‘Give foreign PhDs a clear path to residency in Sweden’

Sweden needs to change rules that strip foreign doctoral candidates of the same rights as other tax-paying migrant workers seeking permanent residency in Sweden, argue a group of doctoral candidates from the Royal Institute for Technology (KTH).

'Give foreign PhDs a clear path to residency in Sweden'

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

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OPINION: The far right now dominates the immigration debate in Sweden

A televised debate between the party leaders last weekend showed how Sweden’s third party, the far-right Sweden Democrats, has shaped Swedish politics since the last elections four years ago, argues David Crouch

OPINION: The far right now dominates the immigration debate in Sweden

In the build-up to the 2018 elections, the world’s media descended on Stockholm, expecting a breakthrough by the Sweden Democrats (SD) who had been polling as high as 25 percent. In the end, SD took third place with around 18 percent of the vote.

Four years later, SD are hovering at around the same level in the polls. However, Swedish politics has been utterly transformed, as the other main parties have moved onto political terrain previously occupied by SD.

This would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago. When they first entered parliament, SD were treated as political pariahs, a racist party, held at arm’s length by the other parties who refused to cooperate with them in any way.

Attempts to bring the SD into the mainstream of Swedish politics fell flat. The leader of the centre-right Moderates lost her job after suggesting it was “time to stop demonising” the SD. Her replacement, Ulf Kristersson, said he would neither negotiate nor govern with them. After the elections, two smaller centre-right parties – the Centre and the Liberals – agreed to prop up the coalition of Social Democrats and Greens to prevent the SD gaining any influence in parliament.

It was clear, however, that the only chance for the centre-right to govern would be with SD support. After all, in Finland and Norway right-wing populist parties had entered government with the centre right. And in Denmark, the centre-right had governed with populist support. If it worked there, why not in Sweden?

In early 2019, the SD leader Jimmie Åkesson famously had meatballs for lunch with Ebba Busch, the leader of the tiny Christian Democrats, who acted as a bridge-builder. A few months later, Kristersson met the SD leader for the first time in his Stockholm office. By early 2021 the cordon sanitaire dividing the parties had been truly dismantled, and in the autumn the three parties presented a joint budget.

Meanwhile, the Moderates stepped up their rhetoric against immigration and crime. But perhaps the influence has worked both ways? Maybe the far-right have toned down their policies, compromising with the centre so the parties can work together?

On the contrary, Åkesson and other leading SD figures have stoked up the fire and brimstone in their anti-immigrant message. For the SD, the problem is dark-skinned immigrants from Muslim countries whose values conflict with Sweden’s and who should therefore be deported.

The response among the Moderates – and also the governing Social Democrats – has been a deafening silence.

After the Easter riots in six Swedish cities, the Social Democrat government proposed a package of coercive measures to help the police and social services crackdown on criminals.

A televised debate between the party leaders last weekend brought this out very clearly. More than that, it showed how the Sweden Democrats have shaped Swedish politics since the country last voted four years ago.

In the debate on Sunday, prime minister Magdalena Andersson talked about being tough on crime and boasted that Sweden now has one of the strictest immigration regimes in Europe.

It was left to the Green Party (polling 4 percent) and the Centre Party (6 percent) to challenge the SD on immigration. They pointed out that the violent minority is tiny, and that tens of thousands of recent immigrants hold down jobs, obey the law and contribute to Swedish society.

Centre Party leader Annie Lööf listed some of the SD’s more extreme proposals, including demolition of high-immigration neighbourhoods, dawn raids on refugees, and collective punishment for crimes committed by a single family member. This was “pure racism”, Lööf said – where were the “red lines”, beyond which the centre-right would turn against the SD?

All the parties agree that segregation along ethnic lines has gone too far in Sweden, that integration efforts have failed and that something must be done. But there is a paucity of bold ideas that could really make a difference.

Immigration will once more be a battleground at the elections in September, with key politicians competing to be the toughest in dealing with unruly “foreigners”. Meanwhile, the underlying problems that have fuelled disaffection among people with immigrant backgrounds are unlikely to be addressed.

A few weeks ago, Swedish journalist Janne Josefsson spoke to Ahmed, one of the stone-throwing youngsters who shocked the country at Easter.

“We are second class citizens. You let us in, but then Sweden doesn’t care about us,” Ahmed told him. “We are trapped here. I have studied, but will never get a good job. At least once a week we are stopped by the police. In the end, you feel hunted, like a quarry. Do you understand?”

It seems that Swedish politicians don’t really want to.

David Crouch is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.


Listen to a discussion on Sweden and immigration on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

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