How do you acquire Danish citizenship, also called naturalisation?
Eva Ersbøl is the leading expert in the country on this issue, working at the Danish Institute of Human Rights.
NB: New rules were introduced from May 10. 2021, read more here, and find a link to the new circular at the end of this article.
Rules on acquisition of Danish citizenship are included in the Danish Constitution, the Act on Danish Citizenship and a circular on naturalisation.
Entitlement to Danish citizenship
According to the Danish citizenship act, a child is a Danish citizen if born to a Danish parent (father, mother or co-mother).
In addition, the citizenship act provides for citizenship acquisition by adoption, legitimation (at the marriage of a child’s Danish father and alien mother) and declaration (Nordic and former Danish citizens).
Acquisition of citizenship through naturalisation
Naturalisation means the granting of citizenship to a foreigner after application, by a formal act. According to the Danish Constitution, foreigners can only be granted citizenship by the Danish legislature. A majority among the political parties in the Danish Parliament (Folketinget) decide the naturalisation requirements by agreement. The current rules were made by the government Lars Løkke III with votes from Social Democrats, Danish People's Party. The agreement is published in the naturalisation circular from 2018.
The Ministry of Immigration and Integration acts as a secretariat for the parliamentary Naturalisation Committee (Folketingets Indfødsretsudvalg). Applications for naturalisation must be submitted to the ministry, normally by the use of a digital application form, available here.
The ministry includes applicants who fulfil the circular’s naturalisation requirements – or who have been granted dispensation by the Naturalisation Committee – in a bill on naturalisation. Bills on naturalisation are normally presented in Parliament twice a year. When a naturalisation bill is adopted by Parliament and has entered into force, the applicants who are included in the act will receive a declaration they must sign under a local citizenship ceremony. By participating in the ceremony, signing the declaration on compliance with the Danish Constitution etc. and shaking hands with an official at the ceremony, they become Danish citizens.
The naturalisation procedure is lengthy. In June 2018, the average time for the ministry’s handling of applications was 19 months. After the ministry’s completion of the drafting of a naturalisation bill follows the legislative procedure in Parliament plus the time necessary for accomplishing the citizenship ceremony. Thus, two years or more may pass.
Since 2015, dual citizenship is accepted in Denmark.
Normally, applicants for naturalisation must have a permanent residence permit. In itself, this requirement may be a bar to naturalisation as permanent residence permit has its own high requirements, among others full-time employment or self-employment in Denmark for at least 3 years and 6 months out of the last 4 years prior to the granting of the residence permit. Moreover, the general residence requirement for permanent residence is 8 years of lawful residence in Denmark – or, for foreigners who meet four supplementary integration criteria, 4 years. Read more here.
Applicants for naturalisation must also have a period of lawful residence in Denmark. The general residence requirement for Danish citizenship is residence in Denmark for 9 consecutive years. For refugees and stateless persons, the required period is 8 years. Foreigners who are married to a Danish citizen may be naturalised after 6 years of lawful residency if the marriage has lasted and the spouse has been Danish for at least 3 years. After 2 years of marriage, the residence requirement is 7 years and after 1 year of marriage, the residence requirement is 8 years. Periods of up to 1 year of cohabitation before marriage are equalised with marriage. Notably, due to the general residence requirement of 8 years for getting a permanent residence permit, the possibility of getting faster access to citizenship through marriage may for many applicants become insignificant.
Additional naturalisation requirements
Apart from fulfilling the residence requirements, applicants for naturalisation must:
- sign a declaration of loyalty to Denmark and the Danish society, declaring that they obey Danish law, including the Danish Constitution, and respect fundamental Danish values and legal principles, including Danish democracy
- have a clean criminal record. Permanent expulsion from Denmark and some criminal sentences exclude an applicant from being naturalised. This goes for crimes against the state, violations of section 136 (2 and 3) of the criminal code, gang related crimes, imprisonment for 1 year or more, imprisonment for 3 months or more for bodily harm and to some extent, sexual crimes and adults’ violence against children. Other offenses may result in waiting periods (for instance a fine of DKK 3,000 or more may be a bar to be listed in a naturalisation bill for 4,5 year)
- have no overdue debt to public authorities
- have been self-supporting for the last 5 years; this means that an applicant must not (with a few exceptions) have received social benefits under the act on active social policy or the integration act (aktivloven and integrationsloven) for more than 4 months out of the last 5 years and no such aid for the last 2 years. Moreover, if the applicant has received wage subsidy, sickness benefit, maternity or paternity pay for more than 4 months within the self-support periods, these periods will be prolonged correspondently
- document Danish language skills by a certificate of the Danish 3 Examination (European level B 2) or a similar exam, including the Danish school-leaving exams. For applicants who have been self-supporting for the last 9 year (applicants who have not received social benefits under the act on active social policy or the integration act for more than 6 month within the last 9 years), passing the Danish 2 Examination (European level B 1) or a similar exam is sufficient
- document knowledge of Danish culture, history and society by passing the citizenship test of 2015
- participate in a municipal citizenship ceremony held after the adoption of the naturalisation bill, sign a declaration on compliance with the Danish Constitution etc. and shake hands with an official.
NB: Some of the above criteria have been changed, and some of them even for applications already handed in (read more here)
Dispensation from the naturalisation requirements
In principle, the Naturalisation Committee may grant an applicant dispensation from any naturalisation requirement. However, the committee’s dispensation practice is very restrictive.
The naturalisation circular includes a provision on dispensation from the Danish language and knowledge requirements, based on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The 2018-circular has extended the dispensation requirements to applicants with disabilities. The aim is to reduce the number of cases on dispensation, and the demands may still be difficult to meet.
To put it a bit simplified:
An application for dispensation may be presented to Naturalisation Committee when the applicant is diagnosed with a disability (long term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairment) and for this reason, cannot – or is not likely to – meet the general language and knowledge requirements (regardless of the terms and aid offered).
If it is medically documented that an applicant cannot fulfil the general language requirements etc., but may still be able to pass a language exam at a lower level, documentation for passing a test at that level must be presented.
Furthermore, it is a precondition for getting dispensation that the applicant can document having participated as much as possible in the relevant courses and having attempted to pass the relevant language exam and the citizenship test of 2015. If this is not the case, it must be documented that the applicant due to his or her disability cannot learn Danish and that the lack of participation in the language courses and the lack of attempt to pass a language exam and the citizenship test are caused by the applicant’s disability.
It must also appear from the (reasoned) medical declaration whether there are possibilities for improvement of the applicant’s health situation, and whether the applicant within a 5-year period may be able to pass a Danish language test (adapted to the applicant’s special needs).
If an applicant cannot fulfil the documentation requirements, the Naturalisation Committee may take into consideration whether he or she in any other way has tried to acquire Danish language skills at a level more or less comparable to the level mastered by Danes in a comparable situation.
Children’s acquisition of citizenship
As a rule, children cannot themselves apply for Danish citizenship. However, a child with residence rights in Denmark may acquire Danish citizenship by extension at the naturalisation of one of his or her parents (with parental rights over the child). This means in short, that if an adult applies for citizenship, said person’s children under the age of 18 may be comprised by the application. Consent from the other parent (if he or she shares the custody of the child) is required. If a child over the age of 15 years has – or is charged of having – committed a crime, the child may be excluded from the parent’s naturalisation.
Only in situations where a child’s parents cannot apply for naturalisation, for instance because they already are Danish citizens, the child can apply independently (as a target person). Read more here (only in Danish).
The significance of statelessness
The obligation to avoid statelessness is included in many international conventions. In particular, states are responsible for preventing statelessness from arising. Therefore, they must as a rule grant their citizenship to persons born on their territory who do not acquire at birth the citizenship of another state. In this connection, states may lay down a few conditions for the acquisition of their citizenship.
In relation to stateless immigrants and refugees, it is sufficient for the states to ensure facilitated acquisition of citizenship. Denmark has implemented this obligation to the minimum by reducing the lengths of the required residence period from nine to 8 years. This slight facilitation applies to all stateless immigrants and refugees, including those who arrived in Denmark as minors.
Entitlement to citizenship for stateless persons born in Denmark
The naturalisation circular provides for entitlement to Danish citizenship for two groups of stateless persons born in Denmark:
- A stateless child born in Denmark is entitled to Danish citizenship by application for naturalisation. The only demands are that the child applies for citizenship before turning 18 and is lawfully residing in Denmark; this means that the child must be registered in the CPR Register.
- A young stateless person born in Denmark and aged 18 – 21 is entitled to Danish citizenship, provided that he or she:
- applies between the age of 18 and 21
- has continuously been stateless since birth
- has resided habitually in Denmark for 5 years immediately before submitting the application for citizenship or, alternatively, 8 years altogether
- is not found guilty of an offence against national security and not sentenced to imprisonment for 5 years or more.
Application form and fees
Normally, applications for citizenship must be submitted to the Ministry of Immigration and Integration by the use of a digital application form, available here.
Please notice that neither the application form nor the standard medical declaration form have yet been updated after the adoption of the 2018-naturalisation agreement. Thus, when filling in the digital form, applicants must be aware of the new rules.
For applicants who want to apply for dispensation from the Danish language and knowledge requirements, it is not yet possible to document all matters required in the 2018-circular, cf. above. Until new forms are available, the ministry recommends that applicants await the ministry’s receipt of their application before sending further documentation. Until further notice, the ministry accepts general medical declarations.
The application fee is 3,800 DKK.
No fee is required from children.
Loss of Danish citizenship due to fraud
The political parties behind the current rules have agreed that there is a need for increased attention at cases where citizenship may be withdrawn due to fraud. Therefore, two years after an applicant has acquired Danish citizenship, the authorities will systematically investigate whether a withdrawal procedure should be initiated based on concealment of crimes committed before the acquisition of citizenship.
The Danish naturalisation requirements are strict, and they have continuously been strengthened within the last years. Concurrently, the share of immigrants with Danish citizenship has decreased.
Statistical data show that in 2006, about 35 percent of the Danish immigrants were Danish citizens. In 2018, the share had decreased to about 25 percent, see figure 1.
Figure 1: Immigrants and citizenship
RED: Number of immigrants with Danish citizenship. LIGHT RED: Number of immigrants without Danish citizenship. RED DOTS: Share of immigrants with Danish citizenship
More descendants have become Danish citizens. However, since 2006, the share of descendants with Danish citizenship has stagnated with variations between 67-70 percent, see fig. 2:
Figure 2: Descendants and citizenship
In addition, the restrictions of the citizenship legislation may have contributed to the increase in the residence period that immigrants on average spend in Denmark before acquiring Danish citizenship. In 2004, immigrants spent on average about 11 years in Denmark before they acquired Danish citizenship. In 2018, the average residence period has increased to about 16 years, see figure 3.
Figure 3: Age and time in Denmark at acquisition of Danish citizenship
The Danish citizenship act is from 1950, and it has of course been amended several times, especially in the new millennium. The Danish Institute for Human Rights is of the opinion that there is a need for a thorough Danish citizenship law reform. In the institute’s status report on Danish citizenship it is recommended that the government establish a citizenship commission tasked with preparing a thorough citizenship law reform, adapted to the conditions of present-day society.
Links to more information and references:
Unfortunately, all the links are only available in Danish.
More information about the requirements for Danish citizenship can be found at the home page of the Ministry of Immigration and Integration
The Danish Institute for Human Rights’ status report on citizenship 2018