Steen Back Hansen looks out at the Flensburg fjord in Germany. On the other side is Denmark, his homeland of 50 years. But it is there that he, with his wife Jane, isn’t permitted to live. And the relationship had begun so promisingly.
“We married in 2002,” he said. “Jane has a sister who has lived in Denmark since 1991 and came to visit. We met and it was love at first sight.”
After marrying, they applied for residency for 25-year-old Jane at a local police station.
“They questioned us separately,” she recalled. “They were trying to be nice but in reality, they reported that my husband had only married me to get me into the country.”
Jane is 21 years younger than her husband—too big an age difference, the immigration authorities decided. It just couldn’t be love. So they declared the marriage “fictitious” and told Jane to leave the country. She did and he followed her, to the Philippines, then Sweden and finally, a year ago, to Flensburg.
“It is friendly here and we feel free,” he said. “That is why we will remain. We don’t want to relive that again.”
About 3,000 Danes marry foreigners every year and many of them leave the country, usually to live in Sweden or Germany. If they marry a non-EU national, they can only live in Denmark under certain conditions. For example, the foreign spouse must be at least 24 years old. And in each case, immigration officials have the sole right to decide whether it is a valid marriage.
This practice does not correspond with EU laws, said Elsebeth Gerner Nielsen, a representative of the opposition Social Liberals in the Danish parliament.
“We in Denmark have unfortunately not consulted EU law,” she said. “We still have old Danish rules here.”
Denmark has a special status in the EU. That is how the conservative ruling party was able to strengthen the immigration rules in 2002. About 7 percent of the population in Denmark is foreign.
“We want to reduce immigration in order to improve integration of immigrants already here,” said Immigration Minister Rikke Hvilshoey. “Through the new law, the children of immigrants have a better chance in the workplace.”
But Nielsen believes the law will only make things worse.
“The concerns over immigration are in western Denmark where there are hardly any immigrants,” she said. “In Copenhagen, where most foreigners live, people say they have no problems with it.”
But the Social Liberal party stands alone in their views. Even the Social Democrats backed the conservatives in the plan.
So thousands more international couples will continue to follow the footsteps of Steen and Jane Back Hansen—to live out their married lives beyond Denmark’s borders.