‘Swedes have a different kind of creativity’

A space where global meets local, where people come together to make both the world and their own neighbourhood a better place – such was the dream of two international students living in Sweden two years ago. Here, they tell The Local how they are on their way to making it happen.

'Swedes have a different kind of creativity'
Joshua Ng and Julieta Talavera in Malmö. Photo: Private

Joshua Ng, 22, and Julieta Talavera, 26, have lived in places as diverse as Malaysia, Bahrain, Buenos Aires, England and New York. But for these two cosmopolitans, Malmö in southern Sweden ticks all the boxes.

“It's one of the most exciting places I've ever lived,” says Julieta.

The two international relations students got the idea of creating a pop-up space for social entrepreneurs and grassroot movements when they met in class at Malmö University and discovered they had both faced similar problems when they first moved to Sweden to study in 2012.

“My first impression was that Malmö seemed like a cool city, but it was a bit difficult to connect with what was going on. The university was very much a closed bubble and it felt like we weren't connected to the city. So we decided to start up a meeting place for people like us,” said Joshua.

Together they created 'Connectors Malmö'. They registered as a study circle with Folksuniversitetet (a Swedish organization for adult education) where they would meet to talk about personal projects, share ideas, give feedback and organize inspirational talks. But through word of mouth, it grew.

“There was clearly a need for this in Malmö. We were soon joined by students from Lund, Malmö and Copenhagen in that little Folkuniversitetet room,” says Joshua.

“It developed into a networking event. People came and they all got to know each other. During this time we were able to build a network of people,” says Julieta.

But there were obstacles along the way, including overcoming language and cultural barriers to get Swedes involved.

“Eventually we discovered that if we gave the event a structure we attracted more people, instead of just inviting them to walk in and do whatever they wanted. Swedes like to know what’s going on, that ‘okay, in 20 minutes there’s going to be a break for fika’,” says Julieta.

“Swedes have a different kind of creativity, a calm creativity,” says Joshua and laughs.

The Pop Up Space in Malmö's Persborg area. Photo: Joanna Zhang

Now, the pair behind Connectors Malmö has created the world's first crowd sourced living room. The idea is called The Pop Up Space, developed with the aid of the city of Malmö, housing association MKB and local neighbourhood Persborg, to find solutions to integration challenges and promote urban projects.

“We're trying to see if we can include the neighbourhood into the process of changing that neighbourhood. We act like a bridge between the neighbourhood and the creative and international community,” says Julieta.

“It is a very bottom-up approach, part of a bigger project which is designing a system for grassroot movements, entrepreneurs, artists and industries to work together to solve problems,” adds Joshua.

In practical terms, their aim is to create a place where social entrepreneurs and local residents can come together and work to improve the neighbourhood, and ambitiously, the world. But it is completely participant-driven – every week users can vote on how they want to use the space.

Essentially, it is a place for sharing ideas to help local residents have a direct impact on their neighbourhood, and the two students cannot imagine a better place for making this venture happen than Malmö, Sweden.

“The whole start-up community is incredibly unique to Malmö. It’s all about sharing and a lot is offered for free. When I came to Sweden I had no money at all; if it hadn’t been for all free events being offered by the city I would never have reached the place where I am now and none of this would have been possible,” says Julieta.

“I can’t think of a city anywhere in the world that provides so many opportunities to different actors,” Joshua agrees.

The Pop Up Space pilot project is set to run until April. But Joshua and Julieta hope to be able to extend the concept after the summer, and neither has any plans to leave any time soon.

“I could do with a few more years in Sweden,” says Joshua and is immediately backed up by Julieta.

“I don’t want to leave now, this is home for me.”

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How foreigners can get on the fast track for a work permit in Sweden

It can now take about six months to get a work permit in Sweden, and a year for an extension. Here's how you can get on the fast track.

How foreigners can get on the fast track for a work permit in Sweden

How long does it normally take to get a permit to work in Sweden? 

According to the calculator on the Migration Agency’s website, 75 percent of first work permit applications are completed within three months, and 75 percent of work permit extensions are completed within 14 months. 

These numbers, though, are only for people in non-risk industries. If you are applying for a job in the cleaning, building, hotel and restaurant, or car repair industries — all of which are seen as high risk by the agency — applications can take much longer to be approved. 

For these industries, the calculator suggests a long 12-month wait for a first application and a 17-month wait for an extension. 

This is because of the higher number of unscrupulous employers in these industries who do not pay foreign workers their promised salaries, or do not fulfil other requirements in their work permit applications, such as offering adequate insurance and other benefits. 

So how do you get on the fast track for a permit? 

There are two ways to get your permit more rapidly: the so-called “certified process” and the EU’s Blue Card scheme for highly skilled employees. 

What is the certified process?

The certified process was brought in back in 2011 by the Moderate-led Alliance government to help reduce the then 12-month wait for work permits.

Under the process, bigger, more reputable Swedish companies and trusted intermediaries handling other applications for clients, such as the major international accounting firms, can become so-called “certified operators”, putting the work permit applications they handle for employees on a fast track, with much quicker processing times. 

The certified operator or the certified intermediary is then responsible for making sure applications are ‘ready for decision’, meaning the agency does not need to spend as much time on them. 
You can find answers to the most common questions about the certified process on the Migration Agency’s website

How much quicker can a decision be under the certified process? 
Under the agreement between certified employers and the Migration Agency, it should take just two weeks to process a fresh work permit application, and four weeks to get an extension. 
Unfortunately, the agency is currently taking much longer: between one and three months for a fresh application, and around five to six months for an extension. 
This is still roughly half the time it takes for an employee seeking a permit outside the certified process. 
The Migration Agency told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper in a recent article that in September the average decision had taken 105 days, while over the year as a whole, applications for certified companies had taken 46 days, and those for non-certified companies 120 days. 

How can someone planning to move to Sweden for work take advantage of the certified process? 
Unfortunately, it is very much up to your employer. If you are planning to move to Sweden for work, you should make sure to ask prospective employers if they are certified, or sub-certified through an intermediary firm, and take that into account when deciding which company to take a job with. 
Smaller IT companies are often not certified, as they tend to start off by recruiting from within Sweden or the European Union. 
If you have begun a work permit application with a company that is not certified or sub-certified, then you cannot get onto the fast track even if your employer gets certified while you are waiting for a decision. 
The certified process can also not be used to get a work permit for an employee of a multinational company who is moving to the Swedish office from an office in another country. 
If my employer is certified, what do I need to do?
You will need to sign a document giving power of attorney to the person at your new company who is handling the application, both on behalf of yourself and of any family members you want to bring to Sweden.  
You should also double check the expiry date on your passport and on those of your dependents, and if necessary applying for a new passport before applying, as you can only receive a work permit for the length of time for which you have a valid passport. 

Which companies are certified? 
Initially, only around 20 companies were certified, in recent years the Migration Agency has opened up the scheme to make it easier for companies to get certified, meaning there are now about 100 companies directly certified, and many more sub-certified. 
To get certified, a company needs to have handled at least ten work permit applications for foreign employees over the past 18 months (there are exceptions for startups), and also to have a record of meeting the demands for work and residency permits.  
The company also needs to have a recurring need to hire from outside the EU, with at least ten applications expected a year. 
The Migration Agency is reluctant to certify or sub-certify companies working in industries where it judges there is a high risk of non-compliance with the terms of work permits, such as the building industry, the hotel and restaurant industry, the retail industry, and agriculture and forestry. 
Most of the bigger Swedish firms that rely on foreign expertise, for example Ericsson, are certified. 
The biggest intermediaries through whom companies can become sub-certified are the big four accounting firms, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, KPMG, and Vialto (a spin-off from PwC), and the specialist relocation firms Human Entrance, and Alpha Relocation. Bråthe estimates that these six together control around 60 percent of the market. Other players include K2 Corporate Mobility, Key Relocation, Nordic Relocation, and some of the big corporate law firms operating in Sweden, such as Ving and Bird & Bird. 

What is the EU Blue Card, how can I get one, and how can it help speed up the work permit process? 
Sweden’s relatively liberal system for work permits, together with the certification system, has meant that in recent years there has been scant demand for the EU Blue Card. 
The idea for the Blue Card originally sprung from the Brussels think-tank Bruegel, and was written into EU law in August 2012. The idea was to mimic the US system of granting workers a card giving full employment rights and expedited permanent residency. Unlike with the US Green Card, applicants must earn a salary that is at least 1.5 times as high as the average in the country where they are applying.
Germany is by far the largest granter of EU blue cards, divvying out nearly 90 percent of the coveted cards, followed by France (3.6 percent), Poland (3.2 percent) and Luxembourg (3 percent).

How can I qualify for a Blue Card?

The card is granted to anyone who has an accredited university degree (you need 180 university credits or högskolepoäng in Sweden’s system), and you need to be offered a job paying at least one and a half times the average Swedish salary (about 55,000 kronor a month).

How long does a blue card take to get after application in Sweden? 

According to the Migration Agency, a Blue Card application is always handled within 90 days, with the card then sent to the embassy or consulate named in the application.

In Sweden ,it is only really worth applying for a Blue Card if you are applying to work at a company that is not certified and are facing a long processing time.

EU Blue Cards are issued for a minimum of one year and a maximum of two years.