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Family reunification for Danish nationals under EU law

The EU rules on freedom of movement do not apply to purely internal matters. This means that family members of Danish nationals who live in Denmark and have not exercised the right of free movement in another EU/EEA Member State or Switzerland cannot obtain a residence card for Denmark under the EU rules.

However, the case-law of the European Court of Justice shows that a Danish national will be covered by EU law in his/her own country in certain cases and will be eligible for family reunification on that basis.

In certain cases, a registration certificate or residence card can therefore be issued to a foreigner who is a family member of a Danish national applying the EU rules on free movement of workers, self-employed persons, service providers, retired workers, retired self-employed persons, retired service providers, seconded persons, students and self-supporting persons.

The EU rules on free movement of labour, et al. apply, in certain instances, to:

  • Danish citizens who reside in Denmark but are employed in another member state, and as a result regularly travel to that country (frontier workers)
  • Danish citizens who reside in Denmark, and are employed by a Danish employer, but who carry out a certain amount of labour in another member state (business travellers)
    (Read more in section 9, below.)

In certain exceptional cases, Danish citizens who reside in Denmark, but provide services in other EU/EEA countries, qualify for family reunification under EU regulations. (Read more in section 8.)

The case-law of the European Court of Justice shows that exercise of the right of free movement under EU law for the purpose of obtaining family reunification cannot be considered a circumvention of the Danish immigration legislation. What is crucial is that it is a genuine relationship and/or a genuine marriage/regular cohabitation and that the Union citizen/EEA national has exercised his/her right of free movement in another EU/EEA Member State in reality (for more details, see the Akrich judgment (case C-109/01)).

Family members of Danish nationals who have resided in another EU/EEA Member State or Switzerland may apply for a registration certificate, if the relevant family member is a Union citizen/an EEA national, or a residence card, if the family member is a third-country national.

At this page you will learn more about the conditions that applicants must satisfy to achieve family reunification under EU law. You can also read more about the requirements no longer made as a consequence of the case-law of the European Court of Justice.

Read more about family reunification in Denmark for Union citizens and EEA nationals

1. Free movement

The Danish national must have exercised his/her right of free movement in another EU/EEA Member State or Switzerland.

There is no minimum requirement for the length of the Danish national's residence in the other EU/EEA Member State or Switzerland, but it is a precondition that s/he has genuinely exercised the right of residence on the basis of the EU rules.

The Danish national must have resided in another EU/EEA Member State or Switzerland as either:

  • a worker
  • a self-employed person
  • a service provider
  • a retired worker
  • a retired self-employed person
  • a retired service provider
  • a seconded person
  • a student at an educational institution accredited or financed by public authorities, where s/he was able to support him/herself during the period of residence, or
  • a self-supporting person, i.e. the person must dispose of such sufficient income or means so that s/he is presumed not to become a burden on the public authorities, or
  • have established permanent residence permit in the other EU/EEA Member State or Switzerland 

When is a Union citizen/an EEA national deemed to be a worker under EU law?

It depends on a concrete assessment of the specific circumstances of each case whether a Union citizen/an EEA national, including a Danish national, is deemed to be a worker under EU law. What is crucial is whether a person has had genuine and effective employment. Emphasis will also be laid on whether the person performs services for and under the direction of another person in which s/he receives remuneration. Employment appearing to be a mere marginal supplement is excluded from the scope of application of the concept. It is therefore normally a condition that the relevant employment amounts at least 10-12 hours a week.

According to the jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice it is normally a requirement that the applicant has been employed for a minimum of 10-12 hours per week, see judgment Kempf (case C-139/85) and Megner and Scheffel (case C-444/93).

In the case of Kempf the employment in question was 12 hours per week, and in the case of Megner and Scheffel the European Court of Justice has ruled that paid employment where the working hours normally do not exceed 18, 12 or even 10 hours per week do not exclude the person to be regarded as a worker under the EU legislation.

In the judgment of Genc (case C-14/09) the European Court of Justice established criteria for the purposes of the concrete and individual assessment of whether an employment for less than 10-12 hours per week is genuine and effective. These criteria may be the entitlement to paid leave, remuneration during illness, the duration of the employment, and whether a collective agreement applies to the employment. The employment in the mentioned case was 5,5 hours per week.

The European Court of Justice did not consider whether a weekly employment of 5,5 hours was sufficient in order to be considered as a worker under EU law, or whether the employment was of a merely marginal nature. It was left to the member state to undertake this evaluation.

It is not possible to fix a lower limit for the duration of the employment for assessment purposes.

The European Court of Justice ruled in Franca Ninni-Orasche (case C-413/01) that a fixed-term contract of employment for ten weeks was sufficient for the applicant to be a worker under EU law. The case concerned educational grants and led to the issue of guidelines to the local authorities about when a person is deemed to be a worker. The guidelines concern employment relationships for which a short-term contract has been concluded in advance. The guidelines fix a minimum period of ten weeks for such situations. However, it should be emphasised that a concrete assessment must be made in each case.

Accordingly, a concrete and individual assessment must be made in each case, and the ten-week period fixed by the Court in the Ninni-Orasche judgment is thus only to be seen as an example of a situation in which ten weeks of employment were deemed to suffice.

A Union citizen/an EEA national who has permanent employment, but ceases working after less than ten weeks, may satisfy the conditions for being a worker under EU law in certain circumstances, while another person having worked for more than ten weeks may not always satisfy the conditions, e.g. due to lack of genuine work or for other reasons.

Is a Danish national working in another EU/EEA Member State or Switzerland, but having retained his/her residence in Denmark, entitled to family reunification under EU law?

A Danish citizen who resides in Denmark but is employed in another EU/EEA country and, as a result, regularly travels to that country (frontier worker) can, in certain instances, qualify for family reunification under EU regulations.  

A Danish citizen who resides in Denmark and works for a company headquartered in Denmark, but who, according to the terms of his/her employment, carries out a part of his/her job in another member state (business traveller) can, in certain instances, qualify for family reunification under EU regulations.  

Read more about when Danish frontier workers and business travellers qualify for family reunification in section 9, below.  

A Danish citizen residing in Denmark and providing services in other EU/EEA countries can, in certain instances, qualify for family reunification under EU regulations (read more in section 8).

2. Genuine and effective residence

The Danish national must have established genuine and effective residence in another EU/EEA Member State or Switzerland.

One condition that must be satisfied before a family member of a Danish national who has exercised his/her right of free movement in another EU/EEA Member State is entitled to residence under EU law is that the Danish national has had genuine and effective residence in the EU/EEA Member State in which s/he has worked or resided for other purposes.

The condition that a Danish national must have had genuine and effective residence in another EU/EEA Member State implies that it must be a genuine and effective move to that State. The move must be real, and a short stay at, for example, a hotel room is not sufficient.

Generally, a Danish national having stayed for a short period in a sublet room or at a c/o address with relatives or acquaintances does not satisfy the condition of having established genuine and effective residence in another EU/EEA Member State.

By contrast, a Danish national having resided for a long period in a rented flat on the basis of an indeterminate tenancy agreement or in a dwelling bought by the relevant person immediately satisfies the condition of having established genuine and effective residence.

However, a concrete and individual assessment of all specific circumstances of the case will have to be made, including the above circumstances.

On the basis of the information in the application form and the enclosed documents, the State Administration will assess whether the condition of genuine and effective residence is deemed to be satisfied.

If the State Administration assesses on the basis of the information received that it is questionable whether the Danish national has had genuine and effective residence in another EU/EEA Member State, further evidence of such residence will be requested.

Examples of documents that a Danish national may submit as proof of his/her genuine and effective residence in another EU Member State are:

  • proof of address, including a transcript from the national register that the applicant's residence has been registered
  • a conveyance for property, a tenancy agreement or receipts for payment of rent
  • evidence that the Danish national moved from his/her former residence, including evidence that s/he has terminated his/her tenancy agreement, sold his/her property or sublet his/her home for a certain period
  • enrolment of children at school, kindergarten, etc.
  • proof of a national health insurance number or a special health insurance

This not an exhaustive list of documents that a Danish national may submit to prove his/her genuine and effective residence in another EU/EEA Member State. However, family reunification cannot be refused merely with reference to the fact that a Danish national has not been able to submit one or more of the above documents.

In all circumstances, the State Administration will make a concrete assessment of the aggregate circumstances of the case.

In connection with the application, a Danish national applying for family reunification in Denmark under EU law must solemnly declare that s/he has had genuine and effective residence in another EU/EEA Member State.

3. Which family members are eligible for family reunification with a Danish national under EU law?


The following family members fall within the scope of eligibility for family reunification with a Danish national who has exercised his/her right of free movement in another EU/EEA Member State:

  • Spouse  
  • Regular cohabitant over 18 years of age
  • Direct descendants under 21 years of age (i.e. children, grandchildren, etc.) of the Danish national or of his/her spouse/regular cohabitant
  • Direct descendants over 21 years of age (i.e. children, grandchildren, etc.) of the Danish national or of his/her spouse/regular cohabitant if the descendants are dependent on the Danish national or on his/her spouse/regular cohabitant
  • Relatives in the ascending line (i.e. parents, grandparents, etc.) of the Danish national or of his/her spouse/regular cohabitant if the relatives are dependent on the Danish national or on his/her spouse/regular cohabitant
  • Other family members (e.g. siblings, cousins, etc.) if they are dependent on the Danish national or are living under his/her roof in the country they come from
  • Other family members (e.g. siblings, cousins, etc.) if it is strictly required for serious health reasons that the Danish national provides personal care of the family members

Paragraph 6 below provides more information on the conditions of support.

4. Genuine family relationship and/or genuine marriage/regular cohabitation

A genuine family relationship and/or a genuine marriage/regular cohabitation must exist between the Danish national and the family member.

In connection with an application for family reunification, evidence must be submitted to prove that family ties were established between the Danish national and the family member before the Danish national returned to Denmark, for example a marriage certificate (for spouses) or a certificate of baptism (for children).

If a family member to a Danish national who has exercised his or her freedom of movement in another EU/EEA country does not apply for family reunification under the EU law until later than at the time of the return to Denmark, a concrete assessment will be made of whether the family members’ application has been submitted in natural continuation of the return to Denmark of the Danish national. Such assessment will lay emphasis on the reasons for the late application, including whether the family member postponed the application for special reasons of work or education, as well as the length of the delay. A memorandum on the temporal correlation of the return of the Danish national to Denmark and the application of residence as a family member to the Danish national under EU law has been produced, which is only available in the Danish language version: "notat om tidsmæssig sammenhæng mellem en dansk statsborgers tilbagevenden til Danmark og ansøgning om ophold som familiemedlem til den danske statsborger efter EU-retten". 

It is also a requirement that the Danish national and the family member/applicant have genuinely cohabited in the EU/EEA Member State in which the Danish national has exercised his/her right of free movement. The requirement implies that the family member/applicant has had a residence in the EU/EEA Member State in which the Danish national has exercised his/her right of free movement. It should be noted that it is a condition that the family member's/applicant's stay in the EU/EEA Member State take place during the period in which the Danish national exercises his/her right of free movement. There is no requirement that the family member's/applicant's stay in the EU/EEA Member State was lawful.

The State Administration will also make a concrete assessment of whether the EU rules have been abused, including whether the sole purpose of contracting the marriage was to obtain the right of free movement and residence under the EU rules, which one would not otherwise be entitled to.

Accordingly, a Danish national and his/her spouse/permanent cohabitant applying for family reunification in Denmark under EU law must solemnly declare in connection with the application that the purpose of contracting the marriage or establishing the cohabitation was not solely to obtain an independent basis of residence for the family member. 

If the couple are married, the marriage must still be valid when the couple enter Denmark. If the couple are permanent cohabitants, cohabitation must still exist when the couple enter Denmark and during their continued residence in Denmark.

5. Economic activity upon return

A Danish national who has exercised his/her right of free movement in another EU/EEA Member State as:

  • a worker
  • a self-employed person
  • a service provider
  • a retired worker
  • a retired self-employed person, or
  • a retired service provider

need not be economically active to obtain family reunification with his/her spouse/permanent cohabitant and/or his/her or the spouse's children under 21 years of age upon his/her return to Denmark.

Accordingly, it follows from the Eind judgment (case C-291/05) that:

"When a worker returns to the Member State of which he is a national, after being gainfully employed in another Member State, a third-country national who is a member of his family has a right under Article 10(1)(a) of Regulation No. 1612/68 as amended by Regulation No. 2434/92, which applies by analogy, to reside in the Member State of which the worker is a national, even where that worker does not carry on any effective and genuine economic activities."

Danish citizens, who, upon returning to Denmark, change employment status from ‘inactive’ (student or self-supporting) to ‘active’ (employee or independently employed), will not be required to support themselves and their immediate family. This may be required at a later date if the Danish citizen becomes economically inactive again.

Paragraph 6 below provides more information on the condition of support.

6. Support of yourself and your family

The condition of support differs depending on the basis of residence of the Danish national in the EU/EEA Member State in which the relevant person has exercised his/her right of free movement, and depending on the status of the family members included in the application for family reunification.

A Danish national applying for family reunification in Denmark under EU law after having exercised his/her freedom of movement in another EU/EEA Member State as a worker, self-employed person or service provider (economically active person) or as a retired worker, self-employed person or service provider (retired economically active person) is not required to prove that s/he can support his/her spouse/permanent cohabitant and children under 21 years of age and the spouse's children under 21 years of age (core family members). This applies regardless of whether the relevant person receives social assistance or other maintenance in Denmark.

However, a Danish national applying for family reunification with family members other than his/her spouse/permanent cohabitant or children under 21 years of age or the spouse's/permanent cohabitant's children under 21 years of age after having exercised his/her freedom of movement in another EU/EEA Member State as an economically active or retired economically active person and having returned to Denmark may be required to prove that s/he is able to support those family members.

A Danish national applying for family reunification upon his/her return to Denmark after having exercised his/her right of free movement in another EU/EEA Member State as a student may also be required to declare or by such similar mean as they may choose that s/he has sufficient means for him/herself and all his/her family members, including his/her spouse/permanent cohabitant and children under 21 years of age and the spouse's/permanent cohabitant's children under 21 years of age. Is the family member a spouse/permanent cohabitant, a child under 21 years of age or the spouse's/permanent cohabitant's child under 21 years of age the Union citizen/EEA national need only declaring that s/he has sufficient means.

Moreover, a Danish national who has exercised his/her freedom of movement in another EU/EEA Member State as a self-supporting person may be required to prove that s/he has sufficient means for him/herself and all his/her family members, including his/her spouse/permanent cohabitant and children under 21 years of age and the spouse's/permanent cohabitant's children under 21 years of age.

However, Danish citizens will not be required to support themselves and their immediate family if they, upon returning to Denmark, change their employment status from ‘inactive’ (student or self-supporting) to ‘active’ (employee or self-employed). This may be required at a later date if the Danish citizen becomes economically inactive again. Read more in Juridisk fortolkningsnotat om sagerne C-456/12, O. m. fl., og sag C-457/12, S., which is only available in the Danish language edition. 

Likewise, Danish citizens will not be required to support themselves and their immediate family upon returning to Denmark, if they have been granted permanent residence in the EU/EAA country under the EU rules on free movement.  Read more in Juridisk fortolkningsnotat om Clauder-dommen (E-4/11) (in Danish only), which also apply for Danish nationals who have exercised the right to free movement in another EU/EEA country.

The State Administration can give you more information about which family members may be eligible for a registration certificate or residence card and the conditions that must be satisfied.

7. Family members' previous lawful residence in another EU/EEA Member State

A family member, including a foreign spouse/permanent cohabitant, is not required to have had previous lawful residence in the EU/EEA Member State or Switzerland in which the Danish national has exercised his/her right of residence so far.

Accordingly, it follows from the Metock judgment (case C-127/08) that:

"Directive 2004/38/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States precludes legislation of a Member State which requires a national of a non-member country who is the spouse of a Union citizen residing in that Member State but not possessing its nationality to have previously been lawfully resident in another Member State before arriving in the host Member State, in order to benefit from the provisions of that directive."

However, it is a condition that the Danish national and the family member/applicant have in fact cohabited in the EU/EEA Member State in which the Danish national has exercised his/her right of free movement.

Accordingly, it follows from paras. 35-36 of the Eind judgment (case C-291/05) that:

"A national of a Member State could be deterred from leaving that Member State in order to pursue gainful employment in the territory of another Member State if he does not have the certainty of being able to return to his Member State of origin, irrespective of whether he is going to engage in economic activity in the latter State.

That deterrent effect would also derive simply from the prospect, for that same national, of not being able, on returning to his Member State of origin, to continue living together with close relatives, a way of life which may have come into being in the host Member State as a result of marriage or family reunification."

8. Danish nationals residing in Denmark and providing cross-border services

In exceptional cases, Danish nationals residing in Denmark and providing cross-border services to other EU/EEA Member States are entitled to family reunification under EU law.

In the Carpenter judgment (case C-60/00), the European Court of Justice ruled that a Union citizen/an EEA national residing in his/her country of origin, but providing services to customers in other EU/EEA Member States, is entitled to family reunification under EU law in that country under highly exceptional circumstances.

The Carpenter case concerned the British national Mr Carpenter, who provided cross-border services to customers established in other EU Member States and in the United Kingdom. Mr Carpenter's business was established in the UK, and he travelled to other EU Member States for the purpose of his business. The UK Secretary of State made a deportation order against Mr Carpenter's spouse, who is a national of the Philippines, but the European Court of Justice determined that, by virtue of the provisions of the EC Treaty relating to the freedom to provide services, she had a derived right of residence in the UK.

If a Danish national residing in Denmark and providing cross-border services wants to obtain a registration certificate/residence card for his/her foreign spouse/permanent cohabitant or for their children under 21 years of age, the following conditions must be satisfied:

  • The Danish national's spouse and children under 21 years of age (third-country nationals) must have entered Denmark lawfully.
  • The Danish national must reside in Denmark and provide cross-border services to another EU/EEA Member State or Switzerland from Denmark.
  • The Danish national must make business trips to the other EU Member States to which services are provided.
  • The Danish national's provision of services must constitute a large proportion of the relevant person's business activities, both in Denmark and in other EU Member States.
  • A marriage may not be contracted, nor may cohabitation be established solely for the purpose of achieving an independent basis of residence for the applicant. If the couple are married, the marriage must still be valid when the foreign spouse enters Denmark. If the couple are permanent cohabitants, cohabitation must still exist when the cohabitant enters Denmark and during his/her continued residence in Denmark.
  • The couple must have established a genuine family life in Denmark.

Evidence that the above conditions are satisfied may be requested.

9. Danish nationals residing in Denmark and working in another EU country

Danish citizens who have been economically active in another EU country can, in certain instances, qualify for family reunification under EU regulations. In accordance with the decision in European Court of Justice case C-457/12, a citizen of an EU country residing in his/her country of citizenship, and working in another EU member state, can, in certain cases, qualify for family reunification.

The case in question involved a Ukrainian citizen, Ms S, who was the mother-in-law of a Dutch citizen who was employed by a Dutch firm as a sales manager responsible for the Benelux area. Ms S’s son-in-law used 30 percent of his workweek travelling and preparing to travel to Belgium, France, Germany and the UK. Ms S was responsible for caring for her grandchild. The Netherlands ruled that Ms S did not qualify for family reunification under EU regulations, since she had never resided in another member state with her son-in-law.

The decision also applied to Ms G, a Peruvian citizen and the spouse of a Dutch citizen, who resided in the Netherlands but travelled daily to his place of employment in Belgium. The couple had a daughter together, while Ms G had a son from a previous relationship who lived with the couple. The Dutch authorities ruled that Ms G did not qualify for family reunification under EU regulations.

The European Court of Justice ruled that all citizens of EU/EEA countries who, according to the terms of their employment, are required to carry out economic activity in another member state than his/her country of residence are subject to the EU’s rules on free movement of labour. The European Court of Justice’s decision stated further that the right to the free movement of labour can result in residents of third countries belonging to the same household as a citizen of an EU/EEA country, having the extended right to residence in the same member state as the EU/EEA citizen’s country of citizenship.

Whether family reunification is granted will depend on whether family reunification is necessary for a citizen of an EU/EEA country to be able to exercise the right to free movement of labour. A wish to reside in Denmark is not sufficient grounds to grant family reunification to a Danish citizen with a foreign spouse.

In order for the foreign family member of a Danish citizen who lives in Denmark but works part or full-time in another EU member state to qualify for a registration certificate/residence card, the following requirements must be met:

  • The Danish citizen must 1) live in Denmark and be employed by an employer in another member state in accordance with EU regulations on free movement of labour, and 2) as a result of this employment, travel to that country on a regular basis (frontier worker); or if the Danish citizen is employed by a company headquartered in Denmark, and who, according to the terms of his/her employment, is required to spend a certain amount of his/her workweek in another member country (business travel).
  • Family reunification is necessary if the Danish citizen is to be able to exercise the right to free movement of labour in order to work in another member state
  • The Danish citizen’s foreign family member must be in Denmark legally
  • The Danish citizen and the foreign family member must genuinely reside together in Denmark.

Read more in Juridisk fortolkningsnotat om sagerne C-456/12, O. m. fl., og sag C-457/12, S., which is only available in the Danish language edition.

10. Permanent residence

As a family member to a Danish national comprised by the EU rules on free movement, and with a right to residence according to the EU-executive order, you have a right to permanent residence in Denmark, if you have lawfully resided in Denmark for a continuous period of five years. For more information on permanent residence contact the State Administration.

11. Application

Applications for family reunification under EU law are to be submitted to the State Administration in Denmark or at a Danish diplomatic mission (embassy or consulate general) abroad. Read more about how to apply 

If the State Administration rejects the application, you can appeal the decision to the Danish Immigration Service.

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Last update: 6/21/2016
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Published by: The Danish Immigration Service