A top foreign student has been deported from the country for working too many hours in a part-time cleaning job – despite strong protests from Aarhus University, Danish working unions, the media and 18,000 signatories on a petition delivered to the Integration Minister Inger Støjberg.
Marius Youbi, a 30-year-old electrical engineering student from Cameroon boarded a plane at Billund Airport on 8 January under full coverage by Danish television, accompanied by his sister and nephew who stayed behind. His university described him as “the best we have”.
The Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration, or SIRI, under the Ministry for Refugees, Immigration and Integration Affairs, had decided not to continue his residence permit for the two years left of his degree studies, due to a violation of the work permit conditions for foreign students.
In some weeks in 2013 and 2014 Youbi had worked one and a half hours more than the 15 hours maximum a week that foreign students are allowed to work alongside their studies.
Having studied for four and a half years at Aarhus University, while paying tuition fees and not entitled to Danish student loans, Youbi held a cleaning job alongside the studies where he had exceeded the maximum hours allowed. He was fined DKK2,500 (US$365) in 2015, which he decided to pay hoping that the case would then be closed.
Youbi’s lawyer Nikolaj Nikolajsen told Danish TV2 that the decision to pay was decisive for SIRI when taking its decision.
Youbi told the broadcaster DR that all his work on his studies had “gone up in smoke”.
“I have built up something in Denmark. It is hard to say goodbye to so much.”
Per Lysgaard, an associate professor at Aarhus University, told DR: “Both the university and I think this is totally unfair, harsh punishment for working too much. He has paid for his studies, so he should be allowed to take his exams. He is the best student we have right now.”
His case quickly became a cause célèbre. On 5 January a demonstration was arranged in support of Youbi in Herning and a Facebook page “Let Marius stay” collected 8,000 likes and 18,000 signatories on a petition.
The petition said: “Marius is studying electrical engineering at the University of Aarhus engineering school in Herning. He is one of the brightest students they have there. The report card shows preliminary 10.4 on average this far, six 12s and five 10s. As a non-EU citizen he is not allowed to receive SU [student support] and has to pay approximately DKK46,000 [US$6,700] in tuition per semester, so in addition to the tuition fees he must raise money for food, lodging and study materials.
“There is a need for him in Denmark. And now Denmark is throwing him out.”
The Danish Society of Engineers has described the deportation of Youbi as distorted, and the spokesperson for the society Frida Frost said: “We want strong foreigners to study and work in Denmark. This case is tiresome, where many people are putting their heads in the sand.”
Social Democratic Party spokesperson and former minister of trade Mogens Jensen on 14 December posed a question in parliament asking Minister Støjberg if she would take steps to revoke the case.
Danish newspapers cited media reactions abroad under the headlines “The Danes have become hard – Sharpening the attitudes against foreigners” quoting articles in the Guardian, Euronews and the Tel Aviv based i24news.
Aarhus University newspaper Omnibus reported that lawyer Nikolaj Nikolajsen said that the law does not specifically state that the residence permit has to be cancelled but that it can be cancelled upon applicants having been fined for illegal work in Denmark.
“Hence it has to be a political decision that the case shall be treated in this way,” Nikolajsen told Omnibus.
“I think that it is a glaring stupidity now when Danish companies are crying out for a well-educated workforce like Marius is representing. And I think it is a waste of his resources. He has not been a burden upon Danish society and he has paid for his education himself.”
In January, Youbi had an agreement with the Danish global company KK Wind Solutions for an internship.
The head of global R&D at KK Wind Solutions, Henrik Lykke Christiansen, said to Omnibus that it is unreasonable to send Youbi out of Denmark and that they are looking at the possibility of engaging him at one of their branches abroad.
After Youbi was ordered to leave, the university agreed to move his end of term exams forward, giving him 48 hours to prepare for three tests. He achieved grade 12, the Danish equivalent of A-grade, in all three.
The Youbi decision comes against a backdrop of strong support for the far-right anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party, which has propped up successive minority governments, forcing them to take increasingly tough stances on immigration, including trying to clamp down on migrants from poor countries who obtain student visas but instead of studying take up full-time work.
In a similar case to Youbi’s, Shalik Ram Bhattarai, a Nepalese student who had lived in Denmark for eight years, was ordered to leave the country by 7 January – along with his wife and three year old son, who was born in Denmark – because in 2012-13 he had worked too many hours alongside his studies.
According to Danish online publication The Local, Bhattarai was given the order just days after completing a masters thesis in economics at the University of Southern Denmark, a course which cost him DK400,000 (US$58,500). Deportation could prevent him from being able to defend his thesis next month.
“I think it is sad that they will destroy my education and my future. But that is something they decide and I can’t do anything,” he told TV2 Fyn.
He is now waiting for the result of an appeal to the Immigration Appeals Board.
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