COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - A plan by Denmark to tighten immigration rules via a points system reflecting desirability of immigrants looks set to become a heated topic in campaigning for a parliamentary election due by November 2011.
With immigration a growing subject of controversy in west European countries, Denmark's minority government has agreed with the right-wing populist Party that props it up to further tighten immigration legislation.
Foreigners who are married to a Danish citizen and want residency in Denmark too will, besides paying a higher fee, have to accumulate points based on education, work experience and language skills to do so, according to the deal.
Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen's minority Liberal-Conservative government has passed stricter immigration laws in return for support from the Danish People's Party -- parliament's third biggest party -- since 2001. Denmark now has one of Europe's toughest stances on immigration.
They agreed late on Wednesday on a deal that includes the introduction of a point system for foreign spouse immigration that rates education, work, language skills and other qualities.
Spouses under the age of 24 would need 120 points while those who are older will half of that. A degree from a Danish or a "top" foreign university scores highest -- 120 points, compared with 40 points for vocational training abroad.
For work to score points -- between 40 and 80 -- the candidate must have had a job overseas for 2.5 years out of the last three, or a "qualified" job in Denmark for the last two.
Proficiency in English, German, French, Spanish and Scandinavian languages also merits points.
An immigration ministry official said there was no date set for a vote in parliament on the proposal but it was likely to be held after the turn of the year.
Integration Minister Birthe Ronn Hornbech told Danish media the new system would assist integration. Opposition parties heavily criticised the proposal, although the Social Democrats and the Socialist People's Party presented an alternative points system proposal that also would mean a tightening of the rules.
Last month, Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen presented on a plan to promote integration in some residential areas the government characterised as "ghettoes" due to a high proportion of immigrants and second-generation immigrants from non-European countries, high unemployment and a high crime rate.
Reporting by Anna Ringstrom; editing by Mark Heinrich