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WORK PERMITS

Manpower shortage leads to work permit delays

Many Swedish companies are in need of foreign workers and the interest in working in Sweden is great, but the agency that deal with issuing their work permits, the Migration Board (Migrationsverket), has been struggling to keep up with the demand.

According to Alejandro Firpo, who headed the agency’s work permit unit until his recent promotion, the agency was over-staffed when it was launched in 2008 following the introduction of new labour migration rules.

“We had expected more applications but because of the financial crisis that followed we didn’t receive as many as we had estimated,“ Firpo told The Local.

However, as the financial climate stabilised, the agency started receiving an increasing number of applications.

By 2010, however, the Migration Board was hit by an “explosive” rise in applications.

“It seems that more people found out about the law and we simply couldn’t keep up with the demand,” Firpo said.

The new rules from 2008 stipulated that individual employers rather than the Swedish Public Employment Service (Arbetsförmedlingen) decide whether there is a need to recruit foreign workers.

Under the new rules, immigrants are also able to receive an extended work permit for a maximum of four years, after which they can qualify for a permanent residence permit.

But delays in the processing times are causing grumbles among companies that need their staff faster than permits can be issued.

Sadek Yildic runs a recruitment agency supplying staff to catering companies specialising in foreign delicacies.

“We currently have 22 workers that have applied for a permit but are waiting for an answer. We are losing customers, time is ticking away and time is money,“ Yildic told news agency TT.

His lawyer Jan Axelsson, who has handled applications from more than 40 people from outside the EU, is also critical of the system.

“It’s completely useless. Imagine being offered a job and find yourself forced to tell your prospective employer: ‘Yes, I’ll be there. In 6 months’,” he said to TT.

But according to Firpo the delays are a thing of the past, the agency is managing to meet their targets despite a continuing increase in applications.

“Since last year we have a 40 percent rise in applications, but as it is looking right now we are getting more and more efficient,” he said.

Since 2010, the agency has both reshuffled their exiting resources and hired more officers to deal with work permits.

Firpo understands that companies need their workers fast but pointed out that delays often are due to incomplete applications rather than agency inefficiency.

When news agency TT told Prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, he expressed concerns about the lengthy processing times for Swedish work permits.

“Of course we hoped that this wouldn’t happen. We want this to be a non-bureaucratic and efficient system and we tend to recommend electronic applications,” he told TT.

Reinfeldt also pointed out that despite delays, he is of the opinion that the system is working well and that several thousand foreign workers so far have arrived in Sweden.

And according to Firpo it is the paper applications that take a long time to process.

“If it drags out, there is generally a good reason,” Firpo said.

A paper application has to be handled by the Swedish embassy in a given country before it reaches the Migration Board, a process which in itself can take several months.

If the application turns out to be incomplete, officers have to start tracking down the right people, as the board can’t approve an application without all the relevant information.

“But when it comes down to electronic applications we are back on track – it is a question of days and weeks from when an application is received to when the permit is issued,“ Firpo told The Local.

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WORK PERMITS

What are my rights while I wait for my Swedish residence permit to be extended?

Many foreigners living in Sweden need to have a residence permit to live in the country legally. Permits are issued for two years at a time and can be renewed 30 days before expiry, at the earliest. But with waiting times exceeding 8 months for many applicants, just what are your rights while you wait to hear back?

What are my rights while I wait for my Swedish residence permit to be extended?

Can I keep working in Sweden?

It depends. If you have a residence permit which allows you to work in Sweden, have held that residence permit for at least six months and apply for an extension before your old permit expires, you still have the right to work in Sweden while you wait for the Migration Agency to make a decision on your permit application.

You can apply for a new residence permit 30 days before your old permit expires, at the earliest, and you can’t get a new residence permit before your old one has run out.

Can I leave Sweden?

Technically you can, but it might not be a good idea. This is due to the fact that if you leave Sweden after your residence permit has expired, it can be difficult to enter Sweden again before your new permit is granted, even if you can prove that you’ve applied for a new one.

In the worst-case scenario, you could be denied entry to Sweden at the border and forced to wait in another country until your new residence permit is granted. 

If you find yourself in this situation, you can, in some cases, apply for a national visa allowing you to re-enter Sweden. These are only granted under exceptional circumstances, and must be applied for at a Swedish embassy or general consulate in the country you are staying in. If you are not granted a national visa to re-enter Sweden, you can’t appeal the decision, meaning you’ll have to wait until your residence permit is approved before you can re-enter Sweden.

The Migration Agency writes on its website that you should only leave Sweden while your application is being processed “in exceptional cases, and if you really have to”.

It lists some examples of exceptional cases as “sudden illness, death in the family or important work-related assignments”, adding that you may need to provide proof of your reason for travelling to the embassy when you apply for a national visa to re-enter Sweden.

What if I come from a visa-free country?

If you come from a visa-free country, you are able to re-enter Sweden without needing a visa, but you may run into issues anyway, as visa-free non-EU citizens entering Schengen are only allowed to stay in the bloc for 90 days in every 180 before a visa is required.

If you are a member of this group and you stay in Schengen for longer than 90 days without a visa, you could be labelled an “overstayer”, which can cause issues entering other countries, as well as applying for a visa or residence permit in the future.

The Migration Agency told The Local that “a visa-free person waiting for a decision in their extension application can leave Sweden and return, as long as they have visa-free days left to use”.

“However, an extension application usually requires the individual to be located in Sweden,” the Agency wrote. “Travelling abroad can, in some cases, have an effect on the decision whether to extend a residence permit or not, in a way which is negative for the applicant, but this decision is made on an individual case basis (it’s not possible to say a general rule).”

“The right to travel into the Schengen area for short visits is not affected, as long as the person still has visa-free days left.”

The Local has contacted the Migration Agency to clarify whether days spent in Sweden count towards the 90-day limit, and will update this article accordingly once we receive a response.

Does this apply to me if I have a permanent residence permit?

No. This only applies to people in Sweden holding temporary residence permits. If you have a permanent residence permit and your residence permit card (uppehållstillståndskort or UT-kort) expires, you just need to book an appointment at the Migration Agency to have your picture and fingerprints taken for a new card.

How long is the processing time for residence permit renewals?

It varies. For people renewing a residence permit to live with someone in Sweden, for example, the Migration Agency states that 75 percent of recent cases received an answer within eight months.

For work permit extensions, it varies. In some branches, 75 percent of applicants received a response after 17 months, others only had to wait five.

This means that some people waiting to extend their residence permits could be discouraged from leaving Sweden for almost a year and a half, unless they are facing “exceptional circumstances”.

You can see how long it is likely to take in your case here.

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