Foreign scholars in Denmark are facing fines worth thousands of euros after being told that giving external lectures and supervising exams at other universities broke the terms of their work permits.
Brooke Harrington, a professor at Copenhagen Business School and an expert on offshore finance, said she was facing fines totalling €2,000 (£1,781) after being contacted by police over five talks she had given over the past 18 months to the Danish parliament and other tax authorities.
The American told Times Higher Education that she now has to fill in a 19-page application form each time she wants to speak outside her university. For an upcoming 20-30 minute talk to a political party, it took her and the party a total of 15 hours to apply, she explained. “It was a nightmare,” she said. For “every individual talk...I have to individually seek permission from the immigration authorities.”
Another 13 academics from outside the European Union, who require visas to work, are known to now be facing fines, most of them for giving external lectures, or supervising PhDs or exams at other universities, explained Jesper Langergaard, director of Universities Denmark, a group of eight institutions.
The fines are the results of rules that state that work permits were granted “to work in a specific position for a specific employer”, a spokesman for the Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration said.
But Mr Langergaard said that the academics caught out by the fines had not knowingly broken the law and had simply not imagined that they would have had to apply to do outside work.
“This is a very, very bad signal to the outside world that even professors who are just doing their job, spreading their knowledge outside the university, can risk being fined. It's a ridiculous thing,” he said.
Mr Langergaard said the recent spate of fines may have been triggered by a new combination of databases that allowed the authorities to identify more easily academics who had fallen foul of the rules.
The cases have caused a political row in Denmark, with prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen tweeting that the rules were being re-examined, and that Denmark needed “foreign inspiration”.
Pointing out that immigration rules had become increasingly restrictive in Denmark, Professor Harrington said that it was “embarrassing for them [Danish politicians] that they caught up the Harvard-educated white girl in their net”.
The fines are only the latest harassment she said she has received since moving to the country in 2010, and she is now looking for jobs elsewhere.
Foreign academics should think “really long and hard” about whether to take up a position in Denmark, Professor Harrington said.
The "smart move" might be to “move to a country that doesn't hate me”, she said. “I'm being treated as a criminal.”
The spokesman for the Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration confirmed that “if a researcher is to work for an employer other than the employer of the original residence permit, for instance by giving presentations for a different employer at a different institution or university...he/she must have a specific permit for that”.
But a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Immigration and Integration said that the government was “looking into the possibility of changing the law, so there will be fewer restrictions”.