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VISAS

Foreign PhDs welcome Swedish visa reform bill

Sweden's migration minister wants foreign PhD students to be granted permanent residence after four years of research, welcome news for highly-skilled international researchers who have lobbied for reform.

Foreign PhDs welcome Swedish visa reform bill
Foreign PhD students protest the visa system. Photo: Equality for PhDs in Sweden/Facebook

Migration Minister Tobias Billström on Thursday announced that the government had submitted a proposed bill to the legal council, Lagrådet, which examines whether new laws are compatible with existing legislation. From there, the bill would be passed on to parliament for a vote.

If the legislation passes the Riksdag, a foreign PhD student who has spent four of the past seven years employed as a researcher will be able to apply for permanent residence.
"It has been a very important question for international PhD students and international students overall to get these dated, very antiquated rules changed," said Erik Pedersen, vice chairman of Sweden's Student Union Association.
 
Currently, PhD students have a slim window – ten days – in which to find work after completing their studies. The system has applied in the same way to them as it has to undergraduates or master's students, the student union noted. If the foreign researchers failed to find work after defending their thesis, their visa simply ran out. 
 
"It's an odd starting point, as the PhD students work and contribute to the universities' research," Pedersen told The Local. "To consider what they do as not being equal to other employees means you value their work differently."
 
The head of the students union's PhD committee, Johan Svantesson Sjöberg, has been critical of the system for years.
"You've thrown people out for no reason," he told The Local. "It's bad for the individual, but also bad for Sweden."
 
There are roughly 5,000 foreign PhD students in Sweden, revealed a tally by Statistics Sweden in 2013.
 
Svantesson Sjöberg said that many of them took to the Facebook page Equality for foreign PhDs in Sweden to discuss the news on Thursday that the government has moved forward on visa reform. 
 
"Until it is approved, there is no point to be satisfied..," one commenter wrote on the page.
 
The issue has been so contentious that several foreign PhD students took to the streets of Stockholm and Gothenburg to protest against the rules earlier this week. 
 
"It is a pity that these highly-skilled scholars need to hit the streets to ask for their rights!" a page member wrote.
 
The migration minister told the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper that the reform would help make Swedish higher education more competitive globally. Last week, two of three Swedish universities on the Times Higher Education ranking fell off the list entirely.
"We have lost competence and knowledge with the rules that we had," said student union vice head Pedersen. "The rules weren't adapted to today's world where it's so easy to move between countries."

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RESIDENCE PERMITS

REVEALED: The truth about waiting times at Sweden’s Migration Agency

A new report from Sweden's Parliamentary Ombudsman has found that a number of cases at Sweden's Migration Agency were "not actively processed for the majority of the processing time", despite waits of more than three years.

REVEALED: The truth about waiting times at Sweden's Migration Agency

What is this report?

The report, which came out on December 13th, addresses complaints to the Parliamentary Ombudsman about long processing times at the Migration Agency for citizenship, asylum and residence permit applications.

In the report, Parliamentary Ombudsman Per Lennerbrant said that the Migration Agency must make “special efforts” to address the long waiting times faced by those applying for asylum, permanent residency, or citizenship in Sweden.

Lennerbrant stated that it is “unacceptable” that the Migration Agency, year after year, has unreasonably long processing times for a large range of cases.

He further criticised the Migration Agency for “slow and passive” processing in all cases which were a subject of the investigation.

How long did these applicants have to wait?

The report, which assessed five cases reported by applicants for Swedish citizenship, asylum and residence permits, concluded that, in all cases, processing times “exceeded what is considered acceptable”.

The five cases are described as follows:

  • “AA”, who applied for Swedish citizenship on May 21st, 2020. In January 2021, a Migration Court concluded that the Migration Agency must conclude “AA”‘s case “as soon as possible”. The case was concluded on February 1st, 2022. Waiting time: 1 year, 8 months, 11 days
  • “BB”, who applied for Swedish citizenship on July 30th, 2018. The case was concluded on March 16th, 2022. Waiting time: 3 years, 7 months, 16 days
  • “CC”, who applied for Swedish citizenship on June 27th, 2018. The case was concluded on March 3rd, 2022. Waiting time: 3 years, 8 months, 4 days
  • “DD”, who applied for asylum in Sweden on January 9th, 2020. The case was concluded on February 18th, 2022. Waiting time: 2 years, 1 month, 9 days
  • “EE”, who applied for a residence permit as a family member (a so-called ‘sambo’ permit), on November 29th, 2020. The case was concluded on March 28th, 2022. Waiting time: 1 year, 3 months, 28 days

What did the Ombudsman say about these cases?

The report concluded that, in all cases, processing times “exceeded what is considered acceptable”.

The report further concluded that all five cases were subject to “long periods of passivity”, stating that four cases were “not actively processed for the majority of the processing time”. One of these cases was concluded after “roughly a week” once a Migration Agency case officer finally started processing it.

In the fifth case, it states, processing “was initially carried out”, with “more than a year” passing before further action was taken, and then “a further ten months” before the case was concluded.

How has the Migration Agency responded?

The Parliamentary Ombudsman demanded a response from the Migration Agency, as well as answers to a number of questions, which it received on June 8th, 2022.

In its response, the Migration Agency stated that it “works to conclude received applications within the dates stipulated by law in all types of case”. It further stated that it “calculates that the goal of being able to conclude asylum and family reunification cases within legal deadlines […] will be reached during 2023,” and that the goal of concluding citizenship cases within six months will also be reached the same year.

It further states that a “new structure to provide support to employees working to conclude cases” was established at the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022, which introduced a “case concluding support network” for each part of the process.

In March 2022, the Agency continues, “a new process was introduced for cases addressing residence permits due to family reunification, meaning, for example, that all new family reunification cases are handled by a central function which sorts out those cases which should be processed quickly”.

In 2021, the Agency states, an additional centre for handling citizenship cases was opened to “increase recruitment and lower vulnerability”.

It also stated that issues for the Agency which can cause delays include decisions from the Migration Courts demanding that cases should be concluded quickly, which affects the order in which different cases are prioritised, as well as outside factors such as war in Ukraine, which can cause bottlenecks.

The Agency agreed with the Parliamentary Ombudsman that processing times had “not been satisfactory” in any of the five cases addressed by the report.

Does that really mean people applying for citizenship next year will have an answer within six months?

The Parliamentary Ombudsman doesn’t seem to think so. It stated that the investigation shows that “the Migration Agency still has major issues with processing times”, and that it “concludes that it will take years before they reach an acceptable level”.

“In my previous assessment,” Ombudsman Per Lennerbrant said, “I spoke of a fear that the agency’s long processing times would become the norm if serious measures were not taken,” he said.

“I am now forced to confirm that my fears appear to have been valid. The Migration Agency must make special efforts to address the long processing times.”

The Parliamentary Ombudsman has also sent a copy of the decision to Sweden’s governmental offices, as the long waiting times are also in part due to a lack of resources.

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