Denmark: canary in the immigration coal mine?

When it comes to political debate, you’re not likely to find a more emotive issue than can be expressed in just one word: immigration.

And so it proved in the Danish parliament this week when it came to discussing the country’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis:

“After an emotional four- hour parliamentary debate, a large majority of Danish MPs backed a new immigration Bill that Copenhagen hopes will drive down asylum numbers, which reached 21,000 last year.”

(“Denmark shrugs off criticism of rules allowing seizure of asylum seekers’ valuables“, Irish Times Friday 29 January 2016)

Predictably, the bill is not good news for migrants to Denmark:

“The new law will, in many cases, triple to three years the waiting period for family reunion applications, shorten the duration of temporary residence permits, and tighten conditions for permanent permits.” (Ibid).

So does Denmark’s new tough-mindedness have wider implications?

Is Denmark Europe’s canary in the immigrant policy coal mine?

And will the European response have knock-on effects on countries such as Canada and Australia, which have traditionally been generous in welcoming asylum seekers?

As emigration agents, we’re in the business of watching the political tides, as it may only be a matter of time before those tides begin to have an effect on our clients.

The ongoing Syrian refugee crisis is hardly news, and it is not likely to end soon, even if a mercifully prompt end could soon be found to the war in Syria, which sadly remains unlikely.

Yet the crisis has only just begun to play out in European policy debates, and the tenor of those debates may be the indicator of things to come: even if the balance between opposing camps has kept the immediate response muted.

It is entirely foreseeable that a replay of the Paris shootings, or further headlines as those which emerged from New Year’s celebrations in Cologne and elsewhere — along with increasing tension between migrants and locals, as is already increasingly in evidence — could prompt more hardline responses in immigration policy than we’ve yet seen.

Most of our clients are headed to Canada or Australia, and so far the immigration debate in those jurisdictions has been undertaken in measured tones.

History suggests, however, that when these debates end, it is rarely the case that the window for migrants remains held open as widely as before the debates begin.

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