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'Complex bureaucracy is depriving Sweden of foreign talent'

7 Sep 2012, 09:34

Published: 07 Sep 2012 09:34 GMT+02:00

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Sweden is a part of the global economy. Sweden and Swedish higher education has long enjoyed a good reputation in the world where we have become known as a knowledge-based nation with strong innovation.

To maintain a leading position in research and innovation, we must be able to attract talented students, researchers and colleagues from other countries. Our reputation of having a knowledge-based economy and being an attractive destination for students will nevertheless be threatened unless several obstacles are removed.

Among other things, there needs to be better coordination between agencies, a cleanup of our tangled rules, and more scholarships.

The Swedish Institute (Svenska institutet – SI) is tasked with promoting Sweden as an attractive destination for students, researchers and skilled labour. The aim is to strengthen Sweden's skills base by attracting talented people to Sweden, but also to support countries that need to build up their own knowledge bases.

While additional resources for marketing would be useful, more importantly, SI has identified a number of obstacles that must be addressed if Sweden is to compete for talent.

Sweden wants to remain an attractive country for studies, even after the introduction of tuition fees, thus the following obstacles must be dealt with:

• Rules for residence permits must be changed. Students from countries without a Swedish embassy must now go to another country to apply for a visa, and have in many cases had difficulties getting a visa for this country. In addition, an entry permit (UT card) is required which is only produced in Sweden, and this slows down the process even further. Students are therefore forced to go back to that second country yet again to receive one. We believe that students must be able to apply for Swedish residence permits in other countries' embassies.

• Swedish institutions of higher learning are currently obliged to have separate admissions, or quota groups, for students from outside the EU. This leads to the admission process being slower than those of our main competitors. Rules need to be made more flexible to enable rolling admissions and provide feedback on the admissions process more quickly.

• Foreign students find it difficult to open bank accounts in Sweden because they do not have personal identity numbers (personnummer). This calls for a simplification of the regulations.

• Foreign students who want to continue working in Sweden after their studies are forced to return home to apply for a work permit, which is different from how things work in many other countries. The parliamentary inquiry on circular migration (SOU 2011:28) proposes that third-country students should have the opportunity to work for six months after graduation. The proposals relating to students are important and urgent if we want to attract and retain skills for the Swedish labour market.

• The lack of access to scholarships is another issue that must be taken very seriously. We need a real tie up between business and government, and a coherent, generous scholarship programme to attract talented students to Sweden.

• With support from the EU's Erasmus-Mundus programme, Swedish universities offer attractive integrated training programmes and related scholarships along with other European universities, but the regulations have not been coordinated and require changes in higher education legislation as quickly as possible. The programmes require different forms of financing. However, the universities do not have these funds, and Swedish law dictates clearly that non-European students should not be funded by government grants, leading to something of a Catch-22.

• The recruitment of professional researchers also needs to be simplified. Since January 1st, 2011 it has been possible to deviate from time-consuming recruitment processes when recruiting prominent professors to Swedish universities. However, there are already several cases of failed recruitments due to administrative barriers and regulations, which simultaneously counteract the process. There is a clear risk that top scientists, who are always attractive in a global labour market, will choose a job in another country. These cases must be given a higher priority by the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket).

• Top scientists are also excluded from the special, lower tax rate for experts, (expertskatten) as it only applies to international experts who earn at least 88,000 kronor per month ($13,000). By comparison, a professor at Karolinska Institutet earns an average of about 60,000 kronor per month.

• There is also a need for a new type of visa for PhD candidates which gives them the opportunity to qualify for permanent residency. This is also suggested by the inquiry on circular migration. By international standards, Sweden has a generous system for financing research, a potential competitive advantage in the battle for talent. But PhD candidates are often regarded as students by the Migration Board, despite the fact that, in many cases, they are employed. This urgently needs to be changed.

International competitiveness is an issue that requires commitment and action in several policy areas – from national, regional and local government, but also, in a very real sense, from the business community. The deficiencies described above must be corrected in order for Sweden to be competitive.

The students and researchers who are already here are our ambassadors. It is through them that Sweden has the reputation it deserves. As long as the problems that were highlighted above remain, there is a risk that all marketing of Sweden as a knowledge-based destination will have the opposite effect.

Swedish Institute's Advisory Council

Kjell Albin Abrahamsson, journalist

Kent Harstedt, MP (Social Democrats)

Mari Jungstedt, author

Olof Lavesson, MP (Moderates)

Story continues below…

David Neuman, director, Magasin 3 Konsthall

Anna Nilsdotter, deputy CEO, Enact Sustainable Strategies

Jonas Törnblom, deputy CEO, Envac

Eva Åkesson, President, Uppsala University

Annika Rembe, Director General, Swedish Institute

This article was first published in Swedish in the

Dagens Nyheter newspaper. English translation by The Local.

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Your comments about this article

11:37 September 7, 2012 by Abe L
Actually the global competitiveness report specifically listed high tax rates and access to financing as one of the biggest problems for businesses, followed up with extremely poor flexibility in wage determination and hiring/firing practices specifically regarding talent.

Success on the international market and attaining foreign talent means that the traditional Swedish approach to these topics needs to change. Drop the "lagom" mentality, reward talent, be flexible and don't let artificial topics such as learning a local language be a boundary.
11:51 September 7, 2012 by mgs2012
the most unfortunate experiences are with the swedish migration board ! probably the slowest organization in the world ! The needs to be changed .....! They treat foreign students as non-human.....!
14:03 September 7, 2012 by azimuth
Well making Migrationsverket makes decisions way much faster will solve like half of the problems mentioned above. Compare to Germany, where one can come to the migration board's office with full set of required documents and get the permit stamped right there! Huge difference!
16:13 September 7, 2012 by hatim
what about factors which are not in employers control. i.e the worse than 3rd world efficiency of Swedish migration board and a crippled housing system. Some times it feels that It is better to come to Sweden as an uneducated asylum seeker.
16:38 September 7, 2012 by Iftikhar_Ahmad
I see no reason why immigration and tolerance for other cultures is a threat to the welfare state. Immigrants keep some of our most important public services running and will likely be required even more so in the decades ahead in order to care for European's ageing population. There are certainly legitimate concerns among the trade union movement about social dumping bringing down wages but that could quite easily be solved by tightening labour regulations and making sure all workers have the same pay and working conditions regardless of where they come from. I think the main threat is the EU (together with global financial institutions like the IMF). Why not challenge economic globalisation and the powerful corporate interests it serves instead of putting the blame on migrants from the third world who are either fleeing persecution or simply looking for a better life for themselves and their families?

Most anti-immigrant sentiment is clouded by emotion and instinctive dislike of the unknown, rather than based on facts and logic.

Why don't we conduct the debate based on HARD EVIDENCE rather than on emotions?


19:44 September 7, 2012 by Abe L
#3 - You can get exactly that done in Sweden as well, provided you have all the papers in order and a contract with a Swedish firm. Been there done that.

#5 - Most anti-immigrant sentiment is based on bad experiences with immigrants rather then emotion. Pretty much every theft, break-in, destruction of property and fighting/assault I've seen here in the past years was because of African, Middle-Eastern and Eastern European immigrants. While having had nothing but positive experiences with North American, South American and Asian immigrants.

Apparently more people have had those experiences as the absolute majority of talented foreign employees we have is from the second category.
02:16 September 8, 2012 by SecondGen
"...But PhD candidates are often regarded as students by the Migration Board, despite the fact that, in many cases, they are employed..."

Hmmm, in the United States they are employed by the university teaching, grading papers and doing research for a stipend and a tuition discount as it is part of the education process, at least here (spoken by an adult who's just beginning that plunge and discovering it would have been much easier as a student without a home, 3 cars and bills to pay).

Anyway, part time I may be looking at 7 years (I already have an MSc) to complete.
14:43 September 8, 2012 by Jtomi
The conditions in which the Migrationsverket is treating international students is very unethical and beyond humanity. At this specific moment there are money students who are suffering after submitting the necessary documents for the visa extension. The authorities should really help in such situations !!
15:35 September 9, 2012 by cogito
The authorities and bureaucracies are not there to help. They're there to hinder.
12:22 September 10, 2012 by ttrs_d
"Argues Swedish institute"??!! It is a fact, not an argument.
13:32 September 10, 2012 by entry
BS BS and more BS "The parliamentary inquiry on circular migration (SOU 2011:28) proposes that third-country students should have the opportunity to work for six months after graduation." It is not an inquiry but an edict giving students and their families PUT without permanent work or family attachments in Sweden.

Let non-EU students who have not been able to find gainful employment six more months to find a job before they are sent home to their home countries. That is fine with me. Those that can find work should be offered the opportunity to stay and file proper immigration applications. The rest should thank Sweden for their education and seek out job opportunities elsewhere.
16:55 September 10, 2012 by Cancerklubben
Another reason researchers should consider before applying for Swedish position is the nepotism, a common practive of some granting agencies particularly strong in the cancer field.

Source: cancerklubben.com
06:13 September 11, 2012 by Gjeebes
Well Sweden, a fine mess you are in. University here is like high-school elsewhere; inept students that don't know how to learn and an entitlement attitude fostering a type of mentality where their shortcomings are the fault of others. Teach students to be independent and responsible! Sweden is so incompatible with the rest of the world; everyone is a winner here, which means there is no competition. Oh, but don't forget, there are those who are just a bit more equal than the "others". Indeed, well on the road to nowhere. Raise the standards and reduce the administrative driving force to pump out graduates for the money grab. Once you get here, it takes about a year before you can start to see how crappy it is. Xenophobia, nepotism and a seeming general fear of everything seems to be the lesson of the day. Good luck Sweden, your ill gotten riches will not help you get out of the hole you are digging.
08:33 September 11, 2012 by bluerain303
Everything would be smoother if you are refugee.
10:21 September 11, 2012 by johnny1939
Was just home in Sweden for 6 months and was aghast of what was going on in general. Nobody seemed to have any work ethics. The education level was at the bottom all people were interested in was high salaries lots of vacation time and short working hours not to speak of excessive new parent leave. I wonder how we ever managed in the "olden" days? We really need to import well educated and responsible people but they will probably be bitten in the behind by the "welfare" state after a while too.
14:40 September 11, 2012 by Nilspet
@azimuth and hatim

You are completely right !
17:04 September 11, 2012 by w_t_f
Comment of Einstein after his visit to Migrationsverket:

"Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe."
20:59 September 11, 2012 by Just_Kidding
Many of these firms are in education business who benefit from those listed proposals. What is missing in the group is the representatives of those organizations who offer jobs to graduates of these institutions. Without jobs after graduation, insisting on teaching people "Highly advanced knowledge" is just another Ponzey scheme. Are also Volvo, Ericsson, Scania, and Sandvik interested in international talent?
01:24 September 18, 2012 by faisy07
I wonder how this social state is working with so incompetent people. Every information changes when u changes the kassa in the same place what to talk of migrationsverket, bank or skatteverket. Sweden is a perfect paradise for non educated asylum seekers. While every educated and professional ones have so many hindrances to work here. I cant understand the logic of laws. If some one is paying full tax here he or she should be given the facilities but here facilities are for asylum seekers. America, Canada , Australia every where they welcome the educated and professional peoples but here they try to stop at every level not to talk of Swedish language. If one wants to learn the Svenska still there are so many problems while every where else they try to support and help you to learn their languages. Work permit conditions should be changed if any body is paying full tax he or she should be given the full freedom to change the job, profession or employers not restricting them to the previous one like Denmark which give the full freedom u have to pay only the asked tax.

I think authorities will seek the educated and professionals problem and will try to address them. Making it more attractive just in news papers will not help anyways. Address the fruitful people not the uneducated people who brings the defame for all all immigrants.Tack
10:15 September 18, 2012 by azimuth
#6 bulls**t, I went once to them with all papers and stuff but they rejected even to accept them saying that I can only leave the application with necessary papers in the post box or apply online...
17:33 September 19, 2012 by prophet_of_the_horizons
#19 is right.

i'm here as a masters student (eu citizen) but because i've lived outside of the EU since i was a child and have private insurance from the university rather than a EU health card, skatteverket told me yesterday they will deny my request for a PN ... pure genius.
13:38 September 20, 2012 by jostein

Comment of Einstein after his visit to Migrationsverket:

"Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe."

If i wanted to know something about theoretical physics, i would consult Einstein. If i wanted to evaluate a bureaucracy, i would not. The man could not even find his own house after taking a walk, for crying out loud?
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