No visitors allowed from 41 countries

Among many other things, it's weather like this Bent Jensen would like to show his Vietnamese friends. Foto: Lasse Koldkjær Kristoffersen
Among many other things, it’s weather like this Bent Jensen would like to show his Vietnamese friends. Foto: Lasse Koldkjær Kristoffersen

In Denmark residents can not invite friends from more than 20 percent of the countries around the world if they have no family relations with one another. In the other side of the belt, in Sweden, visitors are welcome.

“If you wish to visit Denmark for a short period of time, you must obtain a visa prior to entry if you come from a country with a visa requirement for entering Denmark.”

This is the first thing a reader at www.newtodenmark.dk sees when searching for visa information.

For the main part of the world’s countries, a visa is required if you wish to visit Denmark, but for a certain groups a visa may not ever be an option. Opposite the neighbouring country, Sweden, Denmark divides countries into groups where some are more or less blacklisted from ever entering. Some are allowed to visit, others needs relatives in Denmark and some are practically banned from visiting.

For Bent Jensen, 63, who has visited Vietnam twice making friends in the Southeast-Asian country, this law came as quite a surprise. After spending two months in Vietnam, he would like to show his friends Denmark and his hometown Randers. Not knowing the regulations to their full extent, he simply began the application process.

Bent Jensen started working on the invitation before he understood  that sending them in would be of no matter. Foto: Lasse Koldkjær Kristoffersen
Bent Jensen started working on the invitation before he understood that sending them in would be of no matter. Foto: Lasse Koldkjær Kristoffersen

“Actually, I started by filling out the invitation application, and it was by then I discovered all the limitations to the visa regulations,” Bent Jensen says. Not truly believing what he read, he contacted the Danish visa office, asking if it was correct that he under no circumstances would be able to invite his Vietnamese friends to Denmark. The reply said:

“Dear Bent Jensen. Thank you for your inquiry. It is shown in the visa-practice from january 15th 2013 that a friend is not part of the group of people who usually can get a Schengen-visa in the Immigration group including Vietnam.”

Immigration group

The two important parts of that reply are “friend” and “Immigration group”. The Danish system is – unlike the other Scandinavian countries – divided into three groups: The Tourist group with 71 countries, The Asylum Group containing 14 countries, and lastly the Immigration Group subdivided into two groups of respectively 19 and 27 countries. If you are in the first part of the Immigration Group, you’re welcome to visit your friend in Denmark. Unfortunately for Bent Jensen and his Vietnamese friends, Hung Nguyen and Diem, Vietnam is in the second sub-group.

Infographic: Lasse Koldkjær Kristoffersen
Infographic: Lasse Koldkjær Kristoffersen. Click for lager image (Opens in a new window)

Had Hung Nguyen and Diem had any family relations in Denmark, they would be pretty much good to go. They don’t and therefore their access to Denmark is literally closed.

“I and my family are very surprised that I can’t invite my Vietnamese friends to Denmark. We obtain visa to Vietnam without any problems, and the opposite ought to be a matter of course,” Bent Jensen wrote to the Ombudsman. As the Ombudsman only intervene if the authorities doesn’t follow Danish law, there has been nothing the office could or would do.

Tanzanian boyfriend

In Copenhagen, Amanda Petersen faces the same kind of problem. After a visit in Zanzibar, Tanzania last year, she would like to invite her boyfriend she met on the trip, Boyca Moses, to see Denmark.

“I’ve always wanted to go to Africa. I can’t really explain it, but experiencing the culture and the people is just something I knew I wanted to try. About ten months ago I travelled to Tanzania to go to Zanzibarhøjskolen, a Danish school where we were taught Swahili,” Amanda Petersen, student at Copenhagen Business School, says.

It didn’t take long until she met Boyca Moses. He worked at the nearby hotel, and she wanted to practice her Swahili as she says. Talking led to walks on the beach which led to relationship.

Boyca Moses and Amanda Petersen. Selfie: Boyca Moses.
Boyca Moses and Amanda Petersen. Selfie: Boyca Moses.

At the school Amanda had a Swahili teacher who had visited Denmark for a month.

“If he could, so could Boyca, I thought at the time,” she tells. It turned out to be not quite as simple as that. The 25th of June 2014 Amanda Petersen travelled back to Denmark and the following three months they prepared the application. September the 30th she went back to Zanzibar and together they sent it in. Boyca Moses wasn’t given the decision from the Norwegian embassy – which handles the visa requests – until Amanda had travelled back to Denmark yet again.

“When he called and told me that the visa application was denied, I honestly thought it was a bad joke. I was ready to order his plane tickets and I had already planned a previewing of a movie we were to see here in Denmark,” Amanda Petersen says.

Tourism group

Traveling to another country and not being able to invite the ones you meet back home. The situation sounds like Bent Jensen’s, but when her story is different, it’s because Tanzania is actually not in the notorious Asylum Group – not even in any of the Immigration Groups. Tanzania is part of the Tourism Group and therefore Boyca Moses should be eligible for a 90 day tourism visa.

The problem is, the authorities didn’t believe Boyca would go back home. In Denmark, being the happiest country in the world and all, it was simply too tempting to apply for a longer stay, asylum or simply disappear for a while.

The couple had a hard time proving that Boyca had anything to return to. His plot in Tanzania lacked the paperwork, and formal paycheck are a different story in East Africa than it is on top of Europe. Amanda Petersen finds it hard to believe that it would ever come to that.

“The cultures are so very different, and there’s no doubt he belongs in Zanzibar,” she says.

Shift in representation

Up until last year Denmark was represented by Sweden’s embassy. While Swedish law doesn’t block out countries completely as the Danish pendant, they do require visa.

“We do not look at the country they’re going to. We look at the applicants, their job, income, personal situation and living arrangements”, Helen Miles, Visa Officer at the Swedish Embassy in Tanzania says. The same goes the other way around. In Vietnam it is the Danish Consul who handles visa requests.

“Besides visa applications for Denmark we also handle visa applications for Iceland and Lithuania,” Consul at the Danish Embassy in Vietnam, Thomas Nielsen, says.

That means that the strict law applicable in Denmark also goes for Iceland and Lithuania if a Vietnamese citizen apply for visa – even though the countries do not hold the same strict regulations.

Liberal disagreement

In Denmark there will be a national election within eight months. At the moment the liberal parties seem strong, and one of the parties, Liberal Alliance, suggest that the entire immigration politic is rewritten.

“Is is basically not okay to limit migration in a way that we can’t invite friends to the country,” Mette Bock, Spokesperson on foreign Affairs, Liberal Alliance, says, calling it “very un-liberal”.

“We suggest a complete revision of the immigration politics, making some areas more strict and others less,” Mette Bock says.

At Denmark’s Liberal Party they don’t see eye to eye on the immigration matter.

“I agree that inviting friends from Vietnam to Denmark is tending towards impossible. It is unfortunately the model that has been made as a result of a risk assessment,” Karsten Lauritzen, Spokesperson on immigration, Denmark’s Liberal Party, says.

“Our laws are made like this because of the high risk of people staying illegally in Denmark. That way we are also closing the door for the law-abiding foreigners, but that’s how it must be at the moment,” Lauritzen says.

The way around the law

The research of this story has shown a way around the strict Danish law. As Denmark is a part of Schengen, it is possible to rent a place in a country with less strict laws for a short period of time. Both Sweden and Germany would work. From there it’s possible as a EU citizen to invite your friends over and then travel back to Denmark.

While neither Bent Jensen or Amanda Petersen are thinking along those lines, politician Mette Bock doesn’t blame the people who do.

“Yes I can see why you would legally work around that law, and it clearly shows that the regulations aren’t very appropriate,” Mette Bock says. Again her liberal colleague disagrees.

“It’s a shame that it’s possible to avoid Danish law, but that’s part of being in the EU, and the benefits are so many more,” Karsten Lauritzen says.

Instead of going through loopholes in the law, both Bent Jensen and Amanda Petersen are leaving for respectively Vietnam and Tanzania within weeks to be with friends and boyfriend.