Swedish town hopes for Russian revival

Sorsele, a town in the far north of Sweden, is hoping to attract highly-qualified Russian immigrants in a move aimed at arresting depopulation and ensure the municipality's future.

Swedish town hopes for Russian revival

“The initiative is part of a broad and long term review of our labour market and our needs over the coming ten years,” municipal councillor Rune Tovetjärn told The Local on Monday.

“We want to see if we can tempt young people that have moved from Sorsele to return, and we want to see if there is an interest from skilled labour in Russia and other densely populated areas of Europe – such as the Netherlands,” he said.

The municipality has suffered from depopulation and an ageing labour force for some time and is currently home to only 2,800 people, the second lowest in Sweden.

Last week a delegation from Sorsele visited the Russian municipality of Apatity on the Kola Peninsula as part of a campaign to attract well-educated families with children.

“Within ten years we need to recruit more than 100 people to various qualified professions: doctors, nurses, teachers, economists, technicians and so on,” Tovetjärn said.

Sorsele has chosen to focus part of its campaign on Apatity as it already holds friendship links and aims to attract people used to living in the countryside.

“We have well established links with the area and it is easier to ‘sow seeds in fertile land than to break new ground’,” he said.

As part of the broad campaign to arrest the slide in residents of a working age, the municipality is also hoping to attract Dutch entrepreneurs to work within the tourist industry.

Tovetjärn told The Local that while no direct funds will be provided to try to tempt families to move to Sorsele, which borders Norway in the Swedish province of Lappland, he is hopeful that the municipality has a lot to offer.

“If you want a relative good life, with cheaper living; if you want to experience a verdant nature, with open spaces and fantastic skiing, then Sorsele is an excellent choice,” he said.

The municipality hopes to attract two to four families with children within two years and while the government has described the labour migration scheme as exciting, the municipality can not expect to receive any state financial support.

“Other rural municipalities will follow suit if it is successful. The municipalities are however independent and can not expect any financing from the state,” migration minister Tobias Billström told the local Västerbotten-Kuriren daily.

Sorsele plans however to invest in the education of their prospective residents with language courses and other preparatory programmes planned as part of the initiative to ensure that those seeking to come to Sweden are suitable for the challenge.

“From Russia we are looking for people used to living in the countryside,” Rune Tovetjärn told The Local.

Sorsele currently receives state funding for accepting quota refugees, unaccompanied children and boat refugees and has a current agreement to accept 100 arrivals, of which 50 places are already filled.

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Swedish Iranians complain of ‘drastic drop’ in visas for relatives

Iranians living in Sweden are complaining that relatives are no longer being granted visas to visit, causing pain and heartbreak for one of Sweden's most established immigrant communities.

Swedish Iranians complain of 'drastic drop' in visas for relatives

“This has affected our community very greatly,” Kamran Chabokdavan, spokesperson for the Swedish-Iranian interest group, or Intresseföreningen för Svensk-Iranska frågor, told The Local. “There’s so many people who are feeling depressed or mistreated.”

He had planned to marry his Swedish partner in 2019, but has still not been able to as his parents have not been able to get a visa to come to Sweden, despite visiting, and returning back to Iran several times before. 

“If it was the first time that my parents came here, then it would be more reasonable to say that we cannot be sure that you will go back,” Chabokdavan, who works as a vet in Gothenburg, said. “But if the person has been here ten times before, and suddenly you decide to reject the application, that is a little bit odd.” 

The group now has 2,000 members on Facebook and has contacted the embassy in Tehran, Sweden’s foreign ministry, and MPs in two of Sweden’s political parties, who Chabokdavan said had promised to raise the issue in their parties and to the government.

Chabokdavan told The Local that many Iranians were suffering from the shift to a stricter visa policy. 

“Another member in our group had a sister who was a late-stage cancer patient at the hospital, and her parents couldn’t come here to say goodbye to her.” 

Rozita Akrami, a data scientist at Ericsson, also a group member, has collected data showing that Sweden is now the worst country in the Schengen area for giving visiting visas to Iranians, with only 35 percent of visa applications by friends and relatives of citizens accepted. 

She claims there was a “drastic drop” in the acceptance rate, from 55 per cent in 2018 to 35 percent in 2019, with France accepting 75 percent of visa applications from residents’ relatives that year and Switzerland 79 percent. 

“It seems that the Swedish embassy in Iran has decided to apply stricter criteria, which are really, really unclear,” Chabokdavan said. “It’s really not clear what’s the criteria is here, or why they are rejecting so many documents.” 

In a judgement from last week, the Migration Court ruled that the tougher approach taken by the Swedish embassy in Tehran was justified by a recent rise in the number of Iranians granted visas to Sweden who had then decided to stay and apply for asylum.  

“The embassy further notes that in recent years hundreds of Iranian citizens have applied for residency in Sweden after travelling in on a visa that had been granted,” the court said, justifying its decision to reject an appeal. 

“The embassy can point to the Migration Agency’s reports that a several of these people had had been granted visas previously, even several visas. As a result, visas previously awarded are not a strong indicator of an intention to return.” 

In its judgement, it also noted that sanctions against Iran had resulted in a “severely worsened economy”, with “high unemployment and a weakened currency”, while also pointing to growing “repression of religious minorities” and “imprisonment of political dissidents”. 

In a letter to the embassy in Tehran the group complained that there was no mechanism to replace documents rejected by the Swedish authorities, or to send in missing documents. The group also called for clarity on how applicants’ economic situation was assessed and how relevant it was, and called for the embassy to publish its official statistics from 2015 to 2022. 

“This is about parents who have lived for 60 to 70 years in their homeland and visited Sweden several times while always leaving the Schengen region before their visa has expired,” they wrote. 

Chabokdavan said that in some of the rejection letters, applicants had been told that the worsening economic situation in Iran made Sweden’s authorities worried that visiting relatives would not now return. 

Other rejection letters, he said, had stressed that just because the applicant had visited Sweden and then returned home to Iran many times before, did not mean that they could be relied upon to do so again. 

He said that it was unclear what documents would be enough to prove how well established and tied to Iran the visa applicants are. 

Iranians, who came to Sweden both after the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, are one of Sweden’s most successful migrant groups, with 60 percent getting a university education, and many working within universities, or in high skilled professions.   

“These are people who are really established in Sweden by their job or their studies,” Chabokdavan said. “And their parents usually have a strong, economical base in Iran, otherwise, they couldn’t get this kind of visa from the beginning.”

The Local has contacted the Swedish foreign ministry and the embassy in Tehran for comment.