Foreign doctoral candidates in Sweden can often find themselves in difficult predicaments. Whether it’s navigating through the seemingly endless ‘personnummer’ applications required for the Swedish Tax Agency (Skatteverket); or, year in, year out, having to apply to the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket) for visa extensions almost immediately after receiving a valid visa.
We have our fair share of headaches – and that’s before we even have to deal with our supervisors.
And we put up with all of this because Sweden is really a great country.
We can get an excellent education in one of the world’s leading countries in terms of innovative higher degree research; the average Swede’s lifestyle is what every human on the planet aspires for; and it’s a beautiful place to live (not to mention the fabulous weather, especially compared with Australia).
Sadly though, despite all our work, and all the money invested into our research and candidatures, as the law currently stands, not a single day’s work towards our doctoral theses will count towards eligibility for permanent residency in Sweden.
Providing doctoral candidates with the right to permanent residency, after the completion of their degree, not only provides an additional incentive for international candidates to do research in Sweden, but initiates numerous benefits for the country as a whole.
Instead of funding doctoral candidates who end up moving elsewhere to use their skills, Sweden can take advantage of its investment by providing us with the ability to apply for permanent residency upon the completion of our studies.
Making it easier for us to gain residency is a simple way for Sweden to capitalize on the potential benefits of embracing this highly-skilled sector of the workforce.
We also have strong global networks and specific cultural expertise from our home nations.
Easing the requirements for residency will help Sweden benefit from freshly minted PhDs not only by increasing the chances they have to apply their skills in the country, but also through those candidates who choose to move back and forth, which will strengthen Sweden's global academic and business ties to their home countries.
To not provide this right only seems to further damage Sweden’s reputation as an internationally-supportive place of higher degree studies.
Fortunately, there is hope that Sweden may soon correct what we see as a major shortcoming in the country's treatment of foreign researchers who come here to receive their PhDs.
Later this month, the Riksdag will a motion stemming from a March 2011 report from Sweden’s Committee for Circular Migration and Development which proposes introducing a new form of residence permit specifically for doctoral candidates coming from countries outside of the EU/EEA.
A normal working migrant pays taxes and has the right to permanent residency after four years. As international doctoral candidates, we also pay taxes, but do not receive this same right, despite our training.
The committee’s proposal includes plans to fundamentally change this situation by equipping international doctoral candidates with the same rights as ordinary migrant workers.
Unfortunately though, there is little indication today as to whether the Swedish government will put forward their own proposal on this matter and pass the responding laws that are required for change.
But what we do know is that on May 30th, a committee at the Riksdag will debate a motion put forward by Karin Granbom Ellison of the Liberal Party (Folkpartiet) aiming to make it easier for PhD students to gain permanent residency in Sweden.
It is our intention to provide the Riksdag with a petition outlining the overwhelming support for this change.
As international doctoral candidates, we are not only asking for the right to further contribute to Swedish society, but we want Sweden to "use" us so that we can pay back our debts to the nation and further strengthen this country’s reputation as a world-leading place of research and business.
It is our sincere hope that with enough support through this petition, the government will be provided with the mandate to implement the required changes and put forward their own proposal before the upcoming debate.
Jake Whitehead (Australia), Shiva Habibi (Iran), and Masoud Fadaei (Iran) are international doctoral candidates at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm