Sad and Unrealistic: EU students could not work amid Corona lockdown and are now told to Pay back SU money

Blanka Papp an EU student and worker victim of COVID-19 crisis told to pay back over 50,000 kr. by Danish authorities. Photo: Son Le

Denmark is one of the few places in the world where you are paid during your study period. There are various laws and ways under which you can be eligible to State Education Support called Statens Uddannelsesstøtte (SU). As a Danish national, you need to meet certain conditions thereafter you are ready to go. The second category is of those foreigners who can show equal status and get SU under Danish rules. One can get SU under Danish laws if you came to Denmark with your parents, you are married to a Danish citizen, you have worked in Denmark, you have resided in Denmark for a minimum of 5 years, you belong to the Danish minority in Southern Slesvig or you fall within Section 2 (2) (refugees) or Section 2 (3) (aliens granted family reunification) of the Act on Integration of Aliens in Denmark

The third category is of those foreigners who can get SU by showing equal status with Danish citizen under the EU Laws. If you are either a citizen of an EU/EEA country or are related to a citizen of an EU/EEA country you can get equal status. Under this category, you have to fulfil the conditions of either a worker or retained worker or you have resided in Denmark for five years.

Read more: SU as a foreign citizen

Boglarka Makari (photo: Boglarka) has been receiving SU under the third category by getting equal status as a worker and studying. Boglarka, an Hungarian student, came to Denmark in August 2019 when she got her acceptance in Service, Hospitality and Tourism Management program at UCN Aalborg. She started a new chapter in her life with her dream place Denmark. I have always looked up to Denmark and wanted to study and live here said Boglarka. I brought all my savings so that I can focus on my studies while I look for a part time job. It was difficult to find a job and I consumed all my savings and I have to call my family back in Hungary for help during the last months of 2019 say Boglarka.

After five months of trying, Boglarka found a job in a restaurant in Aalborg in January, 2020. I was so relieved that I finally got a job and I didn’t have to worry whether I would have money for the next month rent or not said Boglarka. She was then eligible for SU under the EU law as she started a job. It is worth to note here that when you are getting SU under EU laws you must not only work but fulfil one more condition and that is the number of hours of work per week. EU student must not only work but show that they have been working at least 10 hours per week and 43 hours per month for a continuous period of 10 weeks. In case one could not show 10 hours per week during these consecutive 10 weeks, s/he will have to return the whole of SU amount back.

Read more: SU as a worker or a self-employed person under EU law

Everything was going smoothly for Boglarka and she was enjoying the Danish life and her dream of studying in Denmark. She was fulfilling the number of hours requirement and got SU for the first time for February at the end of January and similarly she got SU for March. She never thought that the outbreak of a virus in the Chinese city of Wuhan could change her life.

Corona virus crisis started hitting economies around the world in early February but Denmark was safe until end of February. After Denmark got her first coronavirus case on 27th February, businesses started shutting down and employees were being fired. It got worse when on 11th of March PM Mette Frederiksen announced the complete lockdown. Boglarka said I was so afraid when I heard that PM has announced the lockdown as I thought, I will lose my job. Even before that I was not called for work as it was not that busy but after the lockdown I received a message from my employer that I am not required any more. As a part time foreign worker, I am neither eligible for Govt Corona Help Package nor I am allowed to take any other sort of benefits.

Read more: Corona crisis lengthens the job queue: The number of new vacant rounds is 40,000

Boglarka was still hopeful that though she is not working anymore but she has SU and she can survive. I was glad to receive the SU for April month at the end of March though I could not show my working hours. I thought Govt must have given a relief and paused the 10 hours rule as it should because of the corona lockdown. But my life went up side down when I received a letter from SU department that I need to return all the 3 months SU i.e. DKK 16.424. Now here I am, alone in a foreign country, without savings under the global corona pandemic and on top of that I am told to pay back over 16,000 kr. while the next month rent is up on my head. Though the updates on SU official website did state that there will be special consideration regarding the SU amid COVID-19 but Borlarka says she has been treated otherwise. Borlarka have filed an appeal but she says that many others students appeal has been rejected so she is afraid that she will also be not entertained.

Blanka Papp (photo: Blanka Papp), the 24 years old fashion design EU student in Herning is facing the similar situation. Though she has been living in Denmark since 2015 but she started studying again from August 2019. She has been working and receiving SU from August 2019 but since 13th March she is at home as her work place is closed due to corona lockdown. She also got a letter from SU department that she has to pay back the whole amount of SU from August 2019 to April 2020 which probably will be around 50,000 kr. I have been living in Denmark for almost 5 years and I have been working and studying all these years. I have respected every law and followed the Danish way of life. But this will be a shock for me if I have to pay 50,000 kr while I am still a student plus jobless.

Way out and recommendations

There are probably thousands of such cases where EU students are told to pay back SU money though they have followed the law by staying home after lockdown. I feel it is injustice and to be honest I can not pay 50,000 kr. as I do not have any, I am a student says Blanka Papp. I could only say that Govt should give a relief to EU student amid the corona pandemic and pause this 10 hours rule.

Boglarka says I doubt, I will have money to pay my rent leave apart SU as I am jobless and in current circumstances it is almost impossible to find a new job. In these times of uncertainty, all I’m asking for is understanding and empathy towards these students. We should be socially distant, but still together in heart.” She believes it will be fair if Govt freeze the 10 hours per week work rule for the period from March to June. This will give EU students the chance to start their work again and focus on studies without worrying of paying for food or rent.

Read more: ‘‘Unreasonable and sad’: Moumen has lost his job but risks his residence permit if he gets help

The solution can be quite simple if Govt wants to give a relief. As govt has announced to pause 225 hours of work per year rule for Danish national getting cash help from March to June, similarly work and income requirements for Non-EU workers and 10 hours work rule for EU students must be paused so that they feel included otherwise thousands of immigrants will have to face severe consequences.

Naqeeb Khan is a research graduate of the University of Glasgow, Scotland and currently resides in Denmark. He is president of Green Human Resources and an executive member with the Danish Green Card Association (DGCA). He can be contacted via email.

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