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Denmark: Supreme Court Upholds Controversial Immigration Law

(Jan. 27, 2010) In January 2010, Denmark's Supreme Court issued a decision in an immigration case that retains a controversial rule. Since 2002, immigrants to Denmark that become naturalized citizens must have lived in the country for 28 years before they can use family reunification laws to bring their spouses into Denmark. The only way to avoid this long residency requirement is if the naturalized citizen can demonstrate that the couple is more attached to Denmark than to any other nation. (Supreme Court Judges Split on Immigration Law Aspect But the Disagreement Bears No Political Influence, THE COPENHAGEN POST ONLINE, Jan. 25, 2010, available at

The recent Supreme Court decision, supported by four of the seven judges, came in a case brought by Ousmane Biao, a Togo-born immigrant from Ghana. He applied for his wife to be permitted to move to Denmark in 2004. At that time he had been in the country for eleven years and had been a citizen for two years. Biao argued that denying permission for family reunification in his case amounted to “gratuitous discrimination.” Danish officials countered his application, stating that he had been educated in Ghana, his parents and siblings were still there, he had visited Ghana five times in as many years, his wife has no relatives in Denmark, and the couple speaks African languages to communicate with each other, not Danish. All these factors combined, in the government view, to disqualify them from the exception to the 28-year rule. (Id.)

Speaking in support of maintaining the 28-year rule, Integration minister Birthe Rønn Hornbech said that changing after the decision would “be weird … after an endorsement from the Supreme Court.” (Id.) While most parliamentarians are not interested in reviewing the current law, the Socialist Liberal Party has called the rule embarrassing, arguing that all Danish citizens should be treated equally. The case is now going to the European Court of Human Rights. (Id.)