendations for how third-country nationals can participate in the common labour market in the Öresund region,” says Sandra Forsén. 

Region Skåne and the Capitol Region of Denmark took the initiative for the 18-month-long project. Some of its work will involve studying how other European border regions and even regions outside of Europe have solved cross-border mobility for foreign workers.

The purpose is to provide recommendations to the Danish and Swedish governments. 

“Here at the Freedom of Movement Council, we will monitor the process and participate with our expertise. If the project results in smart solutions, we can use them,” says Sandra Forsén. 

According to the radio interview mentioned above, the Danish government has no plans to change the rules for work permits for non-EU citizens. 

Queuing for a job fair

The queue for a Danish-Swedish job fair at MalmöMässan on 27 October 2021, organised by  Greater Copenhagen. Here, Danish employers met Swedish job seekers - born in Sweden as well as  outside. Since then, the Danish workforce has swollen to a record level of three million people.

What is the situation in other Nordic countries?

Finland: If you are a citizen of another country and want to work in Finland, you need to apply for a residence permit. A residence permit is only valid in the country in which it is granted. You cannot, therefore, use a residence permit granted for Finland to work in another Nordic country. More information here:

Sweden: If you are not a citizen of an EU or EEA country, you must apply for a residence permit in order to live and work in Sweden. When you have a residence and/or work permit in a Nordic country, it only applies in the country in which it was issued – not in the other Nordic countries. If you have a residence permit in one of the other Nordic countries and want to work in Sweden or move to Sweden, you must apply for a permit in Sweden. More information here:


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